Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

A Guidebook for Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Transportation Planning

4. Who from the Private Sector Should Be Involved?

Publication #: FHWA-HEP-09-015 | JANUARY 2009

Prepared for the
U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration

Prepared by
Wilbur Smith Associates
and S.R. Kale Consulting LLC

4. Who from the Private Sector Should Be Involved?

Question. What resources does a public agency need if it wants to get the private sector involved in freight transportation planning?

Answer. The agency needs resources commensurate with the amount of work expected to be needed for the initiatives undertaken. This will vary among initiatives and among agencies. At a minimum, the agency should identify a staff person as the agency contact for the initiative undertaken. The staff person often will be assigned to other work activities too. For some initiatives, the staff person will need to allocate substantial amounts of his or her time to the initiatives until they are completed. Developing new plans or periodically updating existing plans often requires staff work for a year or more.

This section of the guidebook summarizes "who" to consider engaging in public agency freight planning. Topics include what public and private sector stakeholder groups to consider involving, as well as techniques for identifying specific entities or individuals to seek out their involvement. The section concludes with a brief discussion of challenges and issues relating to considerations about who to involve.

Groups or Organizations to Consider for Involvement

To some extent, identifying specific groups or organizations for involvement depends on the specific task for which stakeholder input is desired. For example, representatives from port and waterway organizations would be among those whose input might be sought for a special study on marine transportation. Additionally, in some situations, freight stakeholders may self-identify by inquiring about how to become involved with an agency's freight-related activities.

In general, when deciding who to engage, it may be useful to view freight transportation as part of a supply chain where goods are moved between origins and destinations. Various entities are involved in the movements along these supply chains. For example, shippers are the entities which have goods to move. Carriers or transportation providers are entities that move the goods between locations. Receivers are entities to which the carriers move the goods. Figure 3 illustrates how shippers, carriers, and receivers interact within a supply chain setting. Note that shippers also may be receivers, and correspondingly, receivers also may be shippers.

Figure 3: Shippers, Carriers, and Receivers as Freight Stakeholders

This figure emphasizes the trucking/rail/air/marine carriers as important freight stakeholders. Carriers move materials and goods from raw materials producers/shippers to manufacturer (as receiver/shipper/3PL), then to warehouse/distribution center (as receiver/shipper), and finally to retail store (as receiver).

Source: FHWA, Workshop on "Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Planning"

Many types of shippers may be involved in freight transportation movements. In Figure 3, shippers include raw materials producers such as those involved in agriculture, processors of raw materials or other types of manufacturers, and warehouses and distribution centers. Carriers include trucking companies, railroad companies, ocean-going and river marine companies, airlines, and pipeline companies. At the end of the supply chain are the final consumers, who buy products in retail stores or who receive products at their homes or businesses via parcel express or similar carriers.

Other entities to consider for involvement include logistics providers; associations representing carriers, shippers, or logistics providers; terminal operators; economic development organizations and chambers of commerce; port districts or port authorities; various governmental agencies; colleges or universities; and citizens' groups or other interested parties. Logistics companies include third-party logistics (3PL) providers, such as freight forwarders and brokers, who serve as transportation consultants for private sector shippers/receivers.

Carrier associations include those representing air cargo companies, pipeline companies, ports and waterway groups, railroad companies, and trucking companies. Organizations for shippers include agricultural associations, associations for manufacturers, and associations representing warehousing and distribution. Associations for logistics providers include those representing management consulting companies and supply chain management professionals.

Terminal operators include private companies and public agencies that operate facilities where goods are transferred between carriers of the same mode or between carriers of differing modes. In Figure 3, a warehouse or distribution center is a facility where goods are transferred between carriers. Other types of terminals include intermodal facilities where goods are transferred between modes, such as a truck-rail facility where goods are transferred between truck and rail carriers, or a pipeline terminal where liquids are transferred between pipelines and trucks.

Question. What steps should be taken first to get the private sector involved in public sector planning for freight mobility and other freight-related issues?

Answer. The first steps are to identify the initiative for which private sector input is desired, and then to estimate the resources needed and available to begin and complete the initiative. Estimating resources needed includes developing an estimated budget and identifying staff to do the work. This may include budgeting for consultant work.

State, regional, and local economic development organizations and chambers of commerce may have an interest in freight planning because transportation is an important factor that businesses consider when they are looking for new locations, considering expansion at existing locations, or deciding whether to stay in or move from an existing location. Port districts or port authorities often are involved with local and regional economic development as well as with intermodal transportation by water, highway, rail line, air carrier, and/or pipelines. In some locations, statewide port planning and coordination occurs in economic development agencies.

