According to new estimates by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) of the U.S. Department of Transportations Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), over 19 billion tons of freight, valued at $13 trillion, was carried over 4.4 trillion ton-miles in the United States in 2002. This means that on a typical day in the United States in 2002, about 53 million tons of goods valued at about $36 billion moved nearly 12 billion ton-miles on the nations multimodal transportation network.1The new estimates combine data from the Commodity Flow Survey (CFS)the most comprehensive nationwide source of freight dataand data from other sources to provide the most complete picture of freight movement in America yet available (exhibit A).
This report discusses the resulting composite estimates, using 2002, the year of the latest CFS, as the baseline. It also discusses more recent data for specific modes, the geography of freight movements in the United States , and the growing importance of international trade to the U.S. freight transportation system.
As the U.S. freight transportation system advances further into the 21st Century, the need for managing the demand on the system and monitoring the volume of freight handled by each transportation mode will remain critical. It is important to know how much freight and what type of goods move on our nations transportation network. These and other data about the kind of transportation mode, vehicle or vessel characteristics, and facility type are needed to track, monitor conditions and performance, evaluate investment needs, and fully measure the many ways freight interacts with and enables economic activity.
Today, businesses depend on the interconnected transportation network to move myriads of goods, from raw materials such as lumber, coal, and petroleum products to manufactured goods including medical supplies, furniture, household appliances, and computers. More than ever before, Americans take for granted buying imported fresh fruits, vegetables, and flowers at their local supermarkets; next-day delivery of goods purchased over the Internet; and tracking express packages online to know their whereabouts at any given time. These everyday occurrences result from the availability of a vast transportation network, changes in freight delivery services and freight carrier operations, and improvements in freight logistics due in part to advancements in information technology and the Internet.
While goods movement in the United States is changing, some long-standing freight trends persist and new ones are emerging. Among the modes of transportation, trucking remains the shipping choice for many businesses and is increasing its market share. Air freight and express delivery are growing the most rapidly, although air cargo remains a small and specialized part of freight activity in terms of tonnage. Intermodal freight is increasing and use of containers for multimodal shipments is rising. Growing demand for more efficient and faster delivery of high value, low weight products is changing the structure of the freight industry, creating new alliances among shippers, carriers, and logistics providers. At the same time, enormous volumes of bulk commoditieswhether grains, lumber, ores, coal, or oilcontinue to move into, out of, and within the United States . These trends continue to shape freight transportation and transportations importance to the U.S. economy.
In 2004, the top five freight gateways represented the three transportation modeswater, air, and land. The John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport was the leading gateway for international trade by value, the Port of Los Angeles ranked second in value, and the Port of Long Beach ranked third. These were followed by the land border crossing of Detroit and the Port of New York and New Jersey.
The composite estimates do not provide the detailed information about shipments provided by the CFS. Hence, the report relies on the CFS data to discuss commodity-specific shipments, shipments distance, weight, and geography of freight shipments.
Each transportation mode continues to play an important role in the movement of freight, whether hauling large quantities of bulk commodities or perishables over great distances, carrying smaller packages to the main streets and back roads of America , or flying high-value merchandise to and from our trading partners abroad. Growth in the U.S. economy, increases in wholesale and retail trade, and changes in our overseas trading partners will continue to affect the level of U.S. freight shipments and the demand for freight transportation services. By 2020 the nations freight tonnage is projected to increase nearly 70 percent (USDOT FHWA 2003).2 With this expected growth, the need to better track changes in how freight moves and monitor the possible impacts on system capacity, congestion, safety, and the environment will be of major importance.