US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

US Department of Transportation

FHWA Planworks: Better Planning, Better Projects



Efficient freight movement is essential to the economic competitiveness and vitality of communities and regions. Freight operations also have a significant impact on air quality, land use, sustainability, and environmental conditions. Because freight movement is conducted by private and public sector stakeholders, it is critical to engage carriers, shippers, and other businesses in the planning and decision making process. By collaborating with these stakeholders, practitioners can ensure that reasonable future scenarios, sound investment decisions, and public safety are all considered in the decision making process. In addition to private industry, collaboration and coordination with local, regional, and state practitioners is vital, because freight does not stop at jurisdictional lines.

Discussions about freight movement often focus on the interstate system, but freight considerations are a concern on local roads as well. Transportation practitioners can work across multiple PlanWorks Applications, such as the Human Environment and Bicycles and Pedestrians Applications, to address potential conflicts that may arise between freight interests and others in the community.

PlanWorks provides resources to help transportation practitioners better engage the freight industry and incorporate freight information at specific points in the decision making process.

  1. Decision Guide and Freight Planning shows when and how to integrate freight considerations.
  2. Examples demonstrate successful practices for integrating freight into the planning process.
  3. Working with Freight Stakeholders offers suggestions on effective ways to form relationships and gather meaningful feedback from freight stakeholders.

Federal law encourages State DOTs to establish freight advisory committees as a forum for communication of freight-related issues and priorities. Participants would include representatives of public and private stakeholders from ports, freight railroads, shippers, carriers, freight-related associations, third-party logistics providers, the freight industry workforce, and local governments.
(See 49 U.S.C. § 70201.)

The Decision Guide and Freight Planning

Input from stakeholders in the freight industry helps state DOTs and MPOs effectively and collaboratively develop plans and projects that address freight needs. Use this page for help identifying what input is needed at individual Key Decisions. Freight stakeholders generally prefer to be engaged as early as possible and will likely want to give input during:

  • Development of vision, goals, objectives, performance measures and targets
  • Identification of needs
  • Development of evaluation criteria
  • Evaluation of options

The Decision Guide provides the structure of Key Decisions to identify where and how to engage freight stakeholders. Hover over the highlighted Key Decisions to understand the specific relationship of freight to the decision. Click on any highlighted Key Decision for more information about questions, data, and relationships that support this interface. Key Decisions that are greyed-out have no specific relevance to the individual application or topic area but are still accessible from this graphic.


Identify and engage freight stakeholders who can maintain involvement during planning.

Gather input about the needs of freight stakeholders to inform vision and goals.

Identify freight-related metrics and data sources to help determine LRTP impact on existing and future goods-movement operations.

Gather feedback on transportation system deficiencies specific to freight.

Consider traditional and nontraditional revenue sources that may be available to fund freight-related projects

Ensure that strategies in the LRTP consider the long-range goals of freight stakeholders.

Ensure plan scenarios include freight considerations by using input from freight stakeholders.

Communicate to freight stakeholders the preferred plan scenario and the reasoning behind its selection.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.


Identify any traditional and nontraditional revenue sources that are available to fund freight-related projects and whether this can be included in the TIP/STIP.

Ensure the methodology is inclusive enough to cover potential revenue sources from freight stakeholders.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Include freight-related considerations in project prioritization assessments.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Inform participating freight stakeholders of the TIP approval outcome.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.


Identify and engage freight stakeholders who have a particular interest in the corridor.

Identify critical freight-related challenges and opportunities in the corridor.

Gather freight stakeholder input on goals for the corridor study.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Gather feedback on critical performance measures that account for freight concerns.

Include freight considerations when deciding on a range of solution sets.

Consider freight stakeholder input as the preferred solution set is adopted. Provide feedback to freight stakeholder on the basis of the decision with respect to freight.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.


Identify freight stakeholders to inform project development and how they will be engaged.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Gather and consider freight stakeholder input in development of the project purpose and need.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Use freight-related data to evaluate project alternatives.

Consider freight stakeholder preferences within the full range of alternatives, and identify benefits and impacts to freight interests.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Notify freight stakeholders of the final NEPA decision.
This Key Decision is not associated with application.

Examples from Practice

Engaging freight stakeholders in all planning phases benefits both the transportation system and the economy. The examples below illustrate effective stakeholder engagement in current practice.

