The movement of freight is ubiquitous. And it can be dirty, but it is part of living in society. Trucks, trains, planes, barges and ships travel our roads, railways, and waterways, transporting raw materials and finished products from the entire continuum of our economy.
Unfortunately, moving freight contributes to air and water pollution, habitat disruption, and loss of green and open space. Freight emissions have grown by more than 50 percent since 1990, and approximately one-third of U.S. transportation greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from hauling freight. GHGs are linked to environmental trends such as global warming, rising sea-levels, and the increase in unpredictable weather, as well as health conditions such as asthma and other respiratory illnesses and the increased risk of cancer.
Moving Freight Land Use toward Sustainability
The word “sustainability” refers to approaches which utilize the planet’s resources in ways that meet the needs of the world’s populations now and in the future, while attaining and maintaining a balance of environmental, social and economic equity and justice. Sustainability is the ultimate balancing act.
Many municipal and regional government agencies have adopted sustainable land use practices in an effort to reduce the environmental and community impacts of moving freight while providing benefits from freight transportation such as accessibility of goods and jobs. Such strategies include brownfields redevelopment and freight villages.
Increasing trade and consumer demand is putting more pressure on demand for industrial and distribution land capacity near major seaports, intermodal terminals, and other freight hubs. Abandoned, vacant, or underutilized industrial parcels, called brownfields, are being remediated and returned to use in order to help meet the demand. There is great potential in cleaning up brownfield contaminants, not only mitigate health and environmental hazards, but also to restore sites to productive uses.
Brownfields are typically former industrial sites with soil or ground water contamination. Often they are close to freight rail and port terminals, and adjacent to existing industrial land uses, which minimizes the potential impacts on residential neighborhoods.
Cleaning up and reusing brownfield sites for freight use helps offset development of greenfields for the same purpose, while also mitigating water contamination caused by storm surges such as Superstorm Sandy washing over brownfields in coastal floodplains.
A freight village is a defined area reserved for the transport, logistics and distribution of goods carried out by various operators with supporting land uses such as restaurants and banks. Benefits include reduced truck vehicle miles traveled (VMT) due to the proximity of other supply chain components such as intermodal terminals and distribution centers, as well as employment opportunities and economic activity generated by the supporting land uses.
The sustainable freight concept is about maximizing the positives of freight movement while minimizing the negative impacts to communities and the environment. While actions being taken at the State and Federal level toward sustainability are encouraging, there is still much work to be done and progress depends on politics, policies and focus.