This is the accessible text file for GAO report number GAO-09-163R 
entitled 'Approaches to Mitigate Freight Congestion' which was released 
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United States Government Accountability Office: 
Washington, DC 20548: 

November 20, 2008: 

The Honorable James L. Oberstar:
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: 
House of Representatives: 

The Honorable Peter A. DeFazio:
Subcommittee on Highways and Transit:
Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure: 
House of Representatives: 

Subject: Approaches to Mitigate Freight Congestion: 

Strong productivity gains in the U.S. economy hinge, in part, on 
transportation networks working efficiently. Continued development and 
efficient management of the nation's freight transportation system-- 
especially highways and rail lines that connect international gateways 
and intermodal facilities to retailers, producers, and consumers--are 
important to sustaining the nation's competitive position in the global 
economy. However, the increasing congestion on the transportation 
system poses a threat to the efficient flow of the nation's goods and 
has strained the system in some locations. Moreover, recent growth in 
international trade has placed even greater pressures on ports, border 
crossings, and distribution hubs. Congestion delays that significantly 
constrain freight mobility in these areas could result in increased 
economic costs for the nation. The Federal Highway Administration has 
calculated that delays caused by highway bottlenecks cost the trucking 
industry alone more than $8 billion a year.[Footnote 1] 

We reported earlier this year on ways in which freight transportation 
stakeholders have been addressing those factors, and the many 
challenges public planners face in advancing freight projects.[Footnote 
2] In that report, we showed how stakeholders have advanced projects 
and proposals to enhance freight mobility by increasing system 
efficiency and building new infrastructure. The challenges we 
identified included competition from nonfreight projects for public 
funds and community support in the planning process, lack of 
coordination among various government entities and private sector 
stakeholders, and limited or restricted availability of public funds 
for projects related to freight transportation. Compounding these 
challenges facing state and local transportation planners is the fact 
that the federal government is not well positioned to enhance freight 
mobility due to the absence of a clear federal strategy and role for 
freight transportation, an outmoded federal approach to transportation 
planning and funding, and the unsustainability of planned federal 
transportation funding. We recommended that DOT work with Congress and 
freight stakeholders to develop a national strategy to transform the 
federal government's involvement in freight transportation projects. 

Recognizing that freight congestion has been well-defined and studied, 
you asked us to research technologies and projects currently in place 
or in development that could improve freight mobility, including low- 
cost approaches. In doing our work, we learned that the National 
Cooperative Freight Research Program (NCFRP) is currently conducting a 
comprehensive research project to identify low-cost and quickly 
implementable approaches to address freight mobility constraints. 
[Footnote 3] To not duplicate NCFRP's efforts by conducting a similar 
review, we limited the scope of our work. Therefore, as agreed with 
your staff, this report provides high-level information on (1) the 
ongoing research project being conducted by NCFRP, and (2) examples of 
implemented or planned technologies and projects to improve freight 
mobility that fall under the two broad approaches we identified in our 
earlier report--efforts to increase the efficient use of existing 
infrastructure and to add new capacity to the transportation network. 
To obtain information on these issues, we spoke with the lead 
researcher working on the NCFRP research project to learn about its 
objectives, scope, and methodology. We also reviewed existing 
literature on technologies and approaches being implemented to mitigate 
congestion, and prior GAO reports on freight and surface 
transportation. We interviewed officials with the Department of 
Transportation (DOT), as well as industry stakeholders representing 
ports and railroads to provide a snapshot of current approaches that 
could be used to address freight mobility constraints. Because defining 
"low-cost approaches" would have required work outside the scope of 
this engagement, we include examples of approaches and projects to 
improve freight mobility that may incur substantial investments. We 
performed our review from May 2008 to November 2008. 

Results in Brief: 

The NCFRP study is focused on identifying low-cost and quickly 
implementable approaches to address freight mobility constraints. The 
research group conducting the study intends to capture information on 
low-cost improvements that have been or are in the process of being 
implemented, the costs that were associated with and the impact of the 
improvements, and any lessons learned. The information collected will 
be used to develop a searchable database that will allow users to find 
low-cost and quickly implementable solutions to their particular 
freight mobility issue, based on defined criteria. The research group 
issued its first interim report in May 2008, which outlined the study's 
scope and methodology, and plans to complete its next interim report by 
January 2009. 

