Future Freight Flows

Research Center: 
MIT Center for Transportation & Logistics
Research Topic(s): 

The future rarely moves in predictable, incremental ways.  Often seemingly small changes in technology, demographics, regulations, economics, or a myriad of other factors have dramatic and unintended impacts on how companies source, manufacture, distribute and operate in general. These non-linear impacts are very difficult to predict using traditional forecasting methods and techniques since they, by definition, do not follow any historical patterns.

While any attempt at forecasting in this environment is difficult, planning for freight transportation infrastructure investments is especially hard.  Infrastructure projects of any magnitude typically take decades to go from inception to actual use.  Planners must satisfy and accommodate a wide variety of diverse and vocal constituents – most of which do not want development in their location but want the benefits of better infrastructure.  Because freight moves in corridors from production to consumption, the infrastructure projects also usually involve multiple modes and cross numerous jurisdictions.  Finally, and most importantly, as a derived demand, freight patterns (and the resulting infrastructure) are subject to numerous exogenous and uncontrollable factors ranging from fuel costs to trade agreements to consumer whims.

The Future Freight Flows (FFF) initiative was launched as part of the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Project 20-83(01).  View the project description.  Its objective is to provide the planners and decision makers at the federal, state, regional, and local levels with a better method of strategic planning for freight infrastructure investments.

Learn more.