A smoothly functioning freight transportation network is part of the nation’s critical infrastructure and is essential to the operation of the U.S. economy. Rail is a significant component of this infrastructure. There are serious threats to American’s freight rail system caused in large part by intrusion of incompatible land uses, especially in America’s burgeoning megapolitans. Population growth, rising incomes, and other aspects of economic growth have all led to increased competition for the land resources around the freight rail network. Incompatible land uses around freight rail corridors and facilities often results in conflicts between those uses and barriers to efficient freight transportation.
This paper discusses the research results from Transportation Research Board (TRB) Project NCFRP 24 that developed a website, www.EnvisionFreight.com, and a report outlining tools and strategies for better planning and design of residential and other structures in proximity to freight corridors and facilities. The paper initially discusses the benefits and importance of an integrated multimodal freight system, and the value of a smoothly functioning freight transportation network. This includes discussion of the freight rail network’s part in the nation’s critical freight transportation infrastructure. The paper then reviews the conflicts and barriers that often occur between incompatible land uses and freight rail assets. Case studies that were conducted during the research are also utilized to show current practices in planning for freight. Finally the paper discusses strategies for preserving and evolving the network of freight rail corridors and access points, which requires foreseeing future areas of conflict and acting proactively in an economically rational manner.
Our research found four areas of tools and preservation and protection strategies to minimize and resolve conflicts between freight and other land uses: long-range planning, zoning and design, mitigation, and education and outreach. The research found that tremendous potential exists to significantly affect decision making that impacts freight. With the likely emergence of freight mega-regions that do not respect state or even national boundaries, a new planning dialogue is required to prepare for the next generation freight system to support these regions. Planning decisions that will be made over the next decade will be critical to our future transportation system efficiencies and regional competitiveness. Local and regional freight planning in this context will require highly skilled freight transportation planners, new planning strategies and tools, community support, longer-term regional visioning, and legislative authority.