As explained above, we have previously reported on two broad approaches 
for improving freight mobility and examples of technologies and 
projects being implemented or studied that fall under those two 
approaches.[Footnote 4] During this engagement, we identified other 
technologies and projects that could help to mitigate congestion, but 
we did not attempt to determine if these technologies and projects 
would be considered low-cost. The first broad approach is to increase 
the efficient use of existing infrastructure. For example, some ports 
use radio frequency identification technology to electronically 
identify and track container contents. With such tags, cranes equipped 
with readers that remove cargo from ships can read the container's 
allowing the terminal operator to better stage containers. The second 
broad approach is to add new capacity to the transportation network, 
such as building new facilities, roads, and bridges. For example, DOT 
is looking at the possibility of improving freight movement through 
developing truck-only lanes, which are lanes dedicated for trucks that 
are physically separated from passenger vehicles. 

We provided DOT with a draft of this report for its review and comment. 
In response, DOT suggested technical corrections, which we incorporated 
into the report, as appropriate. Further, DOT noted that while the 
draft report addresses several practical approaches for mitigating 
freight congestion, it does not discuss expanding the use of waterborne 
transportation, or "America's Marine Highway" which some DOT officials 
believe has the potential to mitigate surface freight transportation 


Freight movement is vital to the functioning of the national economy. 
DOT statistics show that the volume of freight moved on the U.S. 
transportation system has grown dramatically over the past few decades 
and is projected to increase by nearly 70 percent by 2020. According to 
DOT, improvements in the efficiency and reliability of freight 
transportation have been an engine of prosperity and competitive 
advantage; but, the U.S. transportation system now faces challenges 
that, unless addressed, may jeopardize its reliability. According to 
information from the Transportation Research Board (TRB), the 
substantial growth in trade volumes, increased congestion, and scarce 
and expensive real estate for freight have radically altered transport 
and logistics over the last 5 years. According to DOT, congestion is a 
serious problem by contributing to longer and more unpredictable 
transit times and results in the increased cost of transporting 
freight.[Footnote 5] Additionally, DOT states that the transportation 
network's efficiency has not kept pace at a rate commensurate with 
growth in travel and commerce; and solutions to congestion will likely 
involve a mix of investments to add new capacity, preserve existing 
infrastructure, and improve operational efficiency. 

Current NCFRP Research Project Focuses on Low-cost, Quickly 
Implementable Approaches to Freight Mobility Constraints: 

NCFRP has initiated a research project focused on identifying low-cost 
and quickly implementable approaches to address freight mobility 
constraints. The objectives of the research are to (1) develop a 
standardized description of the dimensions of the nation's freight 
system; (2) analyze business practices and institutional factors that 
influence freight system decision makers and stakeholders; (3) develop 
a methodology for identifying, categorizing, and evaluating quickly 
implementable, low-cost capital, operational, and public policy actions 
to enhance freight mobility; and (4) apply this methodology in a 
generic way to create a catalog of improvement actions. 

