Routes to Sustainable Goods Movement: How Local and Regional Governmental Agencies Can Plan for the Sustainable Freight System of the Future

Freight represents approximately 30% of transportation emissions, leads to significant quantities of air pollutants detrimental to human and environmental health, and accounts for 13% of all transportation-related fatalities in the United States. The objective of this research is to help local and regional governmental agencies plan for sustainable freight transportation to help meet ambitious climate, air quality, safety, and equity goals. Through expert interviews and comparative case studies of several cities or regional entities in the United States, which have recently developed a comprehensive program to establish a sustainable freight system, this research can help develop a toolkit of options to build sustainable freight systems. The research will also uncover common challenges and new opportunities faced by cities and regional entities to address the environmental impacts of freight.

USDOT Priorities:

The U.S. freight system is the backbone of our economy and a key component of our global competitiveness; yet freight movement is also a significant contributor to GHG emissions and other air pollutants as well as a safety and health concern for many communities, especially disadvantaged communities across the nation. Local and regional entities play a key role in addressing freight negative externalities and building a sustainable freight system, but their potential is often underestimated or overlooked in theory and practice. By offering a set of strategies to plan for a sustainable freight system at the local or regional levels, this research supports several USDOT priorities and RD&T strategic goals in the areas of: Climate and Sustainability, Safety, Equity, and Economic Strength and Global Competitiveness. This research can help transform freight and climate planning practices at the local levels by identifying innovative strategies to reduce the environmental impacts of freight, enhance equity and community health and safety, and boost local economies.

Principal Investigator: 
Serena E. Alexander, Ph.D.
PI Contact Information:

San Jose State University

Funding Source(s) and Amounts Provided (by each agency or organization): 

$80,970 (Federal)

April 2024 to March 2025
Implementation of Research Outcomes: 

A key output of this research is a toolkit of options for local and regional entities to develop and implement freight strategies that will help reduce emissions and/or otherwise contribute to community equity, health, and safety. This could include specific strategies to build and maintain a sustainable freight transportation system at the local level; opportunities for collaboration with other freight stakeholders, such as freight companies, ports, local businesses, and community organizations; common implementation hurdles to plan for; and evaluation techniques to assess and prioritize freight strategies with the greatest potential for delivering emissions reduction and other economic, equity, or safety benefits. Throughout the research process, the research team will work closely with local and regional transportation planners and national freight experts involved in developing, implementing and/or evaluating sustainable freight strategies.

Impacts/Benefits of Implementation: 

The ultimate outcome of this project is empowering local and regional entities to plan for sustainable freight movement within their jurisdiction. The potential of local and regional entities to address freight externalities and harness the environmental, economic, and community benefits of smooth freight movement is often overlooked or underestimated. The significance of freight externalities has often been ignored in local climate action or sustainability plans; the literature does not offer clear and comprehensive paths for sustainable freight planning at the local and regional levels; and freight data is often expensive or difficult to obtain or analyze at the local level. This research will identify a comprehensive set of innovative strategies that local or regional entities can take to build a sustainable freight system. Additionally, this research will help uncover the gaps in tools and methods to evaluate and address the externalities of freight movement impacting local communities and disproportionately harming disadvantaged communities. As such, this research has the potential to set the stage for transforming freight and climate planning at the local and regional levels to better account for and address the negative externalities of freight while amplifying its positive community and economic impacts.

Project Number: 



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