By almost any measure, metropolitan Chicago is the nation’s premier freight hub. Approximately 25 percent of all freight trains and 50 percent of all intermodal trains in the U.S. pass through metropolitan Chicago, which serves as the continent’s main interchange point between western and eastern railroads. Trucks account for about one in seven vehicles on the urban interstate highways in Illinois, and some facilities in metropolitan Chicago carry over 30,000 trucks each day. The region is also home to one of the nation’s largest and fastest-growing air-cargo hubs and has access to both the Great Lakes and Mississippi River maritime systems. Our region is one of the nation's largest industrial markets, with approximately 1.1 billion square feet of industrial development supporting freight and manufacturing activity. Industries that rely on the frequent shipment of goods -- manufacturing, construction, retail trade, and wholesale trade -- collectively represent over one-quarter of all jobs in the region and add over $158 billion per year to the regional economy. Yet freight transportation is changing. Shortened supply chains and increased online shopping are changing national and local goods movement strategies. The region must adapt to these changes while protecting quality of life and limiting public costs.
This massive concentration of freight activity in northeastern Illinois provides a competitive advantage that helps to drive the regional economy. A robust freight network also ensures that residents and businesses get the goods they need in a timely manner. However, freight activity raises significant infrastructure challenges, including congestion on road and rail networks, as well as regulatory challenges related to truck operations and local land uses. Together, these challenges affect communities’ quality of life. For example, congestion results in increased emissions, affecting local air quality and health for local communities. CMAP estimates that weekday motorist delay at the region’s grade crossings costs residents $58 million annually in 2017. The ON TO 2050 target for motorist delay at highway-rail grade crossings is 6,000 hours per weekday, down from 7,511 hours in 2017.
With its unparalleled access to transportation facilities, the Chicago region is one of the nation’s preeminent hubs for intermodal freight -- the movement of containerized cargo via multiple transport methods such as rail, trucks, planes, and ships. Over 7.8 million freight cargo containers originated or terminated here in 2016, or nearly 16.3 million twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs), making our region the largest point of origin and termination for intermodal shipments in the U.S., outpacing other large freight hubs such as the Los Angeles, New York, and Seattle metropolitan areas. ON TO 2050 sets a target of reducing Chicago terminal carload transit time.
The growth of same-day shipping, online shopping, and faster, cost optimized supply chain management -- all enabled by new data processing and communications technology -- has pushed growth of intermodal facilities here and nationwide. But the region must find ways to support these facilities while constraining the negative impacts of increased truck and rail traffic, protecting key natural assets, and limiting the rapid, unaffordable expansion of infrastructure.
The region’s truck network supports delivery of goods, movement between local freight and manufacturing centers, connection to intermodal networks, and movement to other parts of North America. Truck traffic in the region is growing due to consumer shopping trends. While ON TO 2050’s list of Regionally Significant Projects identifies infrastructure improvements that benefit truck movement, there is great potential to improve the efficiency of the truck system through operational improvements. Implementing holistic strategies to smooth truck travel can reduce costs for shippers and address concerns such as local congestion, wear and tear, safety, and quality of life.
[GRAPHIC TO COME: Freight land use clusters and truck bottlenecks Local Strategy Maps]
Effective planning for the region’s freight system must involve collaboration across the public and private sectors while carefully balancing economic, livability, and infrastructure funding concerns. Freight helps the region’s economy grow and helps our residents get everything from coffee to shoes; freight facilities create direct employment and also support jobs in many related industries. Freight activity also creates congestion, noise, safety, and air quality concerns. While the region’s communities have often actively courted new freight development, the scale and wages of resulting jobs have not always met expectations. Although the region’s counties and transportation stakeholders have recently come together to improve truck permitting, they must pursue more collaborative action on funding, policy, and project development to truly support our freight network. Existing partnerships, like the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency program (CREATE), have made substantive progress, but renewed efforts are needed to fully realize public benefits.
The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.