According to the lead researcher of the project, the research group is 
working to define the terms "low-cost" and "quickly implementable" as 
they relate to specific modes of transportation. The research group has 
preliminarily defined a "low-cost" and "quickly implementable" 
improvement as an action that modifies existing geometry and 
operational features of the freight transportation infrastructure 
system to address freight mobility constraints that can be implemented 
within a short period without extended disruption of traffic flow. The 
research group has defined the scope of its work and the entities to be 
interviewed, developed an interview list and guide, defined research 
parameters by mode (e.g., rail or ports), and determined freight 
mobility constraints for each mode. The research group intends to 
interview representatives from trucking, class I and short line 
railroads, deepwater and river ports, logistics industry associations, 
freight forwarder and package express shippers, federal and state 
transportation agencies, metropolitan planning organizations, and labor 
unions. To supplement information gathered through the interviews, the 
research group plans to conduct a comprehensive review of project 
reports and published technical literature to derive information on 
implemented, low-cost improvement actions directed at addressing 
freight mobility constraints. Through the interviews and literature 
searches, the research group expects to capture information on low-cost 
improvement actions that have been implemented or are currently being 
implemented, what costs were associated with and the impact of the 
improvement action, and any lessons learned. All the information 
collected will be used to develop a searchable database that will allow 
users to find low-cost and quickly implementable solutions to their 
particular freight mobility issue based on defined criteria. The goal 
is to document each type of improvement action by mode, size, and 
applicability of the improvement action. The research group issued its 
first interim report in May 2008, which outlines the study's scope and 
methodology, and plans to complete its next interim report by January 

Increasing the Efficiency of Existing Infrastructure and Adding New 
Capacity to the Transportation Network Could Improve Freight Mobility: 

As we have previously reported, one approach that freight stakeholders 
use to improve freight mobility involves advancing projects and 
proposals designed to increase the efficient use of existing 
infrastructure. Among other things, these activities include 
restructuring operations at ports, changing hours of operation, 
deploying technology, and introducing congestion pricing strategies. 
The following are examples of activities designed to increase 
efficiency of existing infrastructure that we identified during this 
engagement or on which we have previously reported. 

* Chassis pools: According to an official representing port 
authorities, typically port terminal operators or ocean carriers own 
their own truck container chassis[Footnote 6] and when loading freight, 
would use their own chassis in the loading process. Chassis pools, on 
the other hand, provide chassis that any company can use, which saves 
time by eliminating the process of locating and using specific chassis. 
An example of a chassis pool in operation is at the Port of Virginia. 
[Footnote 7] According to information from the Environmental Protection 
Agency's Office of Transportation and Air Quality, the Port of Virginia 
established a chassis pool in 2004 requiring all shipping lines to 
provide chassis that any company can use in loading its freight. As a 
result, the number of chassis stored at the port has been reduced by 
5,000 to 6,000 and has opened up 40 to 60 acres of land recaptured for 
other uses at the port. Further, local trucking companies have reported 
that the number of moves their drivers complete in a day has risen 
dramatically. For example, drivers who would previously only be able to 
move two to three containers per day can now move up to 10 containers 

* Radio Frequency Identification (RFID): RFID is an automated data- 
capture technology that can be used to electronically identify, track, 
and store information contained on a tag. A radio frequency reader 
scans the tag and sends the information to a database. For freight 
purposes, an official representing port authorities stated that 
containers can be coded with RFID tags, and the cranes removing cargo 
from ships can be equipped with RFID readers. The RFID reader scans the 
coded RFID tag for information on the container. With information on 
the contents of the container, the terminal operator can better 
position the container for when it is actually moved to a staging area. 
This approach helps to reduce paperwork and saves time and resources. 
According to the industry association official, RFID technology on 
cranes is currently being used at the Port of Long Beach. The port 
authority official also stated that this process is also being used for 
trucks entering an intermodal terminal or transfer station. Containers 
on trucks can be read prior to getting to the transfer station. The 
information can be relayed to the station, allowing them to prepare for 
arrival and processing, which results in faster movement of freight. 

* Virtual container yard: A virtual container yard is a Web-based 
information exchange platform that allows users to match empty 
equipment needs so they can interchange, or "street turn," empty 
containers without first returning them to a terminal, rail ramp, or 
container yard. In many cases, after a container is unloaded by an 
importer, it is removed from the port to an off-site depot for storage 
until an exporter calls for a container. In 2006, the ports of Los 
Angeles and Long Beach and the Alameda Corridor Transportation 
Authority in southern California implemented a virtual container yard 
in an attempt to increase the number of containers taken directly to 
exporters by five-fold.[Footnote 8] 

