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A Guidebook for Engaging the Private Sector in Freight Transportation Planning

7. Public Agency Examples of Engaging the Private Sector

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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

7. Public Agency Examples of Engaging the Private Sector

This section of the guidebook provides brief examples of how selected state transportation agencies and MPOs have engaged the private sector in freight policy, planning, and programming. The examples are intended to give guidebook users ideas about developing or expanding public involvement opportunities for freight stakeholders. Included in the examples are transportation agencies for 1) states with less than three million population (North Dakota), three million to ten million population (Colorado and Washington), and more than 10 million population (California and Michigan), and 2) metropolitan areas with a population of less than 250,000 (Bend [OR] and Duluth [MN]-Superior [WI]), 250,000 to one million population (Des Moines [IA] and Nashville [TN], and more than one million (Chicago and Philadelphia).

In addition to examples in this section, readers may want to look at case studies in NCHRP Reports Number 570 and 594 for states, metropolitan areas, and other locations as follows:

NCHRP Report Number 570

Small/Medium-Sized MPOs

  • Brownsville (TX) MPO
  • Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Committee
  • Lancaster County (PA) Transportation Coordinating Committee
  • Michiana Area Council of Governments (COG)
  • Association of Central Oklahoma Governments
  • Pima (AZ) Association of Governments
  • Polk (FL) Transportation Planning Organization
  • Roanoke Valley-Alleghany (VA) Regional Commission
  • San Joaquin (CA) COG
  • Southwest Michigan Commission
  • Susquehanna (PA) Economic Development Association-;COG
  • Syracuse (NY) Metropolitan Transportation Council
  • Toledo (OH) Metropolitan Area COG
  • Tri-County (PA) Regional Planning Commission
  • Whatcom (WA) COG

Large MPOs

  • Metropolitan (Oakland) Transportation Commission
  • New York Metropolitan Transportation Commission
  • Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
  • East-West (St. Louis) Gateway Coordinating Council
  • Puget Sound (WA) Regional Council

NCHRP Report Number 594

  • Chicago Department of Transportation
  • Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission
  • Michigan Department of Transportation
  • Rhode Island Department of Transportation
  • Maine Department of Transportation
  • Minnesota Department of Transportation
  • Metropolitan (Oakland) Transportation Commission
  • City of Reno (NV)
  • Delaware Department of Transportation
  • Texas Department of Transportation
  • Toledo (OH) Metropolitan Area COG
  • East-West (St. Louis) Gateway Coordinating Council
  • Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board
  • Puget Sound (WA) Regional Council
  • Florida Department of Transportation
  • Port of Seattle
  • Washington State Department of Transportation and Transportation Center
  • Southern California Association of Governments

Source: TRB, NCHRP Report 574, Guidebook for Freight Policy, Planning, and Programming in Small and Medium-Sized Metropolitan Areas,; and TRB, NCHRP Report 590, Guidebook for Integrating Freight into Transportation Planning and Project Selection Processes

Examples from States with Populations under Three Million

North Dakota

In the last decade, there has been an increasing demand for specialty grains, especially from foreign markets that demand identity preservation and product traceability in agricultural product purchases. Specialty and identity preserved grains have particular logistics requirements such as smaller lot sizes and a traceable "chain of custody." The ability to ship specialty grains in containers makes it much easier to satisfy consumers with specific shipping needs, and allows producers greater control over products from field to customer. While North Dakota has become a key producer of specialty and identity preserved (IP) grain products, farmers in the region often struggle to access competitive transportation options for moving these products.1

In the spring of 2006, the North Dakota Department of Transportation (NDDOT) and the cities of Minot and Fargo signed a joint powers agreement creating the Regional Intermodal Co-Service Coordinating Board (RICCB). The RICCB was created to assist NDDOT carry out one of 16 initiatives identified in TransAction, North Dakota's Statewide Transportation Plan. TransAction, Initiative 7, states:

North Dakota will determine the feasibility of, and identify the conditions necessary for, developing an intermodal freight facility or facilities.

