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Maintain the region’s status as North America’s freight hub

Maintain the region’s status as North America’s freight hub

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.

Invest strategically in the freight network

The region’s status as a national freight hub with an extensive existing network requires coordinated investment. CREATE is a public-private partnership between freight railroads, U.S. DOT, IDOT, the City of Chicago, Cook County, Metra, and Amtrak.[1] While public and private investment in CREATE has greatly improved rail movement in the region and nationwide, the effort requires continued investment with a focus on public benefits. See the recommendation Build regionally significant projects for more information.


In addition to freight rail projects, the region must also prioritize its roadway investments and foster new partnerships to support truck movements. Addressing the region’s truck bottlenecks provides one option to reduce truck and auto congestion. The region may also need to explore new solutions for facilities that experience a high volume of truck traffic. Any infrastructure investment should be complemented by policy shifts on routing and permitting that make full use of the existing system.


Finally, while they are not part of the surface transportation network, the region’s air and rail facilities are important nodes in the region’s and nation’s freight network. They support local development and industries, with extensive impacts on nearby road and rail movements. In many cases, the Port of Chicago and O’Hare Airport are the gateway for global commerce, so ensuring strong connections between these facilities and the rest of the region is an essential component of supporting our freight network.

The CREATE partners should complete the 75th St. CIP and then complete the remaining projects in the program.

Private rail partners should provide substantive documentation of and data supporting the public benefits of CREATE projects and continue to financially support the program.

CMAP and highway agencies should prioritize among the region’s rail grade crossings and direct funds for improvement, along with study of feasibility and alternatives to separation.

CMAP and highway agencies should address truck bottlenecks in future improvements.

CMAP and highway agencies should explore truck lanes, truck-only routes, and other options to aid goods movement and reduce conflicts on the region’s expressway network.

CMAP, highway agencies, and rail partners should enhance freight connections to the region’s port and airport facilities.

Develop a unified regional approach for freight transportation issues

Our region’s freight network depends on careful, well-funded investment to ensure economic prosperity here and nationally. Coordinating regional action to obtain and prioritize new federal dollars for freight infrastructure is especially critical. CMAP and its partners have developed a strong regional voice on freight, working to address truck permitting issues, advocating for federal funds, and building coalitions to implement major projects such as the 75th St. CIP. CMAP and its partners should continue this momentum to change federal, state, and local policies and support coordinated investment in the region’s freight network.


In 2017, CMAP's Regional Strategic Freight Direction established a programming framework to define the best use of limited capital funds for freight.[2] It is especially timely given the growing federal and state emphasis on freight infrastructure needs. Enacted in late 2015, the current federal transportation law, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, provides the first-ever dedicated funding for freight improvements.[3]  This program is currently referred to by the U.S. DOT as the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) program, and it and other competitive federal programs offer significant resources to support large, complex projects with broad impact on speeds and volumes of goods movement. Regional consensus and action have the potential to attract broader investment; the U.S. DOT looks favorably on projects with broad regional support, and by limiting the number of proposals submitted by metropolitan Chicago and Illinois, our region and state can increase the likelihood of success. Released this year, the Illinois Department of Transportation Freight Plan identifies the major bottlenecks across the state, including those in northeastern Illinois.[4] IDOT’s recently released competitive freight program makes strides to improve performance-based evaluation of freight project applications across the state.

CMAP and partners should pursue stable and sustainable funding for the region’s freight network.

CMAP and partners should create a process to develop, coordinate, and prioritize responses to federal freight funding opportunities such as INFRA.

IDOT should use performance-based programming for freight formula funding sources such as the National Highway Freight Program.

Focus on improving local and regional truck travel

Freight has regional and local transportation, land use, and economic impacts. One clear opportunity is to improve truck routing through the region. While state law allows local governments to designate truck routes or determine preferred truck routes, many communities instead designate only where trucks cannot go.[5]  Local restrictions based on truck type, weight, and dimensions often change at jurisdictional borders, adding complexity to routes, prompting trucks to make turns and diversions to alternate routes when moving between municipalities. Drivers must individually verify each jurisdiction’s truck restrictions, as these local restrictions are not reported to a centralized public or private database. Although intended to limit noise, wear and tear, and other negative impacts of truck traffic, communities’ restrictions can in fact exacerbate such problems due to inconsistency and lack of coordination.

Working across jurisdictions can help maintain the Chicago region’s national freight stature while mitigating negative impacts and maximizing benefits for communities. Despite our region’s formidable overall freight profile, most activity tends to occur in a relatively small number of locations linked by the region-wide transportation network.[6] Freight-intensive land uses tend to co-locate for efficiencies of shared infrastructure and workforce.[7],[8] Through their collaboration on economic growth initiatives, leaders of the seven counties in northeastern Illinois and the City of Chicago have identified truck permitting as a key opportunity for inter-jurisdictional cooperation. These regional leaders completed the Regional Truck Permitting Study,[9] funded by numerous partners including the counties, City of Chicago, IDOT, and CMAP. Local restrictions represent another opportunity. Oversize and overweight permitting must be complemented by streamlined local routes that support movement of regularly loaded trucks. A recent LTA project in the O’Hare subregion offers one example of working across jurisdictions to create consistent truck routes, limiting truck traffic in residential and sensitive areas while still providing connected and consistent routes.[10]

Local governments should work with businesses to implement policies that improve delivery management in urban areas, including encouraging off-hours deliveries.

Local governments should take a proactive approach to designating truck routes and reevaluating truck restrictions.

IDOT should review truck route designations for state-jurisdiction highways to provide a well-developed backbone of Class I and II truck routes that local governments can incorporate into their planning efforts.