* Extending business hours: Some businesses in New York City have opted 
to extend hours of operation for receiving shipments to reduce peak 
daytime traffic congestion. As a result, these businesses receive 
special incentives from the City to receive deliveries late in the day. 
For instance, some retail stores have arranged to have employees 
receive deliveries after 9:00 p.m. The City, in turn, has provided 
special approval of curbside parking to these businesses and has agreed 
not to ticket delivery vehicles during off-peak hours. This approach 
has the potential to reduce peak hour congestion by giving drivers a 
wider delivery window and avoiding traffic delays.[Footnote 9] 

* Congestion Pricing: Congestion pricing involves charging users a 
toll, fee, or surcharge for using transportation infrastructure during 
certain peak periods of travel. One congestion pricing approach is the 
Off-Peak program created by PierPASS. PierPASS is a not-for-profit 
company created by marine terminal operators at the Los Angeles and 
Long Beach ports to address multi-terminal issues such as congestion, 
security and air quality. In 2005, PierPASS launched the Off-Peak 
program in an effort to encourage cargo owners to arrange transport 
during nights and weekends. The program imposes a $50 per 20-foot 
equivalent unit "Traffic Mitigation Fee" on loaded containers that are 
moved during peak hours. According to a PierPass official, the program 
has resulted in approximately 36 percent of traffic moving at night, 
taking thousands of truck trips out of daytime freeway traffic 
patterns, thus alleviating daytime congestion. These concepts are also 
useful for passenger traffic.[Footnote 10] 

A second approach that freight stakeholders are using to improve 
freight mobility involves projects and proposals to create or add new 
capacity to existing infrastructure. This includes building or adding 
to facilities, such as establishing inland ports, freight rail 
improvements, bridge replacement/improvements, on-dock rail access, and 
establishing additional truck and rail corridors. The following are 
examples of various approaches for creating or adding to capacity to 
improve freight mobility. We have previously reported on some of these 
examples and others were identified during the timeframe of this 

* Establishing inland ports: An inland port is a site located away from 
traditional land, air, and coastal borders with the vision to 
facilitate and process international trade through strategic investment 
in multi-modal transportation assets, and by promoting value-added 
services as goods move through the supply chain. One such example is 
the Virginia Inland Port, located in Front Royal, Virginia, started 
operations in 1989. According to the Virginia Port Authority, the 
Virginia Inland Port provides a link between truck and rail for the 
transport of ocean-going containers. Containers are transported by 
truck from seaports located in Virginia to the Inland Port for 
immediate loading upon a rail car or for short-term storage prior to 
loading. According to a report by the Appalachian Regional Commission, 
prior to the operation of the inland port, companies in this region 
were using trucks and railroads to move products to ports in Baltimore 
and Philadelphia. They did so because distance made the Port of 
Virginia not cost competitive.[Footnote 11] The report states that 
shippers in the northern Appalachian region now have the option of 
moving freight directly to the Port of Virginia through the inland 
port, rather than the longer highway routes to Baltimore and 
Philadelphia. The report states that the project has resulted in time 

* Freight rail improvements: Railroad improvements include building new 
intermodal facilities and adding tracks to the rail network to relieve 
capacity constraints and enhance freight mobility. For example, the 
railroads serving southern California have added or are beginning to 
build new double track lines into and out of Los Angeles to accommodate 
the growing freight traffic. According to information reported by one 
railroad, double tracking will enable the railroad to nearly double 
train capacity that connects the Los Angeles area with all southern 
U.S. markets and the major eastern rail gateways. Additionally, 
transportation planners in Houston, Texas, have proposed several 
projects to relieve congestion along busy freight rail corridors, 
including construction of a new mainline track and a new bridge to 
relieve congestion in bottlenecked sections, construction of grade 
separations to allow for trains to stop without causing delays or 
safety hazards to the public, and construction of new rail corridors 
that bypass populated areas.[Footnote 12] 

* Bridge improvement/replacement: Improving or replacing bridges in 
certain locations can allow for increased volume of traffic carrying 
freight. For example, a project to rebuild a bridge at the Port of Long 
Beach will accommodate growing highway traffic and will allow larger 
ships to pass underneath. The project is scheduled to begin in 2010 and 
cost an estimated $851 million. Also, a project at the Port of Los 
Angeles will replace a bridge which is too small to accommodate high 
truck volumes. The highway project is expected to cost $686 million. 
Both projects will be funded by federal, state, local, port funds, and 
through fees charged on import/export cargo. The highway project and 
bridge replacement will allow trucks to more quickly haul their loads 
from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to the Intermodal 
Container Transfer Facility located 3 miles away. 