  • Baltimore, Maryland

    The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) formed the freight movement task force (FMTF) to meet Federal regulations and to get more focused advice from freight stakeholders on freight projects in the Baltimore region. BMC mainly engages with the FMTF through biweekly meetings. Other FMTF involvement varies by project, but includes providing comments on LRP deliverables; identifying freight stakeholders to serve on an Advisory Task Force; participating in one-on-one interviews to contribute insight or data to the planning process; and attending public meetings.

    Kansas City, Kansas

    The Regional Freight Outlook (RFO) in Kansas City, Kansas was developed to analyze commodity flows, explore the importance of freight industries to the region, and provide a comparison of Kansas City to other U.S. regions. Throughout the study,freight stakeholders validated data, identified needs and bottlenecks, and reviewed draft documents. The study team solicited input from freight stakeholders through an existing freight advisory group and reached out to individual project team contacts.
    Outreach efforts were divided between three distinct groups within the freight community:shippers, carriers, and "other," since each group uses the transportation system differently.

    Delaware Valley, Delaware

    In 1991, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) formed the goods movement task force (GMTF) to formally organize its freight efforts. The GMTF leads freight stakeholder outreach activities and participates in quarterly meetings,project-specific planning meetings, and public meetings with the MPO. The GMTF provides important feedback on DVRPC's work program, the Long Range Plan, and the Transportation Improvement Program.
    GMTF members and their stakeholder network share data with DVRPC, and provide valuable insight into freight operations, transportation needs,and existing facilities.

  • Columbus, Ohio

    In the 1990s, freight stakeholders began participating in inland port studies in the Columbus, Ohio region. Freight stakeholders engaged in the studies through a group formed by the MPO and through the Columbus Region Logistics Council (CRLC),a group formed by the Columbus Chamber of Commerce. The current CRLC has four committees: infrastructure, workforce, technology, and business environment.
    The Chamber runs committee meetings, with planning and feedback provided by the MPO. The Council lends critical insight into the development of a Freight Transportation Improvement Plan (F-TIP), which puts particular emphasis on projects that benefit freight.

    City of Seattle, Washington

    Seattle DOT (SDOT) has had a lot of success with improving freight planning and decision making in Seattle by undertaking key initiatives to engage freight stakeholders.In 2002, SDOT established the Seattle Freight Mobility Advisory Committee, which later became the Seattle Freight Advisory Board (SFAB). SDOT engages SFAB and other stakeholders throughout the planning process, and recently created a Trimodal Committee to ensure that transportation issues are addressed from a multimodal perspective.
    Chairs and vice chairs of SFAB, the Bicycle Board, and the Pedestrian Board sit on the committee, and have been effective collaborators during planning.

    Puget Sound Region, Washington

    In response to growing recognition that a strong regional economy relies on a well-functioning multimodal system, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) established two freight advisory committees: the Regional Freight Mobility Roundtable (RFMR) and the Freight Action Strategy Team Freight Advisory Committee (FAST). The RFMR is open to any interested party and has bimonthly meetings at PSRC that typically involve discussions about current plans, projects, and studies. The RFMR takes PSRC's freight messages out to the wider community.
    FAST is a partnership of 26 cities, counties, ports, Federal, state, and local transportation agencies, railroads, and trucking interests,and was established to address the 25 most important freight mobility improvement projects across the region. While the funding only allowed for the completion of 20 projects, the current FAST Freight Advisory Committee still serves a technical role in providing input on regional freight and goods movement for the long range planning process.

  • Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Missouri

    Heavy truck traffic and poor road conditions prompted four states in the Mid-America Freight Council (MAFC) to collaborate on a multi-state study to implement truck-only lanes on I-70 in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri. The MAFC engaged freight stakeholders throughout the planning process with large meetings, focus groups,and survey outreach. Developing the list of stakeholders to be included in the project focused on including a cross section of trucking firms, major shippers, and railroads.

    Atlanta, Georgia

    After 10 years of increasing freight consideration in Georgia's planning activities,GDOT and its freight stakeholders developed the Statewide Freight and Logistics Plan in 2010-2011. The plan and its implementation program present opportunities to increase investment in goods movement infrastructure in Georgia. To develop the plan, GDOT boosted its outreach efforts to include a broader range of stakeholders and formed a stakeholder advisory group.
    The Governor of Georgia also formed the Governor's committee, consisting of a group of high-level executives. These groups collaborated to identify important freight issues throughout Georgia, and continue to coordinate on outreach to the freight community.

