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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-10-004    Date:  May/June 2010
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-10-004
Issue No: Vol. 73 No. 6
Date: May/June 2010


Internet Watch

by Alicia Sindlinger

Freight Web Site Receives Makeover

Freight transportation is critical to the Nation's economy because it links businesses with suppliers and markets throughout the country and the world. According to the Federal Highway Administration's (FHWA) Freight Analysis Framework, which estimates commodity flows and freight transportation activity, the U.S. transportation system moved an average of 53 million tons of freight worth $36 billion per day in 2002. To help transportation professionals manage moving such a large quantity of freight, FHWA recently improved its Freight Management and Operations Web site at http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/freight and the portal to freight-related Web pages throughout the U.S. Department of Transportation at www.freight.dot.gov.

The improved Freight Management and Operations Web site contains updated content, new resources, and most important, an entirely new, easier-to-use navigation structure. Prior to the update in fall 2009, the overall organization of the site was based on the organizational structure of FHWA's Office of Freight Management and Operations. Now, a topic-based navigation structure makes it easier for all freight transportation professionals to find the information they need.

"We received feedback from users that finding information on our site was not as straightforward as they would like," says Tony Furst, director of FHWA's Office of Freight Management and Operations. "We made changes based on what made the most sense to users and the site is now organized by topic so they can more easily find and access information."

A Topic-Based Solution

When the Office of Freight Management and Operations decided the Web site needed a complete overhaul, the project team thoroughly researched and tested its options. During the redesign, FHWA conducted two rounds of user testing and utilized the feedback to make adjustments.

In the first round of testing, staff from the Office of Freight Management and Operations met individually with freight professionals from FHWA, State departments of transportation (DOTs), and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Through these meetings, the FHWA staff quickly realized that although the site hosted a lot of information, users had difficulty finding it. In the second round of testing, FHWA collected user feedback on a preliminary set of topic-based categories and subcategories for the site content.

"We engaged our site users and they provided us with feedback on everything from how to best organize the information to what content to include on the pages," Furst says.

With a solid set of categories and subcategories, FHWA then fine-tuned them through several internal meetings. As a result, the site now is organized into seven freight-related categories: analysis, data, and system performance; infrastructure; policy, planning, and finance; professional development; resources; technology and operations; and truck size and weight. Each category is represented on the site's left-hand navigation bar and, when clicked, displays subcategories within that topic. For example, when a user clicks the link "Analysis, Data, and System Performance," a dropdown menu of 11 subcategories appears, including links to data sources, information by State, and national statistics and maps. The subcategories link to the respective areas on the site, making it easier for the user to go directly to the desired information from any page within the site.

New Resources and Other Improvements

Upon visiting the home page, users will notice additional changes. Although the home page still displays current freight-related news, it also prominently displays a "Features" section that alerts visitors to new or important resources on the site. From the home page, users also can access a searchable "News Archive" with all previously posted freight-related news items.

Another new section, called "Freight Solutions," lists real-world examples from State DOTs, MPOs, and other agencies. The examples are divided into 10 topical areas: economic development, environmental guidance, freight plans, freight studies, funding and financing, intermodal connectors, performance measures, programming and selection criteria, public involvement and outreach, and public and private sector cooperation.

In addition, site visitors now can find freight-related publications and resources more easily on the reorganized "Publications" page, which includes FHWA publications, a video, and a virtual library of freight documents "that should be on every freight practitioner's bookshelf," the site says.

"Overall, the new freight site is much more streamlined," says Chris Smith, intermodal policy and program manager with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. "The topic-based organization makes it much easier to find what I need because everything on a specific topic is grouped together. It's a valuable resource for the freight transportation industry."

A screenshot of the Freight Web Site.



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