The Mid-America Freight Coalition (MAFC) Regional Freight study (RFS) is designed to address rapidly changing economic, logistics, and transportation policy and infrastructure issues in a multi-modal, multi-state approach that maximizes the economic benefit from the region’s freight transportation and logistics network. There are three broad trends that have amplified the relevance, need for, and timeliness of the MAFC RFS. First, there has been an increased awareness of freight transportation as a distinct user segment in transportation development and operations. Second, there has been an elevated awareness of the relationship between economic development and jobs, and freight transportation quality and service. And third, both of these factors have in part driven the development of the freight initiatives in MAP-21, for the first time placing a national freight policy in legislation.

The increased awareness of freight by transportation professionals, developers, economists, and the general public is in part driven by the increasing truck counts on our highways, and an awareness of the global and national movement of goods. While freight movement can be an economic engine, it is also a significant consumer of transportation miles and a producer of externalities. The dominance of freight loads on our transportation systems has placed freight transportation policy on center stage for local, state, and national policy development. Further, the volume and impact of freight movement are not expected to diminish. Given a stable economic context, one can assume the demand for freight movement to roughly grow at the same rate as the population growth rate. In order to ensure U.S. global competitiveness and maintain the efficient movement of freight, transportation efficiencies must be identified and implemented, the system must utilize a more multi-modal approach, and lastly, the system must be expanded. All three of these options will require multi-state collaboration in order to provide the needed innovation and change.

Beginning with the economic downturn of 2008, freight transportation development and its suite of benefits including business and job growth were unleashed through programs such as TIGER. Additionally, evidence of the economic losses related to delays and system failures such as flooding or chronic congestion were coming to light. The dependence of the economic system on transportation to support this range of economic activities provides a clear demonstration of the need for continued freight transportation investments that support and deliver the U.S. economy. Freight transportation development is a necessary, but not a sufficient resource of itself to create development.

These freight-related trends have occurred simultaneously with the development of the first-ever freight transportation policy and strategy, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21). The MAP-21 freight initiatives provide technical direction for adoption of freight initiatives in state DOTs and a national policy direction for freight transportation. MAP-21 freight initiatives will affect how states and their partners plan for freight, how they work with freight stakeholders, and ultimately the role DOTs and their partners play in the efficient movement of goods. While MAP-21 is new, these new freight policy initiatives have not just appeared overnight. The ten MAASTO states have been leaders in aligning freight planning, project development, and more recently, economic development through multi-state coordinated freight development. Beginning with the 2002 Upper Midwest Freight Corridor Study, efforts to provide a regional perspective towards freight continued and became more formalized with establishment of a pooled fund effort initiating the Mississippi Valley Freight Coalition in 2006. In 2010, the AASHTO Mississippi Valley states changed their name to the Mid-America Association of State Transportation Officials. Similarly, the Mississippi Valley Freight Coalition followed suit and renamed itself the Mid-America Freight Coalition.

MAFC operates as transportation pooled fund project for these ten states and conducts freight research, provides a venue for multistate projects and best practice sharing, participates in freight policy development, and through collaboration and outreach works to bring the very best of freight innovation and policy to the states.

A Regional Freight Study

In 2010, the ten states of the Mid-America Freight Coalition initiated a study of the movement of freight through and within the region, as well as an assessment of the related development patterns and logistics trends that are likely to impact the region. The primary goal of this study is to identify relationships and strategies than can maximize the benefit that transportation can contribute to regional economic health. The MAFC regional economy is heavily reliant on manufacturing, natural resources, and agriculture—all significant freight generators, both for the inputs and for the products of these economic activities. These major economic engines face competition from foreign producers. Market success depends in part on producing quality products at competitive prices, but it also depends on the ability to deliver those products to national and international markets at competitive prices. In delivered or landed price, transportation can be a significant factor. Any measures that can be taken to make the movement of freight within the region more efficient will benefit regional producers and the economy of the nation. Ultimately, the MAFC RFS provides a framework to understand and strengthen the connections between our transportation policy and institutions, freight transportation systems, and the economy.

In a MAFC RFS working session, the technical representatives from the MAFC states defined the objectives of the MAFC RFS as follows:

  • Advance the use of transportation and the movement of freight to support and encourage a regional approach to economic development.
  • Identify the bottlenecks, particularly at intermodal connections, how they affect freight movements throughout the entire region, and how they might be alleviated.
  • Work towards uniformity and consistency applied to freight movements across the regions, especially regarding permitting, truck sizes and weights, and oversize/overweight rules.
  • Develop major routes and corridors as regional entities that provide for multi-modal and intermodal developments.
  • Identify unused freight capacity in different areas and modes and how this capacity might be better used.
  • Provide support for disaster planning, scenario planning, and incident management when a major node, or corridor, is crippled by forces of man or nature.
  • Assess environmental considerations such as air quality, fuel efficiency, land use, and mitigation of invasive species.

Underlying all of these objectives is the general consensus that the MAFC RFS should provide the basis for fostering collaboration among the Coalition states, improve our understanding of, and maximize our economic linkages, and provide a venue for pursuing multi-state projects at the federal level.

From the policy context, MAP-21 introduces a national freight network as well as freight planning and outreach initiatives that parallel existing efforts on the part of the MAFC states to advance state and regional freight development. Given this evolving context of an increasingly sophisticated professional freight community, an awareness of the economic importance of freight, and the freight provisions of MAP-21, the MAFC Regional Freight Study is brought further into focus as a document that can provide assistance and direction in charting our regional freight future. The RFS will provide the regional and national awareness and urgency that MAASTO state freight assets are critical must be supported through appropriate freight planning and projects, and maximized to advance our economies.