The seven-member RICBB represented both public and private entities, including agricultural shippers, carriers, and state government. After forming, the RICCB met and developed a scope of work to guide the selection of a consultant to advance the state's unified state rail strategy. A prominent element of the strategy was to investigate the feasibility of developing an intermodal loading facility in Minot, ND, that a Class I railroad would serve in conjunction with an existing, but underutilized facility near Fargo, ND, to allow direct loading/unloading and transportation of specialty grains and other products.

After selecting a consultant, the RICCB acted as the project oversight committee and facilitated project-related stakeholder outreach activities by making meeting arrangements, issuing public announcements, participating in news conferences, and encouraging North Dakota businesses seeking intermodal rail options to participate through interviews and on-line surveys. Following completion of the feasibility study, the RICCB was disbanded as the board had achieved its intended objectives.

The NDDOT continues to develop a statewide freight mobility strategy through TransAction II, which includes a rail freight strategy for intermodal co-service and transload facilities. For more information on the statewide freight mobility strategy, see

Examples from States with Populations from Three Million to Ten Million


The Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) seeks input from the private sector through surveys coordinated with MPOs and Transportation Planning Regions on statewide plans and project proposals, on rail relocation projects and special studies, and through attendance at meetings of the statewide motor carrier association. For transportation plans and special studies, CDOT creates subgroups or special outreach efforts that include representatives with freight industry expertise.

The 2002 Eastern Colorado Mobility Study was a special initiative in which CDOT sought input from the private sector. The study's purpose was to evaluate the feasibility of improving existing and/or constructing future transportation corridors and intermodal facilities to enhance the mobility of freight services within and through eastern Colorado. The study's steering committee consisted of a variety of public and private sector members, including representatives from railroads and the state motor carrier association. Study findings included a recommendation to establish a statewide freight advisory council to provide input on issues related to all modes involved in the movement of goods, and to introduce and advance freight-related projects into the statewide planning and funding process and the development of regional transportation plans.

Another CDOT study with private sector involvement is looking at moving the majority of through freight rail traffic away from the Denver to Pueblo Front Range corridor to the eastern plains of Colorado. Working with the BNSF Railway and the Union Pacific Railroad, CDOT and a consultant team in 2005 found that sufficient public benefits warranted further evaluation of a public-private partnership. More recently, CDOT sponsored a rail relocation study to analyze potential benefits, determine the costs of a potential project, determine steps needed to form a public-private partnership, investigate funding and finance sources, develop strategies for carrying out the necessary environmental clearances, and begin the public outreach process.

To implement a recommendation from the Eastern Colorado Mobility Study, CDOT in 2003 established a Freight Advisory Council (FAC) as a forum for discussion on freight movement and freight infrastructure in Colorado. The council is chaired by CDOT's Executive Director and includes 14 other members representing aviation, consultants, logistics companies, railroads, shippers, trucking, universities, and the Statewide Transportation Advisory Committee. FAC members engage in relationship building where members learn the role of various entities in the freight system. This includes FAC members hosting meetings and giving presentations and tours pertaining to their organization or business. In January 2008, the FAC co-sponsored a freight seminar focusing on problems Colorado and the surrounding region are facing now and over the next 30 years. The FAC also has been active in the statewide planning process (e.g., forming focus groups to provide input for the Statewide Transportation Plan).


The State of Washington engages the private sector in freight transportation planning through the activities of the Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board (FMSIB) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT).

The FMSIB, created in 1998, is an independent state agency that offers 1) railroads, trucking, shipping, and others in the private sector an opportunity to participate in governmental decision-making to improve freight capacity in Washington; 2) proposes policies, projects, corridors, and funding to promote strategic investments in the state's freight transportation system; 3) looks for solutions that lessen the impact of freight movements on local communities. The Board identifies, evaluates, and prioritizes freight mobility projects every other year, and encourages the private sector to provide matching funds for projects identified through the Board's review and analysis. Since its inception, the Board has helped fund 35 completed projects costing $284 million, of which $63 million was FMSIB grant funding. In late 2008, another 21 projects were in varying phases of construction; these projects were valued at $697 million with an FMSIB share of $92 million.

