According to the composite estimates, nearly 1.7 billion tons of merchandise moved in and out of the United States in 2002. This means that approximately 9 percent of the 19 billion tons of total commercial freight transported on the nations transportation system were imported goods or goods destined for exports. Maritime vessels carried 76 percent of the total weight and 39 percent of the total value of the imports and exports in 2002. Trucks carried 11 percent of the weight and 21 percent of the value, while air carried less than 1 percent of the weight but 27 percent of the value. Rail and pipeline carried the remainder.
According to U.S.-foreign trade statistics, in 2004, the U.S. freight transportation network carried merchandise exports and imports worth over $2.2 trillion, an increase of 168 percent from $822 billion in 1990 (both in inflation-adjusted 2000 dollars).40 Between 1990 and 2004, the ratio of the value of U.S. goods produced for exports and goods imported into the United States to GDP increased from 12 percent to 21 percent, also in inflation-adjusted terms.
Most U.S.-international merchandise trade is with relatively few countries, although the United States trades with most countries worldwide. In 2004, three-quarters (75 percent) of the value of U.S. merchandise trade was with 15 countries, and just five countriesCanada , Mexico , China , Japan , and Germanyaccounted for over half (54 percent) of the value of U.S. goods imports and exports (table 22).
Nearly one-third of U.S. merchandise trade was with Canada and Mexico , the U.S.-North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) trade partners. In 2004, land modes of transportation (truck, rail, pipeline) carried the majority (89 percent) of U.S. goods trade with Canada and Mexico , a proportion that has remained stable since 1990.
The modal shares of overall U.S.-NAFTA freight vary depending on the value or weight of the traded goods. In terms of value, trucks transported nearly two-thirds (64 percent) of the goods in U.S.-NAFTA trade in 2004 (figure 16). Trucks moved $453 billion ($215 billion of exports and $238 billion of imports) of this trade. Trucking was followed by rail, water, pipeline, and air. Trucks are more dominant in U.S. trade with Mexico , accounting for 69 percent of the value, than in U.S. trade with Canada , accounting for 60 percent of the value.
The relative modal roles in U.S.-NAFTA trade vary by weight (figure 16). In 2004, water transportation carried more of this trade in terms of tonnage than any other mode. About 246 million tons of U.S.-NAFTA trade traveled over water, accounting for about 39 percent of the weight. Water transportation was followed in descending order by truck, rail, pipeline, and air. Water is more dominant in terms of weight because of its role in transporting heavy bulk products (e.g., grains and crude petroleum), while higher value-per-ton commodities (e.g., fresh flowers, electronics, and office equipment) are more often moved by air, truck, and rail. Trucks moved an estimated 176 million tons of traded goods with Canada and Mexico , accounting for about 28 percent of the weight of U.S.-NAFTA trade. Modal shares by weight vary by imports and exports. In 2004, trucks moved 21 percent of import tonnage and an estimated 45 percent of export tonnage.
Along the U.S. land borders with Canada and Mexico are over 100 land ports where freight crosses between the countries; 80 of these are along the Canadian border and 24 are along the Mexican border. In 2004, more than 11 million trucks and 41 thousand trains carried freight into the United States through these ports of entry. On those trucks and trains were nearly 14 million containers with goods destined for every state in the country.41
Despite numerous available ports, a large percentage of this activity takes place at only a few. Nearly 40 percent of all truck crossings from Canada and Mexico passed through Detroit (MI), Laredo (TX), and Buffalo-Niagara Falls (NY), three ports that are also ranked in the top five for train crossings (table 23). Each day truck crossings at these ports number in the thousands.
The number of containers entering the country by truck and rail has increased. Since 1998, truck container entries grew by 31 percent, and rail container entries grew by 65 percent (BTS Border Crossing data, 2005).
Over 400 U.S. freight gatewaysseaports, airports, and land border crossingshandle U.S. exports and imports. At least 125 gateways handle one billion dollars of trade or more, and these gateways are located in 40 states. The bulk of U.S. goods imports and exports passes through a relatively few number of gateways (USDOT BTS 2004). In 2004:
In 2004, the top five gateways represented the three transportation modeswater, air, and land (table 24):
Table 24 shows the top 25 freight gateways ranked by value of total trade. Throughout the 1990s, JFK Airport was the leading gateway for overall merchandise trade by total value of shipments. In 2004, JFK regained the top gateway position handling $52.7 billion in export trade and $72.6 billion in imports and displacing the Port of Los Angeles, which was the leading gateway in 2003. Between 1999 and 2003, trade handled at the Port of Los Angeles jumped 47 percent in value, far above the 14 percent average growth for the top 25 gateways. This growth reflects a major increase in trade with Asia and Pacific-Rim countries, especially growth in goods from China .
The Port of Los Angeles position as the leading gateway by value of goods reflects the specialization among U.S. seaports. The Pacific and Atlantic coast ports are heavily involved in container trade, while the U.S. Gulf Coast ports are primarily involved in dry bulk and tanker trade. Gulf ports such as Houston, TX, lead other U.S. ports in terms of tonnage of international cargo, including shipment of agricultural, petroleum, coal, and other bulk commodities.
In 2004, over 1.3 billion short tons of international maritime cargo were transported through U.S. seaports, with exports accounting for 27 percent and imports accounting for 73 percent of that tonnage. Table 25 shows that the ranking of the seaports changes when sorted by tonnage rather than by cargo value. In 2003, the top three seaport gateways by weight were the Port of Houston (over 126 million tons of freight), followed by the Port of South Louisiana (80 million tons) and the Port of New York and New Jersey (78 million tons). The top 20 seaports accounted for 64 percent of the maritime export tonnage and 72 percent of the import tonnage.