Intermodal Freight Transportation:

Projects and Planning Issues

NSIAD-96-159: Published: Jul 9, 1996. Publicly Released: Jul 30, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed intermodal freight transportation issues, focusing on: (1) the Department of Transportation's (DOT) efforts to track how states use Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) funds to facilitate intermodal transportation; (2) the nature and extent of ISTEA funds used by states for intermodal freight projects; (3) how some local and regional areas that handle large volumes of freight have considered intermodal freight transportation issues as part of their planning processes; (4) impediments some areas face in improving intermodal freight transportation; and (5) trends in intermodal freight transportation.

GAO found that: (1) DOT has not developed the statutorily required database on public and private intermodal transportation investments, or tracked how states use ISTEA funds for such projects; (2) DOT says that its limited role in allocating funds, states' inconsistent identification of projects, and intermodal projects' multiple financing sources make establishing the database difficult; (3) as of September 1995, 10 states had obligated about $35.6 million in ISTEA funds for 23 intermodal-freight-related projects; (4) as of December 1995, 9 states had obligated $68.4 million, or 36 percent of the $191.8 million in ISTEA funds authorized, for 20 priority intermodal freight projects; (5) the total amount of funds obligated for intermodal freight projects through the first four ISTEA fiscal years equals less than 1 percent of ISTEA funds apportioned to the states for highways and other nontransit infrastructure projects during the same period; (6) metropolitan planning organizations have to balance intermodal freight issues with a wide range of other transportation needs; (7) public transportation planners lack experience and planning tools for intermodal transportation, but states are slowly developing such expertise and tools; (8) local and regional planners are addressing problems specific to their areas; and (9) impediments to improving intermodal freight transportation include obtaining necessary proprietary information on freight movements and coordinating public and private-sector planning, but public-private partnerships may help overcome such impediments.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOT concurred in part with this recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should establish a definition of freight intermodal projects.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The recommendation was fully implemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should ensure that the database on intermodal investments required by Title V of ISTEA is developed and maintained in accordance with the statute.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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