For more information, see:

WSDOT works regularly and continuously with the private sector to accomplish three primary freight-related functions: 1) preserve, maintain, and improve the state's highway and ferry systems to meet freight transportation and general mobility needs; 2) manage and direct the state's freight (and passenger) rail programs; and 3)conduct strategic planning and analysis for the state's freight systems.

To develop the State's Strategic Investment Plan for Freight Systems, WSDOT conducts short, focused interviews with hundreds of shippers and carriers at their places of business. Their input helps identify how the freight system is functioning, what the performance requirements are, where priority performance gaps are located, what future trends might change demand on the system, and why freight system performance matters to the state's economy. WSDOT regularly conducts these interviews to gain market intelligence on the freight system's performance. Strategies to address high-priority performance gaps are identified and documented in WSDOT's statewide surveys and interviews with high-volume shippers and carriers, such as members of the Washington Trucking Associations.

WSDOT also works with the private sector through one-on-one meetings throughout project selection, design, and implementation. Two recent efforts, which can be found online, include a truck parking study to guide improvement and investment decisions on additional parking needs and an economic impact analysis of storm-related road closures. WSDOT is also working with local distribution companies in the Central Puget Sound area to determine and track performance of the road system via GPS technology. Regular communication and involvement with the private sector ensures that WSDOT is aware of developing trends affecting the freight system, targets projects and programs that benefit system users, and is able to track performance with metrics that matter to the customer.
For more information, see:

Examples from States with more than Ten Million Population


The Office of Goods Movement (OGM) in the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) is charged with developing strategy, policy, and methods to improve freight transportation in California, the most populous state in the nation and third largest by area. Due to the expansive geography and many strong freight planning efforts at the metropolitan and regional planning agencies, the OGM chooses to work with and through these organizations to implement freight policies, strategies, and projects.

"Aside from the state highway system, much of the freight transportation network is privately owned and operated. For this reason, partnerships with the private sector and local and regional agencies are critical to fostering and maintaining coordinated and efficient freight planning and implementation."

The OGM supports the development of goods movement policies and then works with Caltrans District Offices, MPOs, and Regional Planning Agencies in California for implementation. Caltrans planners are members of many freight related advisory councils and groups across the state. The Sacramento Area Council of Governments, Goods Movement Advisory Group, provides but one example of how partnerships at the local level work to integrate freight into the planning process in California:

"The movement of goods or freight has always been one of the most important functions of the transportation system and is certainly of vital importance to the health of the economy and to ensuring a high quality of life. SACOG works with the region's jurisdictions as well as other state and local agencies and the private sector through its Goods Movement Advisory Group (GMAG) to make certain that planning for goods movement is incorporated into the overall transportation planning process." (

In 2004, the Schwarzenegger Administration embarked on an effort to assemble goods movement stakeholders to learn more about future issues facing the movement of freight in California. The outcome of the three-year effort was the Goods Movement Action Plan, released in January 2007. The "Plan was the result of a stakeholder-based process, with input from the public in an open and transparent public Integrating Work Group comprised of regulators and industry, community, and environmental leaders [was assembled] to provide input to the Cabinet Work Group regarding a framework for decision making regarding candidate actions."

According to Richard Nordahl, Chief of the OGM, "funding is what made goods movement real, and motivated people to come to the table." Following development of the Goods Movement Action Plan, the California Assembly passed legislation creating a $2 billion Trade Corridor Improvement Fund, which has since been expanded to $3.1 billion. Mr. Nordahl also stressed that the real challenge moving forward is to bring freight and environmental interests together in a constructive dialogue.

