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United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - May/Jun 2006

May/Jun 2006
Issue No:
Vol. 69 No. 6
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Guest Editorial

Meeting the Freight Challenge

tonyfurst2The United States moves an astounding quantity of goods. According to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Freight Analysis Framework, nearly 17 billion tonnes (19.5 billion tons) of freight worth approximately $13.1 trillion were moved in 2002, the year for which the most current and comprehensive data are available. This volume is a mix of domestic goods and a large and growing international trade that translates into 168 kilograms (370 pounds) of goods moved daily for each U.S. resident. The U.S. gross domestic product in 2002 was approximately $10 trillion, and 23 percent of it was attributable to international trade, reflecting unprecedented global connectivity. Forecasts indicate that freight volumes will continue to grow, particularly in international shipments.

The upside is that these volumes represent a robust and growing economy. The downside is that they are contributing to and being affected by capacity constraints and congestion in the transportation system. Traffic congestion imposes costs on shippers, consumers, and the environment. Given current and predicted constraints on physical capacity, finding ways to improve the efficiency of moving freight within the United States and to and from other nations is a significant challenge. It is one that must be met, however, because the efficient movement of goods is critical to the country's economic well-being.

None of the respective players has the tools—or the authority—to meet the challenge alone. Finding ways to move goods efficiently will involve the combined effort of all levels of government and the private sector. Pursuing such collaboration led the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) to develop a Framework for a National Freight Policy.

The framework for a national policy is composed of seven objectives, one of which is to improve operation of the existing freight transportation system. To better understand current and evolving freight operations and where opportunities for improvement exist, USDOT is working with a broad range of partners, including the Intermodal Freight Technology Working Group (IFTWG), a public-private partnership. A few years ago, IFTWG extensively mapped the physical movement of goods through various supply chains along with the associated information transfer.

Freight movement, particularly international shipping, involves a complex exchange of information between multiple entities (governmental and commercial) associated with the transfer of goods within and between modes of transportation. Following the mapping effort, IFTWG determined that the information transfer connected with the physical movement of goods is a critical juncture between operations and technology, where improvements in speed, accuracy, and visibility could bring significant gains in efficiency. The Electronic Freight Management (EFM) program is a direct result of that effort and specifically targets information exchange.

The EFM program is a USDOT-sponsored research effort in intelligent transportation systems that partners with freight-related industries to improve the efficiency, safety, and security of goods movement. The EFM program seeks to demonstrate the use of a common message set that enables electronic transfer of shipment information between supply chain partners and provides all partners with access to that information in real time. In what is a genuinely collaborative effort, the EFM stakeholders from the private sector are The Limited Brands (a chain of fashion stores) and its supply partners in Asia and the United States. The government partners are USDOT, the Transportation Security Administration, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

The EFM program is emblematic of how working together can help meet the freight challenge. It marries industry and government priorities and objectives in a way that leverages collective experience, shared investment, and common effort.

Anthony T. Furst Signature

Anthony T. Furst

Director, Office of Freight Management and Operations

Federal Highway Administration