Freight Intro


As the nation's freight hub, metropolitan Chicago has significant economic opportunities and responsibilities. Simply put, our region is the preeminent freight hub in North America. A quarter of all freight in the nation originates, terminates, or passes through metropolitan Chicago, which is home to six of the seven Class I railroads, seven interstate highways, one of the world's busiest airports, and the only connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems.

Regional Freight Leadership Task Force. CMAP is convening a regional task force to explore institutional and funding barriers affecting the freight system in northeastern Illinois. The Regional Freight Leadership Task Force will meet from October 2013 through May 2014 before producing a final report to the CMAP Board in June 2014. 

Freight Cluster Reports.  This infrastructure and volume of goods movement supports many jobs in the region, not only in transportation-related industries, but also in other industries such as manufacturing that directly rely on goods movement. Together, the larger freight cluster accounts for one in four jobs in the region.  Released in July 2012, CMAP's Freight Cluster Drill-Down report identifies key infrastructure, workforce, and innovation challenges and opportunities influencing future cluster growth and concludes with a set of regional strategies to better align resources and investments with the needs of the freight cluster.  In August 2013, CMAP published a follow-up report on the Freight-Manufacturing Nexus that examines how, due to the size and strength of metropolitan Chicago's freight cluster, the region is uniquely positioned to capitalize on the recent resurgence in U.S. manufacturing.

Freight Data and Resources.   CMAP maintains a collection of multimodal freight data and analysis for northeastern Illinois, including metrics of performance, volume, facility inventory, and more.

Freight Resources

GO TO 2040. The comprehensive plan's Regional Mobility chapter recommends that the region should create a more efficient freight system.  

Community Railroad Resources. CMAP has collected useful information about the rail system in our communities, including issues of local safety and maintenance.

Visualizations Explore the Metropolitan Chicago Transportation Network. Interactive mobility visualizations allow users to explore data on metropolitan Chicago's transportation system, including road, transit, and freight networks, which drive our regional economy. 

More about Freight

Freight has long been central to the development of metropolitan Chicago. Businesses have long utilized the region's transportation infrastructure as an economic advantage, first capitalizing on the region's geographic position at the nexus of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems, then its unmatched connections between eastern and western railroads, and more recently its extensive highway network and global air connections.

Today the region is the preeminent transportation and logistics hub in North America. A quarter of all freight in the nation originates, terminates, or passes through metropolitan Chicago. The region's concentration in intermodal moves—i.e., freight shipped in a standardized container easily transferred between modes—is even more striking. About half of all intermodal movements in the country touch the Chicago metropolitan area. Indeed, metropolitan Chicago's intermodal facilities vie with Los Angeles as the largest container handler in the entire Western Hemisphere.

Metropolitan Chicago's impressive transportation performance helps to drive the regional economy. The freight industry directly employs truckers, rail workers, terminal workers, logistics providers, and others. Together, these interrelated industries account for 200,000 jobs and provide over $13 billion in personal income for the residents of northeastern Illinois. A greater proportion of metropolitan Chicago's employment falls in these freight industries compared to the national rate, and this specialization has grown over the past decade.

Freight supports jobs not only in transportation and logistics but also in freight-dependent industries such as manufacturing and wholesale trade. Indeed, one-quarter of all jobs in the regional economy are in industries directly tied to freight. These freight-dependent industries add over $115 billion to the regional economy each year.

The region must address serious funding and governance issues if it is to maintain the vitality of its freight system. The Chicago area is routinely listed as having some of the worst highway congestion in the nation, costing billions of dollars annually in terms of wasted time and fuel. Furthermore, the region's rail system is beset by congestion, with numerous heavily-used freight lines crossing each other at grade and being used for commuter and intercity passenger services. Significant investments will be needed to bring the freight system to a state of good repair, as well as expand capacity to meet current and future demand. However, traditional revenue sources to support public investments in transportation have failed to keep pace with needs.

Northeastern Illinois contains seven counties, 284 municipalities, and 123 townships. Those general purpose units of government, along with the state, have jurisdiction over the highway network. Through that authority, they regulate truck routes, parking, and delivery restrictions, determine size and weight restrictions, and impose fees. Further, they zone to control and regulate land uses. While these decisions may reflect local preferences, they do not always aggregate to a coherent whole, and the multiplicity of local regulations imposes a burden on the freight system.

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Freight Updates

December 4, 2015

Congress passes transportation reauthorization bill

On December 3, 2015, Congress passed the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, a five-year (FY 2016-20), $280 billion transportation reauthorization bill. Both chambers passed the bill by wide margins: 359-65 in the U.S. House of Representatives and 83-16 in the U.S. Senate. The bill maintains current rates for the federal motor fuel tax and relies on substantial transfers from the General Fund to support additional spending. These transfers are offset with a number of non-transportation related sources. FAST includes modified provisions from the two reauthorization bills passed separately by the House and Senate earlier this year.

The bill creates two new freight programs, which are the first new significant federal highway programs since the early 1990s. The legislative text also includes over $10 billion to reauthorize Amtrak and $420 million for the U.S. DOT's pipeline administration, making FAST the first-ever comprehensive surface transportation bill.

FAST is also the first long-term federal transportation reauthorization in years, providing for modest growth over current spending levels, with an immediate increase in FY16 of about 5 percent for highway funds and 8 percent for transit funds, followed by annual increases of just over 2 percent through FY20. For Illinois, FAST is expected to provide a five-year total of approximately $7.5 billion in highway funds (an annual average of about $1.5 billion) and approximately $3 billion in transit funds (an annual average of about $600 million). Under FAST, the annual average highway and transit funding for Illinois is some 10 percent higher than FY15.