For more information:


In 2003, at the request of Governor Jennifer M. Granholm, the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) hosted the Transportation Summit. In preparation for the summit, MDOT invited key partners from industry, local and federal governments, not-for-profit organizations, and other state agencies to help assist in the planning effort. The Summit Planning Team was comprised of over 40 individuals representing 35 organizations throughout Michigan.

As a first step, the Summit Planning Team created an operating charter and then identified nine key issues regarding a vision for the future of Michigan's transportation system. Next, planning teams were each assigned the task of addressing one of the key issues that were identified. Each team held meetings where experts on the issues were invited to make presentations on the topic. The Commerce and Trade Planning Team heard the following expert presentations from private sector representatives:

As a result of the Commerce and Trade Planning Team meeting, a list of Issues, Goals and Actions (IGA) were formulated on the topic of commerce and trade. The IGA document on commerce and trade was then presented at the Transportation Summit on December 4, 2003, and discussed further in small group break-out sessions. The first Summit was attended by over 500 people and spanned two days. A second Summit was held in 2004 to bring MDOT's partners "back to the table" and review the progress that had been made during the previous year toward achieving the vision established at the first Summit in 2003. That vision was:

"Michigan will lead the 21st century transportation as it led the innovation in the 20th century. We will move people and goods with a safe, integrated and efficient transportation system that embraces all modes, is equitable and adequately funded, and socially and environmentally responsible. Michigan's transportation community will work together to ensure that resources are in place to deliver the system."

This vision statement was then incorporated into MDOT's State long-range transportation plan update that was initiated in 2005.

For more information on the Michigan Transportation Summit and Visioning process go to:

Examples from MPOs with up to 250,000 Population

Bend (OR) Metropolitan Area

The Bend Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is located in central Oregon approximately 160 miles from the state's largest city-;Portland. In 2007, the Bend metropolitan area had a population of just over 154,000, of which the Bend MPO's population is about one-half. Between 2000 and 2007, the Bend MSA was the 5th fastest growing metropolitan area in the U.S. Bend is the largest city in the eastern two-thirds of the state.

Historically, the Bend area economy was heavily dependent on timber processing. Most of the wood products manufacturing plants have closed in recent years. Today the economy is largely services based, with a heavy emphasis on tourism. Two major highways-;US 97 and US 20-;pass through the Bend area. US 97 is Oregon's most heavily traveled north-south highway after Interstate 5. In central and eastern Oregon, US 20 is the most heavily traveled east-west highway after Interstate 84. Two Class I railroads-;the BNSF and the Union Pacific-;serve the area. Most locally destined or originating freight moves by truck. Local freight traffic represents a relatively small proportion of total freight traffic in the area.

City of Bend staff provide support for the day-to-day business of the MPO, which has two full-time staff people. The MPO has established a Freight Advisory Committee (FAC) to assist with the development of transportation plans and the transportation improvement program. The FAC has six members consisting of local shippers, receivers, and carriers. It advises the MPO's Policy Board on freight issues and priorities, local mobility issues, and concerns as they relate to the movement, transfer, and delivery of freight-related goods and services. To date, the FAC has been involved primarily with helping guide the development of freight components of the MPO's long-range Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP). This included recommending improvements to the freight system, identifying freight origins/destinations and routes to access those locations, and assisting with the development of policy action language.

Subsequent to the MPO Policy Board's adoption of the MTP, the FAC has not met for nearly two years. MPO staff, however, expects to re-convene the FAC to review the MTP and discuss options for moving forward on MTP freight-related actions, as well as whether the FAC should be broadened to include additional members (e.g., the chamber of commerce or economic development organizations). Specific freight-related actions will include designation of preferred freight routes and development and placement of freight route signage. The City of Bend is undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of its transportation design standards and specifications. The FAC will be consulted about freight specific concerns. Individual FAC members also are participating on project development teams (e.g., a highway corridor EIS (Environmental Impact Statement) and a city corridor project). Staff anticipates that in the future the FAC will become more involved with project prioritization and data collection.