    San Diego, California

    The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) is pursuing a corridor initiative for SR-905 to improve commercial, commute, and cross-border traffic flows. This corridor is critical for the efficient movement of goods between the U.S. and Mexico.Freight stakeholders played an important role in defining a vision for the corridor.
    SANDAG met with facility users through initial outreach and one-on-one follow up.Representatives from trucking firms, railroads, and maquiladoras provided context to help SANDAG better understand freight operational concerns and decisions. The outreach also provided an opportunity for the freight community to better understand the transportation planning process.

  • Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington

    The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) is a bi-state effort to improve the existing Interstate 5 (I-5) Bridge that crosses the Columbia River between Oregon and Washington. A Task Force was initiated to determine the project's vision, purpose, and needs,and to lead the decision making process under NEPA. The Task Force included freight stakeholders such as the ports of Portland and Vancouver, as well as motor carriers and shippers.
    Several years after the Task Force was convened, a Freight Working Group was established to better address the industry's needs and concerns. CRC staff have committed to providing continued updates to the freight community even after construction begins. Once completed, CRC is expected to become a national model for multimodal transportation, serving freight, commuters, and transit users.

    Los Angeles, California

    To explore the implementation of major improvements on I-710 in Los Angeles, LA Metro completed a Major Corridor Study (MCS) that prompted the development of an Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement. Both the MCS and the ongoing environmental review process have relied on the involvement of key freight stakeholders, whose input was solicited mainly through local committees formed around key interest groups. Stakeholder engagement has helped to define the project issues and highlight the potential benefits of improving the highway.

Working with Freight Stakeholders

Working with Freight Stakeholders

Involving freight stakeholders throughout the planning process is the best way to ensure that freight is adequately incorporated into decision making. This allows the transportation agency to:

  • Improve the system to enhance freight mobility
  • Appropriately rank and prioritize projects
  • Provide a broad set of project alternatives
  • Minimize project opposition
  • Foster local, regional, and state economic vitality

Click on the arrows below for an overview of WHO, HOW, and WHEN of freight stakeholder involvement.

  • In determining the WHO, consider a few questions:

    • Is the project/program located on a major freight corridor?
    • Are there major shippers or carriers that operate close to this project?
    • How many and what types of activities will my resources support?

    Freight carriers have institutional knowledge about the transportation system. Driver and dispatcher experience makes their input valuable.

    Railroads and trucking have become increasingly interdependent. Rail carriers can make concurrent and future investments on parallel corridors that may affect highway demand.

    Economic Development Organizations and Chambers of Commerce represent both public and private sector interests and are greatly affected by freight operations.

    Transportation Agencies such as the toll road authority, rail, and intermodal division can be consulted throughout the process.

    Ports can be involved in the process if the plan or project is located in an area with an active seaport or inland port.

    Local Governments can provide valuable insight into projects that have benefits to freight flows within a locality. They can also provide information about their local priorities as they relate to local freight issues that affect larger goods movement flows.

    Shippers are key stakeholders who can identify transportation system deficiencies as well as potential solutions and opportunities that address supply chain issues, the ways that freight stakeholders utilize multimodal systems, and the importance of priority freight corridors.

  • In determining how to engage freight stakeholders, consider these questions:

    • Does a current freight planning program/group exist?
    • What are the options for engagement?
    • What's in it for them? Illustrate the benefits of participation.

    Forming a freight advisory committee is an effective way to encourage the freight community to be involved in the planning process. Start by identifying any established freight advisory groups.

    An Information Exchange can help educate the public, government officials, and other stakeholders about how supply chains function and the connection between freight mobility and a vibrant economy.

    Training programs can be used to educate planners on what motor carriers do, the role they play in the freight transportation system, and appropriate questions to ask in order to integrate freight planning knowledge. The National Highway Institute's Freight Planning 101 course is an example.

    An official Freight Working Group can be established to address day-to-day operations and technical issues, and will enable project engineers to include freight needs early in proposed solutions.

    Other recommended activities include holding meetings, workshops, and listening sessions, conducting surveys, requesting input via phone and in-person meetings,and making presentations in the field.

  • Early! Getting freight stakeholders involved early in transportation decision making is important to:

    • Show public sector agencies how these stakeholders use the transportation system and the issues they regularly encounter.
    • Develop goals and decide on the project purpose and needs.
    • Demonstrate to the stakeholders that their input is valuable and make them more willing to participate throughout the process.

    Freight stakeholders generally prefer to be engaged in the decision making process when projects are first conceived, when alternatives are being analyzed, during the funding allocation phase, and near the end of the project. See Freight and the Decision Guide for more detailed explanation of when to engage freight stakeholders.