New Capitol Research Brief, Other Recent Reports Examine Efforts to Make Freight Transportation Greener

My colleague Doug Myers and I are co-authors of a new Capitol Research brief out today entitled “Green Freight Transportation.” A follow-up to our previous brief “Green Transportation” which debuted in July, it examines the opportunities available to states to enact policies, get behind federal initiatives and support industry efforts to make freight transportation greener. The brief examines such strategies as truck anti-idling regulations, the development of alternative fuels for trucks and trains, truck-only toll lanes to increase mobility and decrease emissions-producing traffic congestion, investing in freight rail and developing our marine highways to shift some of the freight burden from highways to modes that produce less emissions. The brief also points out the need for a national strategic freight plan, examines how federal policy initiatives could be shaped to make freight transportation greener and makes the case for the role of state governments in ensuring a greener future for freight. While the brief and the resources that went into creating it hopefully offer a good overview for those interested in the subject matter, there are a number of other worthwhile reports, recent news items and other materials we wanted to recommend for those who may want to do some further reading.

Among the recent reports:

  • A recent one from the Transportation Research Board’s National Cooperative Freight Research Program entitled “Identifying and Using Low-Cost and Quickly Implementable Ways to Address Freight-System Mobility Constraints.” The report defines the dimensions of the freight transportation system, identifies multimodal freight mobility constraints and examines what’s needed to address the constraints. Included is a software tool to help decision makers evaluate constraints and improvements.
  • The U.S. Department of Transportation in September released an update of the National Rail Plan in a report titled “Moving Forward: A Progress Report.” The report outlines factors that make the case for improving rail infrastructure. It presents a vision for high-speed intercity passenger rail (which has been much in the news during these post-election days), discusses the importance of a high-performance freight-rail network and examines how rail can help the USDOT reach strategic goals including in the area of environmental sustainability.
  • By the way, there is more about the $2.5 billion in pre-election federal grants handed out for high-speed intercity passenger rail projects on the Federal Railroad Administration website. Although a big chunk ($1.5 billion) went to planned bullet train corridors in Florida and California, the remaining $1 billion goes into tracks shared with major freight railroads. As Undersecretary of Transportation for Policy Roy Kienitz told The Journal of Commerce last month: “In order to run good quality, high-speed rail on freight tracks, you need upgraded signaling systems, more sidings for passing, sometimes double or triple tracking, basic infrastructure, communications, stuff like that. Those are all things that benefit the railroad (as well as high-speed rail).”
  • The American Road and Transportation Builders Association reported in September that the use of new technologies, innovative project design and construction techniques, cleaner-burning fuels, and intensive recycling of waste materials have allowed the transportation construction industry to contribute significantly to improvements in the U.S. environment over the past 40 years. The report highlights recent transportation improvement projects in Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey/New York and Oregon that are achieving environmental innovation, energy savings and greenhouse gas reduction.

Some other recent freight transportation news of interest:

  • UPS, the world’s largest package delivery service, recently purchased 130 hybrid electric vehicles to add to a growing alternative-fuel vehicle fleet of more than 2,000, The Journal of Commerce reported last month. The vehicles, which will be deployed in New York, New Jersey and California, will save more than 66,000 gallons of fuel and cut production of 671 metric tons of CO2 annually. They’ll provide a 35 percent improvement in fuel economy or the equivalent of taking 128 passenger cars off the road.
  • Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell announced earlier this month that a new pilot program there will allow for the use of undeveloped properties owned by the state Department of Transportation as truck safety rest areas, according to the AASHTO Journal. “Anyone who has passed our full service rest areas at night or the early morning can see that many are filled to capacity with trucks,” McDonnell said. American Trucking Associations President Bill Graves said other states with similar truck parking shortages should look “to follow Virginia’s lead and look for similar opportunities to quickly expand parking at a minimal cost.”
  • There is more about the debate over increasing truck weights on Interstates in this recent newsletter from the Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole. In the same issue, Poole also weighs in on the proposed FREIGHT Act and another bill called the Freight Focus Act offered by U.S. Rep. Laura Richardson of California.
  • Earlier this month, U.S. Maritime Administrator David Matsuda blogged about attending a groundbreaking for the California Green Trade Corridor, a marine highway project that will move goods from Stockton and West Sacramento to Oakland. “Because freight traveling through the state is moved almost exclusively by truck or rail, the new waterway system will create transportation alternatives and reduce congestion and air emissions,” Matsuda wrote. The project received a $30 million TIGER grant which will allow, among other things, for the installation of power stations in the Port of Oakland. Those stations will allow operators to shut down a ship’s engines while in port, reducing air emissions.
  • There is more about how to make the marine transportation system a national priority in this op-ed from Janet Kavinoky, Director of Transportation Infrastructure at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
  • A recent article from the Transportation Research Board’s TR News magazine looks at “Maritime Freight Transportation, National Economic Recovery and Global Sustainability: Coordinating a Strategic Plan.” Among the issues discussed is how global agreements on climate change may affect the international maritime industry.

We hope you’ll find these resources, along with our brief on “Green Freight Transportation,” useful. Happy reading.