For many years, transportation planning has focused on moving people by automobile or public transit. Over the past decade, OKI’s attention has grown to encompass freight transportation and the importance of freight mobility to economic activity. OKI, recognizing the link between freight mobility and economic development, completed the OKI Regional Freight Plan in August 2011 to understand industry trends, forecast freight demand, and identify projects that maintain freight mobility and spur business growth.
Interactive Freight Maps
The OKI region is a major link in America’s freight transportation network. In 2009, it was estimated that more than 323 million tons of freight flowed into, out of and through the region annually. About one-fifth of this freight was classified as inbound, destined for major businesses in the region. For businesses, transportation is their lifeblood. The OKI region provides a powerful nexus for truck, train, barge, and plane transport through its highly developed, multi-modal infrastructure network.
The Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) is ranked as the nation’s eighth airport in landed cargo tonnage. This ranking is projected to rise once DHL completes its latest expansion project which will push DHL’s total capital investment at CVG since 2009 past the $281 million mark.
Cincinnati forms an integral link for two Class 1 railroads (Norfolk Southern and CSX) throughout the Midwest and eastern US. The region is also home to major railroad facilities including three intermodal terminals, three train classification yards and numerous industrial sidings. On average, the region’s three railroad companies handle over 100 trains per day.
Interstate 75, which runs from Michigan to Miami, is a corridor of national significance; the freight it carries is valued at four percent of our country’s GDP. More than 80 percent of the region’s freight moves by truck, so major highways and local roads are vital to regional commerce. Interstate 75, running north-south through the region, is one of the heaviest truck corridors in America.
Compliance with Federal Directives for Freight MPO Transportation Planning
The FAST Act builds upon the changes made by MAP-21 to improve the condition and performance of the national freight network and support investment in freight-related surface transportation projects. While freight plans and freight advisory committees were not required by MAP-21, the FAST Act now requires states to have an approved State Freight Plan by December 4, 2017 that includes a Freight Investment Plan. Working in partnership with our state Departments of Transportation, OKI is interested in keeping our region’s freight needs up to date and eligible for future funding opportunities. Since 2011, OKI has had a Regional Freight Plan in place. The OKI Freight Plan recommendations work to remedy freight deficiencies to keep the region competitive in the future and build on the region’s freight transportation assets as a driver of economic development. In order to keep the OKI 2040 Regional Transportation Plan updated to the FAST Act/USDOT freight standards, it has incorporated and included the OKI Regional Freight Plan. Through this approach, national freight legislative directives are being addressed by the 2040 Plan’s:
- Support of National Freight GoalsMAP-21’s National Freight Policy (NFP) states in part that: “It is the policy of the United States to improve the condition and performance of the national freight network to ensure that the national freight network provides the foundation for the United States to compete in the global economy and achieve [its goals.]” While individual strategies may focus on one mode, USDOT stresses the importance to ensure that a multimodal perspective to strategically advance a broad suite of strategies is taken. Stated Federal NFP goals are listed below alongside the complimentary and appropriate OKI goal. In evaluating the potential freight project recommendations of this 2040 Plan Update, OKI has sought to establish a common link between national freight goals and the regional transportation goals. All recommendations were evaluated and found to contribute to one or more freight-related goals. Read more…
- Incorporation of Freight Policies, Strategies and Performance MeasuresMAP-21 proposed a series of national performance objectives and performance measures. The FAST Act performance target requirement for freight differs from MAP-21 requirements in that states are required to report on several aspects of their freight activities when States are determined by the Administrator as not making significant progress to improve freight movement on Interstates as required by MAP-21. 23 U.S.C. 167(j). MAP-21 Freight Performance measures are currently in the rulemaking process. When this information is public, details may be found here. There are no freight performance measures outlined as yet for MPOs. However, for over a decade, OKI has continued to refine and improve upon its Project Prioritization Process.
- Understanding of Freight Trends, Needs and IssuesFreight systems are global. In the past, connection to railroads or highways ensured the prosperity of a region. Today, regional economies depend on their connections with global supply chains. Shippers are concerned with their total distribution cost, from supplier to consumer. Even modest changes in the cost of distribution can have dramatic impacts on manufacturing sources and the modes of transportation used by businesses. As a result, transportation planners must consider how freight is moving through the system, and how freight carriers—ocean carriers, ports, railroads, and trucking companies—are adjusting their networks to serve global supply chain developments. The OKI Regional Freight Plan evaluated three significant supply chain dynamics of the decade:
- The expansion of the Panama Canal is set for completion in 2016 and will allow larger container vessels to transit the canal and its lock system. As a result, Asian imports to America can route around West Coast Ports, directly serving southern and eastern U.S. ports.
- The Norfolk Southern (NS) Railroad’s Heartland Corridor carries doublestack container train service from Norfolk, Virginia through Columbus, Ohio and on to Chicago, Illinois. The doublestack service could be a boon to shippers in the Midwest and OKI has taken advantage of the opportunity by providing funding for double stack clearance on the NS line from Columbus to Sharonville.
- The CSX National Gateway Program provides doublestack clearance from East Coast ports into the Midwest. Significantly, CSX has included a major container hub-and-spoke operation in Northwest Ohio which could improve rail service and shipping rates into the OKI market.