Counties and local government should coordinate oversize and overweight permitting across jurisdictions and ensure they are consistent with the state permitting process.

The state and counties should provide easier access to information on truck routing and restrictions as well as oversize and overweight permitting processes.

CMAP should study the transportation and land use impacts of emerging freight distribution strategies to develop policies, data, and best practices for addressing these impacts.

CMAP and transportation providers should collaborate with O’Hare, Midway, and the Port of Chicago to facilitate surface transportation access to and supportive land use planning around these facilities.

Mitigate the negative impacts of freight on adjacent areas, particularly economically disconnected areas

While providing broad economic benefits, freight activity can have adverse impacts on communities. Truck and rail traffic can cause noise, congestion, air quality, and other negative impacts. Trucks cause heavy wear and tear on locally maintained roads, and at-grade rail crossings can cause delays for motorists as well as difficulty in routing emergency services. Many freight and industrial facilities also generate low returns from the property taxes and other fees that municipalities can enact, creating a gap between the cost to provide supportive infrastructure or services and the revenues generated. These cumulative factors often make freight a locally unwanted land use.

The negative impacts of freight activities are of particular concern in EDAs, which have large concentrations in major freight activity centers such as the O’Hare area, the South and West sides of Chicago, the south Cook suburbs, and the Joliet area in Will County. The close correspondence of freight activity centers and EDAs is perhaps unsurprising. The result is often lower property values for neighboring residential areas, which in turn are more affordable to low income populations. There are many potential environmental justice concerns related to goods movement. In practice, responding to these concerns should be a project- and community-specific effort that actively engages residents and responds to local needs.

CMAP and partners should continue to identify and provide solutions for mitigating the negative impacts of freight on adjacent development.

CMAP, highway agencies, municipalities, and other partners should balance quality of life concerns with economic impacts when investing in freight development and infrastructure.

Transportation agencies should consider additional outreach, analysis, and mitigation activities for freight-related improvements in EDAs.

CMAP and transportation implementers can prioritize projects that improve quality of life, such as reducing truck bottlenecks and separating at-grade rail crossings that cause high levels of delay.

CMAP should give additional weight in the CMAQ, TAP, and STP programs to road and rail projects that address freight-related environmental justice issues.

CMAP and transportation funders should continue to seek the most comprehensive air quality data available, perhaps based on observed or modeled asthma rates or other indicators of respiratory distress, for use in making transportation investment decisions.

Assess the local and regional impacts of proposed major freight facilities

Goods movement infrastructure has far-reaching impacts on other modes of transportation, development patterns, local and regional economies, local quality of life, and the environment, so proposed new facilities generate numerous planning questions. While many types of freight development or infrastructure are being developed throughout the region, “major freight facilities” are sufficiently large to affect many jurisdictions, including developments such as large intermodal truck-rail facilities, sizeable new rail facilities, mergers and acquisitions among Class I railroads, and major new airport and seaport facilities. These facilities can generate significant amounts of truck and rail traffic, induce major real estate developments, and require significant new public investments in supportive infrastructure. Often these facilities are inaccessible even to nearby job seekers who lack access to cars and can exacerbate walkability issues in a community. While a single local, state, or federal entity may be responsible for permitting a proposed facility, proposals that affect many neighboring and overlapping jurisdictions must be evaluated for their broader impacts. The Regional Strategic Freight Direction includes principles to guide evaluation of major freight facility proposals. Although CMAP has no authority over local land use, federal decisions on railroad mergers, and similar initiatives, the agency can leverage its analytical and planning strengths to aid planning and implementation for major freight facilities.

CMAP should analyze new freight facilities to assess their regional impacts.

Municipalities should collaborate with CMAP, IDOT, adjacent jurisdictions, and other partners when reviewing the needs, benefits, and impacts of large new freight developments.

Employers in the freight industry should work with transit agencies and municipalities to ensure appropriate transit, bicycle, and pedestrian access for employees.

CMAP should support municipalities in incorporating the major freight facility principles into their planning and development decisions.

Municipalities, IDOT, private railroads, developers, and others partners should collaborate with affected jurisdictions to assess the needs for and impact of major freight facilities.


[1] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “CREATE program status check,” February 20, 2015,

[2] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Regional Strategic Freight Direction,” February 2018,

[3] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Congress passes transportation reauthorization bill,” December 4, 2015,

[4] Illinois Department of Transportation, "Illinois Department of Transportation Freight Plan,” October 2017,

[5] There are three primary classes of truck routes in Illinois: Class I, Class II, and Locally Preferred Truck Routes. Class I and Class II truck routes are associated with certain restrictions on the size and weight of trucks, allowing access to trucks with 53-foot trailers or containers. Class I truck routes generally consist of the expressway system, but also have the effect of permitting truck access to streets within a mile of an expressway interchange (unless otherwise restricted). Class II routes include major state highways as well as local roads that have been designated by local ordinance as a truck route. Finally, Locally Preferred Truck Routes include only truck routes administratively identified by local governments and are not considered a designated truck route; they have no effect on permitted truck size and weight. Illinois also has Class III truck routes, but the legal effect of these has been made mostly moot by recent legislation increasing legal loads to 80,000 pounds (PA 96-0034 and PA 96-0037).

[6] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Freight Land Use Clusters in Northeastern Illinois,” accessed March 29, 2018,

[7] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Memorandum: Freight Land Use Topics,” May 16, 2016,

[8] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Memorandum: Local Approaches to Freight Planning in Metropolitan Chicago,” December 4, 2017,

[9] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Regional Truck Permitting Plan,”

[10] Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “O’Hare Subregion Truck Route Plan: Recommendations and Action Plan,” 2017,

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