For more information, see:

Duluth (MN)-Superior (WI) Metropolitan Area

The Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Council (MIC) is the MPO for the Duluth-Superior metropolitan area located at the western end of Lake Superior. The metropolitan area is a major transshipment center for bulk cargos, especially coal, grain, and taconite. In 2007, the exports from marine terminals in Duluth and Superior ranked 7th nationally in tonnage. Four Class I railroads serve the area, as do an international airport and several major highways including Interstate 35, which has its northern terminus in Duluth. While most freight moves through the area as bulk cargo, interest continues in developing intermodal facilities to handle containers.

The MIC engages the private sector in several ways. This includes providing administrative support for the Harbor Technical Advisory Committee (HTAC), the mission of which is to:

The HTAC meets quarterly and consists of 30 voting members, including business owners, representatives of environmental groups, and federal, state, and local governmental officials. Private sector members represent businesses involved with coal, general bulk, general cargo, grain, harbor engineering, harbor services, pilot/vessel operations, ore, and recreational activities. Non-voting technical advisors are encouraged to attend and participate in HTAC meetings.

Two HTAC subcommittees address specific issues. The Dredging Subcommittee looks at short- and long-term strategies for dredge material replacement. Strategies include developing a local pier as a processing and re-use facility for dredged materials. A second subcommittee is the Great Lakes Ports Advocacy Coalition, whose mission is to raise awareness about funding Great Lakes maritime infrastructure. This includes obtaining funding for dredging and other projects.

The MIC also has worked with the private sector in the development of the metropolitan area's long-range transportation plan. Business associations and freight-related businesses and operators, for example, have served on stakeholder advisory committees for the plan. In developing the 2030 long-range plan, the MIC identified several issues and challenges related to private sector involvement in the freight transportation plan. One of the issues is that the freight community needs to be more involved in the planning and investment decision-making process. Similarly, the plan notes that engaging the private sector is an ongoing challenge due to differing timelines for public sector and private sector planning horizons, and due to insufficient private sector staff time or resources for involvement in public sector planning processes.

For more information, see:

Examples from MPOs with 250,000 to One Million Population

Des Moines Metropolitan Area

The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (DMAMPO) encompasses parts of four counties in central Iowa. The Des Moines area is served by an international airport, three Class I railroads, and one Class II railroad. Interstate highways 35 and 80 pass through the area. Larger metropolitan areas lie within 300 miles to the north (Minneapolis-St. Paul), east (Chicago), south (Kansas City), and west (Omaha-Council Bluffs). Most freight moves through the area by truck.

DMAMPO established a Freight Roundtable in 2004 to pursue freight issues more aggressively and to help the area's economy remain competitive regionally, nationally, and internationally. The roundtable meets at least quarterly and consists of about 25 public and private sector representatives from central Iowa.

In Fall 2005, the roundtable formed a Goods Movement Study working group to facilitate preparing a Goods Movement 2006 Update Report, concluding that the DMAMPO should more aggressively pursue an efficient freight transportation system and promote economic development and trade using the freight system. Since Fall 2008, the roundtable has been working to develop Port Des Moines, a virtual inland port proposed in the 2003 Port Des Moines study. The Port Des Moines interactive website will be a centralized location for information about domestic and international trade, economic development organizations, and local freight-related companies, and will be a ‘Container Clearinghouse' for tracking and obtaining shipping containers for local companies.

For more information, see:

Nashville Area MPO

In 2003, the Nashville Area MPO conducted its first regional freight study: The Nashville Area Freight and Goods Movement Study - Phase I. The goal of the study effort was to institutionalize freight into the overall planning process by modifying existing planning tools and priorities. To meet this goal, two intermediate objectives were established for the study effort:

Establishing a Freight Advisory Committee (FAC) to provide input and act as a technical resource was the first task completed in the Phase I study effort. The composition of the initial FAC was as follows:

In early 2008, the Nashville Area MPO embarked upon Phase II of the Freight and Goods Movement Study, which called for an update of the FAC established in 2003. Other objectives of the Phase II study now underway include:

Since 2003, the FAC has expanded to include 25 private and public sector members. The stated purpose of the Nashville FAC is:

To help public sector policy-makers, planners, and engineers better understand the complexities associated with freight movement to more effectively guide public investment in the transportation infrastructure.

