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November 21, 2013
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U.S. DOT Releases Draft Primary Freight Network

On November 19, 2013, the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) released the draft Primary Freight Network (PFN) in the Federal Register.  The maps and tables are also available on the Federal Highway Administration website.  As mentioned in a previous Policy Update, the MAP-21 federal transportation bill charges U.S. DOT with establishing a two-part National Freight Network -- one network being "primary" and the other "rural" – to "assist States in strategically directing resources toward improved system performance for efficient movement of freight on highways." MAP-21 also requires that the PFN include no more than 27,000 centerline miles of existing roadways that are most essential to freight movement.  It is within U.S. DOT's discretion to designate an additional 3,000 miles of existing and future un-built roadways within the PFN. 

PFN Factors
MAP-21 notes eight factors for U.S. DOT to use in determining the PFN:

  • Origins and destinations of freight movements
  • Total freight tonnage and value of freight moved by highways
  • Percentage of annual average daily truck traffic on principal arterials
  • Annual average daily truck traffic on principal arterials
  • Land and maritime ports of entry
  • Access to energy exploration, development, installation, or production areas
  • Network connectivity

The detailed methodology, including data sources, is provided in the Federal Register announcement.  U.S. DOT notes weighting the above criteria differently could result in a number of network designations.  Greater clarity on the ultimate use of the PFN by states, metropolitan planning organizations, and other transportation stakeholders would help U.S. DOT and partners determine the most appropriate network.

In the Federal Register announcement, U.S. DOT acknowledges several shortcomings of its draft PFN.  Because MAP-21 sets a relatively low cap of 27,000 centerline highway miles, the draft PFN includes substantial gaps in the network.  In the maps and tables available on-line, U.S. DOT also provides a 42,000-centerline mile network that it would prefer to designate for the PFN if the cap were not in place.

Additionally, the national-level data used to develop the draft PFN do not adequately reflect the reality of goods movement within metropolitan areas, particularly first- and last-mile issues.  Limited data coverage on the local road system may not capture freight origins, destinations, and bottlenecks within urban areas.  While MAP-21 allows states flexibility to identify critical rural freight corridors connecting last-mile origins and destinations to the larger PFN, a similar process does not exist within urban areas. 

Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, MAP-21 requires the PFN to be highway-focused, when in reality freight moves across multiple modes of transportation.  In its Federal Register announcement, U.S. DOT expressed an interest in developing a multimodal national freight system and requested comments to help it integrate the highway-focused PFN into a larger multimodal system.  Further, MAP-21 specifies that the PFN be defined in centerline miles, which precludes U.S. DOT from identifying multiple routes in an overall transportation corridor.  This issue is especially visible in congested metropolitan areas.

Providing Comments
The draft PFN contains 1,512.25 miles in Illinois, including 423.41 miles in metropolitan areas of over 200,000 residents.  More specifically, the draft network in Illinois includes much of the state's Interstate highway mileage, along with several arterial and connector facilities in the Chicago region.

CMAP staff has identified specific issues with the draft PFN and will work with its partners in the state and region to communicate those issues and any broader commentary to U.S. DOT during the comment period. 

U.S. DOT is particularly interested in receiving comments on additions, deletions, or modifications to the draft PFN; its overall methodology; the potential uses for the National Freight Network; how to integrate the National Freight Network into a broader multimodal system; and potential processes to designate critical urban freight corridors.  Comments are due to U.S. DOT by January 17, 2014, using the submission process described in the Federal Register announcement.


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