Due to changes in the global supply chain, brought on in part by these major transportation developments, overall freight volumes in the OKI region are forecasted to increase 56 percent by 2040—from 323 million tons in 2009 to 487 million tons in 2040. The forecast for rail freight volumes is that they will increase 38% (from 33,000 trains per year to 45,000 trains. That is an additional 90 to 130 trains per day). Highway freight tonnage is expected to rise 62% (9.8 million loaded trucks in 2009 to 16 million loaded trucks by 2040). River traffic was forecasted to go up by 6%. Air cargo will increase by 177%
- Identification of Regional Freight Transportation DeficienciesWhile the regional freight assets are strong, there are not only significant future freight deficiencies anticipated for the OKI region, but also existing needs that threaten to impact freight mobility in the near term.
- Railroad congestion. CSX and NS share main lines through the Mill Creek Valley which are currently near capacity. With regional railroad traffic forecasted to increase 38 percent, bottlenecks in the rail corridor will further erode rail freight mobility. If rail service quality degrades, freight traffic could shift to the highway system, which would increase congestion and negatively impact safety and air quality. Even worse, a degradation of rail service could cause shippers—regional businesses—to move to areas with more reliable rail service.
- Highway freight capacity. While the OKI highway system is relatively good in terms of congestion, there are critical links in the system that dramatically impact freight mobility. Most notable is the Brent Spence Bridge which carries I-71/75 across the Ohio River. From a freight standpoint, the OKI region would cease to function if the Brent Spence Bridge fails. While freight traffic can now back up many miles because of congestion on the bridge, a failure of the structure would be catastrophic, causing truck freight to gridlock, or to bypass the region altogether. Inability to serve freight traffic would have deleterious effects on business, employment and regional income.
It is important to note the interplay between railroad and highway freight congestion in the region. Key rail freight corridors are nearly at capacity now and will certainly be overcapacity when rail volume increases 38 percent as forecasted. It is most likely that trucks would carry the burden of any rail freight overflow which would make congestion on the Brent Spence Bridge and other regional freeways even worse. This situation provides a perfect illustration of the interdependence among different modes of freight transportation and the need to think comprehensively in developing freight transportation strategies and projects.
While the Mill Creek Valley railroad bottlenecks and the Brent Spence Bridge are the greatest regional freight concerns, there are a number of other freight deficiencies that require attention to ensure mobility over the next 30 years. These include:
- Truck congestion on interstate routes, including I-75 (Thru the Valley and Mill Creek Expressway) and I-471
- Truck congestion on a number of local roads, which provide the “last mile” of freight mobility to and from customer locations
- Overweight trucks and the damage inflicted on the highway system
- Safety of at-grade highway-rail crossings
- Developing regional barge terminals to their full potential
- Capitalizing on the air freight assets of CVG for regional economic development
Regional freight deficiencies are addressed comprehensively in the OKI Regional Freight Plan with recommendations for policy actions and capital investments. Countless other freight improvements which address freight deficiencies referred to in the Freight Plan were not specifically listed in this Regional Transportation Plan due to their classification as projects of Operations and Maintenance (O&M) which tend to be lower in cost and are intended to improve or preserve the condition of existing freight infrastructure, including deficient railroad track, deficient bridges, or highway pavement heavily distressed by truck traffic.
- Inventory of Bottlenecks and Development of Freight Improvement StrategiesAcross the freight transportation system, infrastructure, institutional and financial bottlenecks disrupt or hinder the safe and efficient movement of goods. USDOT states that addressing these bottlenecks requires close coordination, communication, and collaboration among the public and private sectors.
The OKI Regional Freight Plan contains a total of 58 recommendations to address regional freight deficiencies, now and in the future. Each recommendation contains a cost estimate and priority ranking. The Freight Plan also makes 12 high priority freight recommendations for the region for which the total estimated cost in current year dollars is $3,085,053,000. Of this total, 74 percent represents the cost of the Brent Spence Bridge replacement project
The Freight Plan’s recommendations, based on identified deficiencies, represents unique opportunities the OKI region has to support freight transportation, mobility and economic growth. All of the Regional Freight Plan recommendations were evaluated alongside over 250 other multi-modal projects in this 2016 Plan Update process. Due to limited resources, only one freight-specific improvement is identified in the Plan’s Project List (Project Number 4382 – Hopple Street Passing Track and Crossovers in Hamilton County). Numerous recommendations from the Freight Plan are also included, however they are classified as roadway, public transportation or Intelligent Transportation Improvement (ITS) project types.
Funding for transportation improvements is often a difficult barrier. Authorized under the FAST Act’s Nationally Significant Freight and Highway Projects program, Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies (FASTLANE) Grants are a competitive new funding resource for critical freight and highway projects across the country. In fiscal year 2016, the FAST Act had authorized $800 million in funding for FASTLANE Grants.
Ultimately, the success of the regional freight plan will depend on the partnerships and collaboration of the public and private sectors. Railroads, trucking interests, barge terminals and air cargo carriers will need to collaborate to address the transportation challenges facing OKI over the next 20 years. While collaboration is the most important ingredient for successful implementation, progress can be measured by theof regional businesses, which depend so greatly on the adequacy of the freight network.