For the first time, FAST provides $10.7 billion over five years for freight improvements.  This funding level is in line with the region's request, consistent with national advocacy efforts, for a freight program funded at a level of at least $2 billion each year. FAST establishes two funding programs, one distributed to the states by formula and the other awarded to a wide array of applicants on a competitive basis. The bill establishes a national multimodal freight policy and includes provisions for multimodal freight planning at both the national and state levels.

The National Highway Freight Program (NHFP) would be funded at $6.3 billion over five years, with an annual average of about $1.25 billion dollars. These funds would be divided among the states according to the same formulas governing the overall highway apportionments. As a result, Illinois is expected to receive 3.6 percent of the freight formula funds, which translates to a five-year total of about $225 million, or about $45 million annually. NHFP funds can be used on a wide array of highway projects that improve freight movement, and for all phases of project development. Up to 10 percent of NHFP funds may be used for freight intermodal or freight rail projects each year.

The competitive Nationally Significant Freight and Highways Program (NSFHP) would be funded at $4.5 billion over five years, with an annual average of about $900 million. U.S. DOT would select projects for funding, with Congressional oversight. This program is designed to support larger, complex projects, with a minimum total project cost of $100 million and a minimum award size of $25 million. Ten percent of the NSFHP is set aside for smaller projects and 25 percent must be spent in rural areas. FAST provides for a wide range of eligible applicants to the NSFHP, including large metropolitan planning organizations like CMAP, and provides for up to $500 million over a five-year period to be awarded to multimodal freight projects.

In its planning and policy language, FAST expands upon MAP-21 to include a multimodal perspective. It requires U.S. DOT to establish a national multimodal freight plan and network, requires the development of state freight plans, and continues to encourage states to establish freight advisory committees. U.S. DOT's recently released draft National Freight Strategic Plan represents a starting point for many of these efforts.

FAST revises the MAP-21 National Freight Network into a larger National Highway Freight Network (NHFN). Like MAP-21, the larger NHFN will include a more focused Primary Highway Freight System (PHFS). Unlike MAP-21, FAST includes language to focus NHFP funds on the NHFN, and, for states with particularly high shares of the nation's total PHFS mileage, to focus those funds on the more limited PHFS. Further, FAST provides for large MPOs to designate new "critical urban freight corridors" as part of the PHFS.

Mass Transit

FAST maintains the traditional 80/20 split between highway and transit programs in the Highway Trust Fund. Among other provisions, FAST provides for a significant increase to the State of Good Repair formula program; this is a particularly beneficial provision for the region's transit agencies, which have received about 10 percent of the total funding available through the program. Further, FAST provides almost $200 million in dedicated funding for positive train control implementation in FY17 and reinstates the bus and bus facilities competitive grant program, at an annual level of about $300 million.

FAST continues to fund the Fixed Guideway Investment Grant program from the General Fund, making that program subject to annual appropriations, although it does authorize about a 20 percent increase in funds compared to FY15. The Fixed Guideway Investment grant program – better known for its component New Starts, Small Starts, and Core Capacity programs – is the federal government's primary program in support of major new transit projects across the country. The CTA's Red and Purple Modernization program was the first project in the nation approved for funding under the Core Capacity program after its creation in MAP-21.

FAST codifies existing practice by reducing the federal match for New Starts projects to 60 percent, and maintains the 80 percent federal match for Small Starts and Core Capacity projects. FAST did not include provisions in the House reauthorization bill that would have reduced the federal match to 50 percent and restricted the funding sources available to transit agencies to provide the local match.


FAST makes relatively few changes to federal highway programs. It renames the Surface Transportation Program (STP) to the "Surface Transportation Block Grant Program" and gradually increases the local suballocation from 50 percent to 55 percent by FY20. FAST moves the Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP) into STP and renames it the "STP Set-Aside." TAP would be funded at similar levels as MAP-21, initially at a flat rate of $835 million annually and subsequently increased to a flat rate of $850 million annually. The bill maintains the 50-percent local suballocation for TAP and allows large MPOs to flex half their TAP funds to other STP-eligible purposes. For the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) program, FAST expands project eligibility to include certain port-related freight projects and vehicle-to-infrastructure technology projects. It also expands flexibility for rural states in their use of CMAQ funds for meeting the set-aside requirement for fine particulate matter.

Innovative finance

FAST continues support for the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) credit assistance program, although its funding is substantially less than what MAP-21 provided. FAST also makes various revisions to TIFIA, allowing other federal funds to be used for administrative and subsidy costs and permitting U.S. DOT to set aside a portion of TIFIA funding to cover fees for independent expert analysis. Further, FAST makes transit-oriented development (TOD) projects eligible for TIFIA assistance.

In its reauthorization of federal rail programs, FAST also makes revisions to the Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing (RRIF) credit assistance program. These changes aim to streamline the application process, allow greater flexibility in meeting the credit risk premium, and allow TOD revenues to serve as collateral for federal credit assistance. These reforms could benefit redevelopment efforts at Chicago Union Station.

Looking Ahead

FAST sets the tone for the next five years of the federal transportation program. With the exception of development of a sustainable source of revenue, FAST makes meaningful progress on the five transportation reauthorization principles approved by the CMAP Board in June 2014, particularly the establishment of a robust freight program. As the nation's premier freight hub, the Chicago region and Illinois stand to benefit from the increased emphasis on freight planning and the opportunity to invest in critical freight improvements. While their overall emphasis is on highway improvements, both freight programs allow a portion of funds to be used for multimodal projects -- including freight rail improvements -- and the overall federal and state planning framework is multimodal.

CMAP will continue to support its adopted reauthorization principles as FAST is implemented over the coming years, advocating for performance-based decision making and an active role for regions.