In addition to state transportation agencies, MPOs, and economic development agencies, a variety of federal, state, regional, and local governmental agencies may be appropriate to engage in freight planning. Types of agencies to consider include various federal modal administrations, state agencies involved with coordinating modal transportation or resource-based industries such as agriculture or timber, regional or corridor transportation groups, and county and city governments.

Representatives from colleges or universities may be interested in freight planning activities of states and MPOs. In recent years, university transportation centers (UTCs) have allocated resources to freight planning and a variety of freight-related special studies. One of these UTCs - the National Center for Freight and Infrastructure Research and Education at the University of Wisconsin, Madison - focuses on education, research, outreach, training, and technology transfer relating to safe, efficient, and sustainable infrastructure for the movement of goods ( Additionally, a number of universities and colleges have established courses in logistics and related subjects which may cover freight planning topics; the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals provides a listing of many of these colleges and universities at

Citizens' groups may want to be involved in planning activities where freight movements occur near residential neighborhoods, where redevelopment from industrial to other land uses is contemplated or underway, or where real or perceived conflicts occur between goods movements and people movements. Some of the issues are discussed in a 2003 NCHRP report on Integrating Freight Facilities and Operations with Community Goals (

Identifying Specific Entities or Individuals for Involvement

One approach to begin identifying entities or individuals for involvement in freight planning activities is to look for private sector and other freight stakeholders who have been involved with previous or current planning efforts of the state transportation agency or MPO. For example, freight stakeholders may have served on advisory committees for multimodal, modal, or regional transportation plans; for transportation improvement programs; or for special studies. Individuals with previous involvement often understand the basic purposes, approaches, concepts, and other aspects of public sector transportation planning. They may be willing to assist further by serving on specific freight initiatives, especially if through their previous service they have helped develop recommendations urging transportation agencies to begin or intensify their freight planning efforts.

In addition to involvement by stakeholders who have previously served as advisors, transportation agencies may want to widen the pool to include representatives from other groups or organizations. This can be done in a variety of ways depending on the specific circumstances of the transportation agency and its staffing resources. Preparing a list of groups to consider might be a first step. Such a list might be developed by doing one or more of the following:

Question. How does the public sector "cast the net" widely enough to get input from a broad section of freight stakeholders, as compared to getting input from only a few private sector individuals willing to devote time and energy to freight planning activities?

Answer. To the extent practical, public sector representatives should make continuing efforts to seek input from a broad variety of stakeholders, including at a minimum various types of shippers and carriers. At the state level, stakeholders should be sought from across the state geographically and by size of community or region. Obtaining input from representatives of business associations or organizations, which often represent a diverse spectrum of their membership, may be the most feasible option when representatives from individual businesses or industries are not available.

Once a preliminary list of entities and individuals has been developed, agency staff will need to consider how to refine the list to meet the needs of the specific freight planning activity. For multimodal freight planning, a group of freight stakeholders would need to be broadly based representing a wide variety of interested parties. A more specific activity such as developing a transportation improvement program might need input from a less diverse group of individuals to include, at a minimum, freight shippers and providers of freight transportation services as stipulated in federal transportation funding legislation. Refining the list may include making decisions about geographic representation and other considerations as well as which specific groups to involve.

Someone from a public agency will then need to contact entities or individuals on the refined list. This could include contacting a specific individual if previous work has resulted in identifying a contact person. Or it could include contacting a group or organization, explaining the reasons for making the contact, and asking for the name or names of specific individuals if the group or organization agrees to be involved.

Getting agreement to participate in public sector freight planning initiatives may be enhanced if a high-level agency executive makes the request. Depending on the specific circumstances involved, this could be done informally or formally; e.g., by letter.

Challenges and Issues

Some agencies have experienced difficulties in identifying more than a few private sector representatives who are willing to provide input for freight planning activities. Or the participating private sector representatives do not represent a cross-section of freight stakeholders, which could result in recommendations that are narrow in scope and not representative of the larger freight community. Another issue is maintaining private sector interest over time. Many private sector stakeholders have limited time and energy for serving in an advisory capacity to public agencies. Working with the private sector on freight planning and programming is considerable work and requires an appropriate level of public sector staffing and other resources as determined by the nature of the specific initiative undertaken. To facilitate private sector involvement, transportation agencies need to provide stakeholders with clearly articulated information about the purpose, duration, expectations, anticipated outcomes, etc. of their involvement. And the results of planning and programming activities need to show that private sector involvement has made a difference in addressing freight problems and concerns.

Updated: 10/20/2015
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000