* On-dock rail access: According to a port industry official, at 
traditional ports, ships at the receiving port off-load freight to 
trucks, which transport the freight to a rail station, where it is then 
transferred to a train for transport to its destination city. On-dock 
rail places rail facilities at the port terminal--eliminating the need 
for transport by truck and resulting in a reduction of pollution and 
traffic on roads. For example, the industry official stated that the 
Port of Tacoma, Washington, has four dockside rail yards that move 
cargo quickly and efficiently from container terminals. The first of 
these four dockside rail yards opened in 1981. The port industry 
official also stated that the on-dock rail yards have reduced the 
number of trucks on city streets and highways and that each full train 
that leaves the port represents 250 to 300 trucks not on the roads, 
reducing highway congestion and diesel emissions. 

* Truck-only lanes: Truck-only lanes are highways in which lanes 
dedicated for trucks are physically separated from passenger vehicles. 
As part of its Corridors of the Future Program, DOT is looking at the 
possibility of improving freight movement through developing truck-only 
lanes. An example of this is a project to study dedicated and 
segregated truck lanes for the Interstate 70 corridor running from 
Kansas City to the Ohio/West Virginia border. The concept proposes 
adding four dedicated truck lanes to the existing infrastructure, two 
in each direction, with at least one interchange per county providing 
access to the truck lanes and includes, conceptually, truck staging 
areas. These lanes present the opportunity to pilot size and weight 
increases on a facility dedicated to trucks. The dedicated truck lanes 
are seen as a way to reduce congestion, improve safety, and offset the 
maintenance costs of general purpose lanes. 

Agency Comments: 

We provided DOT with a draft of this report for its review and comment. 
In response, DOT suggested technical corrections, which we incorporated 
into the report as appropriate. Further, DOT noted that while the draft 
report addresses several practical approaches to mitigating freight 
congestion, it does not discuss expanding the use of waterborne 
transportation, or "America's Marine Highway." DOT said this program is 
being studied by TRB[Footnote 13] and some DOT officials believe it has 
the potential to mitigate surface freight transportation congestion to 
an equal or greater degree than the other examples in the report. We 
did not intend for the examples in the report to be exhaustive and 
determining the extent to which the examples would mitigate congestion 
was not in the scope of our work. DOT's comments said expanded use of 
waterborne transportation could be an effective way to help relieve 
significant shore-side congestion because waterborne transportation is 
generally underutilized and has substantial capacity. DOT said tapping 
into America's Marine Highways, consisting of more than 25,000 miles of 
inland, intracoastal, and coastal waterways, could be cost effective, 
requires very little new infrastructure, and could represent 
significant fuel savings and air emissions reductions. 

We are sending copies of this report to interested congressional 
committees and the Secretary of Transportation. This report will be 
available at no cost on the GAO Web site at [hyperlink,]. 

Should you or your staff have any questions about this report, please 
contact me at (202) 512-2834 or Contact points for our 
Office of Congressional Relations and Public Affairs may be found on 
the last page of this report. Key contributors to this report were Andy 
Clinton, Steven Ervin, Sally Moino, and Courtney Williams. 

Signed by: 

Phillip R. Herr:
Director, Physical Infrastructure Issues: 

[End of section] 

Related GAO Products: 

Surface Transportation: Restructured Federal Approach Needed for More 
Focused, Performance-Based, and Sustainable Programs. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: March 
6, 2008. 

Highway Public-Private Partnerships: More Rigorous Up-front Analysis 
Could Better Secure Potential Benefits and Protect the Public Interest. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, 
D.C.: February 8, 2008. 

