Freight Mobility Developments in North Carolina

Have you ever wondered how the varied products of our global economy end up in your possession?  Even a cursory glance into your refrigerator, your closet, or your home office will reveal items grown, produced, and assembled all over the world.  As consumer demand for online purchasing expands and as many companies increasingly require same-day delivery to conduct their own business,  freight transportation becomes more complex, with its own unique challenges separate from human mobility.  On the national level, the need for comprehensive freight planning was recognized in Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, passed in 2015 and requiring the development of state freight plans and a National Freight Strategic Plan.  Among the efforts to expand freight mobility in North Carolina is intermodal freight services from the Port of Wilmington.  

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the transportation system in the U.S. moved an average of 49.3 million tons of freight daily in 2015.  With a projected average annual increase of 1.4 percent each year through 2045, developing intermodal freight infrastructure is a key priority for reducing freight emissions, preserving road infrastructure, and increasing efficiency.

In North Carolina, recent developments include the opening of direct rail service from the Port of Wilmington to Charlotte with the Queen City Express, and the future siting of an Intermodal Terminal, dubbed the Carolina Connector, in Rocky Mount, NC.  Rail service directly connecting the Port of Wilmington to Charlotte, which commenced in July 2017, offers numerous benefits including expanding Wilmington’s capacity and competitiveness with other regional ports and lowering transportation costs for companies. With each train removing as many as 280 trucks from roads, the Queen City Express is reducing vehicle emissions, congestion, and damage to roadways.  The Carolina Connector Intermodal Terminal, currently in the environmental permitting process and expected to open in 2020, will further expand these connections and is expected to be a premier freight connection in the region, offering expedited service through both rail and truck connections.  Intermodal terminals often attract warehouse and manufacturing firms that benefit from close proximity to transportation services, which would be a welcome economic boon for the region.  

While an often overlooked element of transportation planning, freight mobility planning offers myriad opportunities for reducing transportation greenhouse gas emissions, preserving our infrastructure, and increasing the economic competitiveness of our region.

Feature Image: Freight, Cities, and Opportunity

Photo Credit: Politico 

About the Author: Catherine Peele is a second year Master’s of City and Regional Planning candidate from Albemarle, North Carolina. Her planning interests include transportation project prioritization methods and freight mobility.  Outside of planning, Catherine enjoys exploring local parks and museums, supporting refugee resettlement efforts in the Triangle, perfecting classic Southern dishes and trying new recipes, and spending time with her two nieces.