Economic Changes Driving Future Freight Transportation

The U.S. transportation system is a key underpinning of American economic activity. Understanding the driving forces that could most significantly affect the transportation system over the next 50 years will allow local, regional, and national transportation to anticipate and invest in transportation system improvements that enable the system to continue to provide key structural support to the U.S. economy. Foreseeing changes over the longer term future and the consequences of such changes is difficult but not entirely impossible. Several driving forces over the last 50 years shaped the current transportation patterns, and many of them were observable in their early phases. Identifying and monitoring these forces to see if they would continue or what trend they might take would have enabled a more forward-looking transportation investment strategy. For example, when the shipping container was introduced just over 50 years ago, monitoring global orders for container ships, road chassis, or container-handling cranes could have been key indicators that this new concept was taking hold and could change transportation patterns. The leadership of state departments of transportation (DOTs) and others responsible for the nation's transportation system must try to understand the driving forces that could shape transportation patterns and their impacts on the nation's transportation system. Research is needed to consider possible economic changes--in the broadest sense of that term--that can inform DOT officials and others responsible for managing the nation's freight transportation system. Management strategies that recognize emerging trends and are flexible, adaptive, and able to respond effectively will help ensure that the transportation system continues to support the growth of the economy and delivery of an increasingly high quality of life for the nation. Many forces may influence freight demand or transportation patterns now and in the future, for example (1) domestic population growth and the location of that growth; (2) average age of the population (and perhaps more importantly, what age ranges will increase relative to other age ranges); (3) water supplies (for drinking and transportation use) and their locations; (4) labor costs; (5) cost of capital and the value of the dollar; (6) GDP expansion; (7) general economic conditions (e.g., growth, recession or depression); (8) barriers to trade; (9) resource availability; (10) government regulations and policies; (11) domestic income per capita; (12) limitations on the availability or use of fossil fuels; and (13) climate change. Research is needed to identify the most significant of these forces and other forces between now and 2050. What are the plausible trend lines (scenarios) for these forces, how might they interact with each other, what indicators should be monitored and what are the potential tipping points that would indicate a systematic shift, and how can the indicators be monitored? The objective of this research is to provide with a critical analysis of the driving forces behind high-impact economic changes and business sourcing patterns that may affect the U.S. freight transportation system. This analysis will better enable informed discussions of national, multistate, state, and regional freight policy and system investment priorities


  • English


  • Status: Completed
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 20-83(01)

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Rogers, William

  • Performing Organizations:

    Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge

    77 Massachusetts Avenue
    Cambridge, MA  United States  02139
  • Principal Investigators:

    Caplice, Christopher

  • Start Date: 20091021
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 20120731
  • Source Data: RiP Project 20405

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01464306
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Cooperative Highway Research Program
  • Contract Numbers: Project 20-83(01)
  • Files: TRB, RiP, USDOT
  • Created Date: Jan 3 2013 2:40PM