Environmental and Community Impacts of Freight Movement Trends and Practices

Focus Area

Land Use


Environmental Process







Research Idea Scope

The environmental and community consequences of changes in freight movement patterns in the US may be significant, but are currently unknown. Strategies are needed in response to emerging freight movement trends some of which may enhance environmental benefits while others may  have adverse environmental impacts. In addition, historically, many terminals and shipping corridors are located near low income or minority populations. A greater volume of goods can lead to greater impacts on nearby disadvantaged populations.
Issues of concern include growth in greenfield sites for manufacturing and distribution facilties that lack adequate transportation capacity, but which generate more efficient freight movement patterns; reliance on smaller, but more frequent services with potential increases in truck use; and increased interest in multi-modal freight shipments that involve a combination of rail, road, or air modes. On the community side, consolidation in the industry also means a greater mismatch between the global perspective of many modern industry players and the community perspective of the local jurisdictions in which the facilities are located. Larger corporations are less likely to understand or be aware of local community concerns or be able to interact with the community to mitigate impacts.

Research should address anticipated direction of current trends; their implications for transportation, land use, and the environment; and possible policies to ensure future developments in freight movement either enhance environmental quality or avoid adverse environmental impacts. At the same time, there is a growing opportunity to investigate impacts from goods movement on disadvantaged populations. Case studies of states’ experiences and responses would be useful.


This research will (1) begin with a search of existing literature on the measurement and planning for goods movement; (2) follow with a scan of current practices used with respect to (for example) environmental, socio-demographic, regional, and modal factors; and (3) continue with an assessment of the effectiveness of the methods identified above. This research also should include an economic analysis of changes in the location of entry-level, transportation-related jobs.

Suggested By

Transportation Research Board 2002 Environmental Research Needs Conference Notes

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