Assessing the Potential for Modal Shifts in Freight Transportation to Benefit Air Quality

Focus Area

Air Quality


Air Quality






1-2 years

Research Idea Scope

Freight transportation is a major contributor of greenhouse gases and other air pollutants in the U.S.  Much of these emissions are due to truck operations, which have relatively higher emissions intensities compared to alternative freight modes (rail and ship). Recently policymakers, planners, and researchers have started to emphasize the potential to shift freight from truck to cleaner modes.  However, it is not clear what the overall potential emissions reductions are from such a shift, or how such a shift can effectively be made given existing infrastructure and logistics systems.  Attributes such as time-of-delivery, freight compatibility, and economics limit potential modal shifts, yet the extent of these limitations is not well understood.  This research is aimed at developing and applying modal shift theory to assess more completely the potential for modal shifts in the freight sector.  The project may be considered for a region, a freight corridor, a freight gateway, or the nation as a whole.  

Urgency and Payoff

The research will help put bounds on the existing potential for modal shifts as a GHG and air pollution mitigation option.  In addition, the research will identify aspects of the freight system that will need to be improved or changed in order for greater use of intermodal transport.

Suggested By

James J. Winebrake, Rochester Institute of Technology

[email protected]