For more information, see:

Examples from MPOs with more than One Million Population

Chicago Metropolitan Area

In 2005 the Illinois General Assembly passed a bill combining the Northeastern Illinois Planning Commission and the Chicago Area Transportation Study (CATS) into the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP). The new agency assumed oversight for the Intermodal Advisory Task Force (IATF) created by CATS in 1994. The IATF, made up largely of private sector representatives from area freight industries, served as the principal group providing input into CATS freight planning efforts.

In the spring of 2008, CMAP freight staff surveyed IATF members to decide how and whether to refocus task force efforts. Survey respondents expressed:

In mid-2008, CMAP replaced the IATF with a new Freight Committee comprised of representatives from freight industry organizations, private railroads, trucking companies, consultants, researchers, planners, and representatives of local, regional and state governments. The Freight Committee's charge is to identify, assess, and respond to goods movement travel issues and opportunities and to provide overall guidance for the development of the regional goods movement component of the Regional Comprehensive Plan. Examples of key issues include safety, congestion relief, air quality, economic development, and community impacts.

One of the CMAP's recent efforts is to develop freight-related information via a Regional Snapshot, the purposes of which are to:

For more information, see:

Philadelphia (PA-NJ) Metropolitan Area

The Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) is the MPO for four counties and the City of Philadelphia in Pennsylvania and four counties in New Jersey. The DVRPC engages the private sector in several ways, including through the Delaware Valley Goods Movement Task Force, which was established in 1992. Co-chaired by DVRPC's Deputy Executive Director and by a Deputy Secretary of the Pennsylvania DOT or the New Jersey DOT, the task force meets quarterly, with occasional additional meetings for specific issues. This may include meetings for subcommittees on data, planning, and shippers. Membership is open to shippers, carriers, logistics companies, port authorities or port districts, associations, chambers of commerce or economic development agencies, public agencies, warehousing, and consultants.

DVRPC uses a "3-C" (continuous, coordinated, and comprehensive) approach in seeking private sector input for freight planning activities. This includes regular meetings of the Goods Movement Task Force, where important initiatives and topics are brought to the attention of task force members. DVRPC freight staff work with task force co-chairs to develop meeting agenda items that cover a wide range of topics as well as include examples of successful efforts related to task force discussions and initiatives. Private sector input is sought on freight transportation policies, identification and prioritization of needed improvements, and development of key documents (e.g., the long-range plan, the transportation improvement program, and special studies).

Freight Forward, Freight for a Day, and a Freight Plan Showcase are examples of initiatives to encourage and support private sector involvement in regional planning activities. Freight Forward is a clearinghouse for suggestions on small projects which can be quickly investigated and potentially implemented to make freight operations more efficient and safer. Candidate projects include fixing potholes, installing directional signs, providing increased protection at roadway/railroad grade crossings, increasing turning radii at intersections, re-timing traffic signals, or modifying parking restrictions.

Freight for a Day was a region-wide scan designed as a public education tool on the magnitude and types of commodities moving, origins and destinations of shipments, and modes used in the Philadelphia area on a typical day (September 20, 2006) during the pre-Holiday season. This included field visits to truck parking facilities, operations centers, and National Highway System intermodal connectors.

The Freight Plan Showcase was held on October 15, 2008, in conjunction with the development of DVRPC's long-range transportation plan. The showcase used a series of stations staffed by industry specialists and DVRPC personnel to show how commodities move from source to shelf through a supply chain. At the final station, DVRPC staff presented a draft set of projects intended to maintain and improve the region's freight network as identified through research and discussion with the region's stakeholders.

For more information, see:

1 Identity preservation refers to the ability to trace how agriculture commodities were grown and how they are handled from field to market.
Updated: 10/20/2015
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