Freight Transportation: National Policy and Strategies Can Help Improve 
Freight Mobility. [hyperlink,
287]. Washington, D.C.: January 7, 2008. 

Surface Transportation: Strategies Are Available for Making Existing 
Road Infrastructure Perform Better. [hyperlink,
bin/getrpt?GAO-07-920]. Washington, D.C.: July 26, 2007. 

Intermodal Transportation: DOT Could Take Further Actions to Address 
Intermodal Barriers. [hyperlink,
07-718]. Washington, D.C.: June 20, 2007. 

Freight Railroads: Industry Health Has Improved, but Concerns about 
Competition and Capacity Should Be Addressed. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: October 
6, 2006. 

Intermodal Transportation: Challenges to and Potential Strategies for 
Developing Improved Intermodal Capabilities. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: June 
15, 2006. 

Highway Finance: States' Expanding Use of Tolling Illustrates Diverse 
Challenges and Strategies. [hyperlink,
bin/getrpt?GAO-06-554]. Washington, D.C.: June 28, 2006. 

Freight Transportation: Short Sea Shipping Option Shows Importance of 
Systematic Approach to Public Investment Decisions. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: July 
29, 2005. 

Surface Transportation: Many Factors Affect Investment Decisions. 
[hyperlink,]. Washington, 
D.C.: June 30, 2004. 

Freight Transportation: Strategies Needed to Address Planning and 
Financing Limitations. [hyperlink,
bin/getrpt?GAO-04-165]. Washington, D.C.: December 19, 2003. 

Surface and Maritime Transportation: Challenges and Strategies for 
Enhancing Mobility. [hyperlink,
02-1132T]. Washington, D.C.: September 30, 2002. 

Marine Transportation: Federal Financing and an Infrastructure 
Investment Framework. [hyperlink,
02-1090T]. Washington, D.C.: September 9, 2002. 

Highway Infrastructure: Interstate Physical Conditions Have Improved, 
but Congestion and Other Pressures Continue. [hyperlink,]. Washington, D.C.: May 
31, 2002. 

[End of section] 


[1] U.S. Chamber of Commerce, The Transportation Challenge: Moving the 
U.S. Economy (Washington, D.C., 2008). 

[2] GAO, Freight Transportation: National Policy and Strategies Can 
Help Improve Freight Mobility, [hyperlink,
bin/getrpt?GAO-08-287] (Washington D.C.: Jan. 7, 2008). 

[3] NCFRP was initiated under The Safe, Accountable, Flexible, 
Efficient Transportation Equity Act--A Legacy for Users. DOT was 
directed to have NCFRP managed by the National Academy of Sciences 
(NAS). NAS, operating through the Transportation Research Board (TRB), 
is now managing this program. TRB is one of six major divisions of the 
National Research Council, a private nonprofit institution that is the 
principal operating agency of NAS in providing services to the 
government, the public, and the scientific and engineering communities. 
The research project is being carried out by Battelle Memorial 
Institute under the guidance of a NCFRP project panel. 

[4] [hyperlink,]. 

[5] U.S. Department of Transportation, The Freight Story: A National 
Perspective on Enhancing Freight Transportation (Washington, D.C., 
November 2002). 

[6] Truck container chassis are the flat trailer beds that cargo 
containers are loaded onto when being transported by truck. 

[7] The Virginia Port Authority owns Norfolk International Terminals, 
Newport News Marine Terminal, Portsmouth Marine Terminal and the 
Virginia Inland Port, in Front Royal; combined, these four facilities 
make up the Port of Virginia. 

[8] Previously reported in [hyperlink,

[9] Previously reported in [hyperlink,

[10] Previously reported in [hyperlink,

[11] Appalachian Regional Commission, Meeting the Transportation 
Challenges of the 21ST Century: Intermodal Opportunities in the 
Appalachian Region (2004). 

[12] Previously reported in [hyperlink,

[13] More information on this study can be found at: [hyperlink,]. 

[End of section] 

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