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, ten interstate highways, one of the world's busiest cargo airports, and the only connection between the Great Lakes and Mississippi River systems.

Freight Resources

ON TO 2050. The comprehensive plan's Mobility chapter recommends that the region should maintain the region's status as North America's freight hub.  

Freight Snapshot.  To support ON TO 2050 development, CMAP developed the Freight Snapshot, which reviews data and trends in the region’s goods movement system.

Regional Strategic Freight Direction. This report provides near term direction for CMAP and key partners in its freight planning, policy, and programming work. The CMAP Freight Committee and other working committees helped develop the Regional Strategic Freight Direction, which was presented to the CMAP Board and MPO Policy Committee in January 2018.  Development of this document was supported by the Freight Snapshot, described above.

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.

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


Truck Route Studies.  One recommendation of the 2014 O'Hare Subregional Freight-Manufacturing Drill-Down Report was the completion of a subregional truck route study.  This study, completed as part of the Local Technical Assistance (LTA) Program in 2017, recommended a subregional truck routing plan.  The report and more information are available on the LTA O'Hare Truck Routing and Infrastructure Plan page.  An additional truck route study was initiated in Will County in September, 2019.

Grade Crossing Prioritization.  CMAP collaborated with regional partners to identify 47 priority grade crossings.  It is anticipated that studies will be initiated for up to five prioritized crossings using the federal Planning and Environmental Linkages process.  A request for qualifications was issued in August, 2019.  The studies are expected to be initiated later in 2019.

Regional Truck Permitting Plan.  In December 2013, the leaders of the City of Chicago and the seven counties in the CMAP region convened to collaborate around economic growth initiatives.  One of the key issues that emerged from this meeting was the lack of a centralized and uniform system for overweight permits.  While the Regional Truck Permitting Plan did not recommend the development of a single, purpose-built system from scratch, the Plan did recommend streamlining steps to address the inefficiencies noted by leadership.

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

Freight Cluster and Supply Chain Reports.  CMAP focuses on industry clusters as a framework for understanding the regional economy and organizing policies and investments to bolster broad economic growth.  Among the region's economic clusters, freight and manufacturing have both been a focus of CMAP's economic work.  Goods movement supports many jobs in the region in transportation-related industries, but also in other industries such as manufacturing that directly rely on goods movement. Together, the larger freight-related 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.  Since that time, a number of reports have been produced focusing on the freight cluster and supply chains, all of which can be found on the industry clusters program page.

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


March 05, 2019

Innovative, user-based revenue options must be part of region's transportation funding solution

This analysis is one of a series examining transportation funding in northeastern Illinois and explaining the revenue recommendations included in ON TO 2050.

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June 08, 2018

Major freight projects in northeastern Illinois receive funding

Jun 8, 2018 Major freight projects in northeastern Illinois receive funding O...

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July 06, 2017

Proposal for new national freight infrastructure fee and grants

On June 22, 2017, H.R. 3001 , Economy in Motion: The National Multimodal and Sustainable Freight Infrastructure Act, was filed in the U.S. House of Representatives.  The current proposal h...

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August 26, 2016

Freight land use clusters in northeastern Illinois

Freight is a critical component of the regional economy in northeastern Illinois and generates significant transportation demand across multiple modes. While much of the Chicago Metropolitan Agenc...

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March 31, 2016

Rail safety proposed rule on minimum staffing announced

A new CMAP Policy Update describes a proposed rule that would require a minimum of two crewmembers for all railroad operations except those that do not pose a significant safety risk.

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January 21, 2016

Proposed railroad merger would have unknown but significant impacts on the region

In recent months, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) has expressed interest in purchasing the Norfolk Southern Railway (NS), which the NS has opposed .  CP argues that the combined company ...

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December 04, 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 ...

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November 20, 2015

Comparing the DRIVE Act and STRRA

This Policy Update compares the two recently passed federal surface transportation bills and describes how each could impact Illinois.

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November 06, 2015

U.S. DOT releases National Freight Strategic Plan

This Policy Update describes the major components of the recently released National Freight Strategic Plan.

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October 21, 2015

House marks up transportation reauthorization bill

On Thursday, October 22, 2015, the U.S. House of Representatives Transportation and Infrastructure (T&I) Committee will mark up H.R. 3763, the Surface Transportation Reauthorization and Reform Act ...

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October 09, 2015

Update on Freight Rail Activity

This Policy Update looks at trends in the region's freight activity and the challenges facing this mode.

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October 01, 2015

Amtrak Blue Ribbon Panel issues report

On Thursday, October 1, 2015, the Chicago Gateway Blue Ribbon Panel released a report containing recommendations to address rail congestion in the Chicago region.

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September 03, 2015

Waterborne Freight in the Chicago Metropolitan Region

This Policy Update looks at how the region’s waterways are currently used for freight activity and the challenges facing this mode.

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August 21, 2015

Air Freight Activity in the Chicago Metropolitan Region

This Policy Update looks at the current trends and challenges facing air freight and planned improvements meant to increase freight capacity at Chicago’s O’Hare airport.

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June 26, 2015

Senate transportation bill establishes new freight program

A Policy Update highlights the freight provisions in the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee text for the proposed DRIVE act, a six-year transportation reauthorization bill.

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June 04, 2015

Leveraging the Region’s Freight Assets and Addressing its Challenges

CMAP's regional economic indicators microsite features key measures of metropolitan Chicago's economy and, where applicable, compares these measures to peer metropolitan areas.  The mi...

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May 01, 2015

Intermodalism -- Metropolitan Chicago's Built-In Economic Advantage

CMAP's regional economic indicators microsite features key measures of metropolitan Chicago's economy and, where applicable, compares these measures to peer metropolitan areas.  The mi...

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February 20, 2015

CREATE Program Status Check

New Policy Update provides background information on the CREATE program, including its project portfolio, implementation status, and performance impacts.

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February 20, 2015

Rail Crossing Delays in Metropolitan Chicago

The region's dense rail network plays a key role in moving both goods and passengers, but imposes costs on local communities. A New Policy Update focuses on rail crossing delays.

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February 12, 2015

Obama Administration Releases Transportation Reauthorization Proposal

The White House proposed a $478 billion, six-year transportation reauthorization program as part of its FY16 budget request.

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