The congested I-95 corridor from Maine to Florida is the focus of a study analyzing the economic and environmental trade-offs of different modes of freight transportation.
Moving freight domestically via barge, rail, trucks, or combinations of all three is expected to increase dramatically in volume by 2020, according to the Federal Highway Administration, which predicts a 65 percent jump from 1998 volumes on roadways alone.
The anticipated hike in greenhouse gas emissions concerns policy analysts like James Corbett, assistant professor of marine policy at the University of Delaware, and James Winebrake, chair of science, technology, and public policy at the Rochester Institute of Technology, who are analyzing shipping alternatives for the U.S. Department of Transportation. Corbett and Winebrake are co-principal investigators on the $158,000 project.
The researchers will develop a computer-based model for decision makers to evaluate the energy, environmental, and economic impacts that exist with different modes of freight transportation. For the first time, air pollution and energy consumption will be included as variables in determining freight logistics. With this tool, analysts can examine the energy and environmental impacts of transporting goods via different modes and identify routes that reduce greenhouse gases and other pollution emissions. In this way, trade-offs among shipping cost, time, and environmental impacts can be explored.
"We are building a network model to study optimal routes under different objectives," Winebrake says. "The model will identify the optimal routes and will allow decision makers to evaluate trade-offs associated with shipping decisions. This could later inform policy makers who wish to address environmental problems associated with freight transport."
Corbett adds, "By considering together the economic, energy, and environmental components of freight transportation, this research will help develop the integrated multi-modal context needed to understand freight transportation in both on-road and non-road dimensions."
In the future, Corbett and Winebrake hope to layer the tool with geographic information system technology to create a Web-enabled interactive map for identifying transportation routes with the lowest environmental impacts.