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Our Region’s Future Freight System Performance

semi-truck, delivery truck and delivery person with package in hands


freight trains on tracks with packages on platform


tugboat and barge on the water


air cargo plane with packages and crates on the runway


pipelines and oil pipeline delivery truck


Our Region’s Future Freight System

This section of the OKI Freight Plan is an assessment of the region’s future multimodal freight system performance within the five key goal areas: safety; infrastructure condition; mobility and reliability; environmental sustainability; and economic competitiveness.

Using this approach, the future performance of each mode (Road, Rail, River, Air Cargo, and Pipeline) can be evaluated to identify:

  • deficiencies that may negatively impact one or more goal areas
  • opportunities to enhance goals through improved movement of goods

This approach ensures the continued benefit of our multimodal freight transportation network to the OKI region from today to 2050.

The Role of Future Freight Modes

Each of the five freight modes will remain serving their critical roles in the movement of goods. As the diagram shows, each mode is designed to transport different types of cargo, based on the product’s value; weight; size and volume; travel distance; transportation costs; and time-sensitivity for delivery.

These roles will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future. However, as we have witnessed over the past few years, more frequent natural and human events — such as driver shortages, COVID, flooding, and droughts (which disrupt the use of one or more freight modes) — will raise both the opportunity and need for flexible and reliable modal shifts between road, rail, river, air, and pipeline.

Stacked chart shows the five freight transportation modes and how the products they move differ based on time sensitivity, value, distance, and weight.

Domestic Freight Modal Selection
HDR, Inc. (2023).

Future Freight Modal Highlights and Potential of Technological Advancements

As we look to the challenges for the future of freight transportation, there are a growing number of technological advances — under varying degrees of implementation or examination today — that will greatly assist in meeting regional goals. Technological advancements will be adopted over time to secure each mode’s position within the multimodal freight transportation network. This freight plan offers a brief overview of those technologies showing the greatest potential benefits to each of the five freight modes’ safety; infrastructure maintenance; mobility and reliability; environmental sustainability; and economic competitiveness. In many instances, new technology has value in addressing multiple freight transportation goals simultaneously.

Future Road Freight

The future of freight roadway freight safety, infrastructure conditions and mobility/reliability will be impacted negatively by higher truck volumes, which are forecasted throughout the region. Advances in technology and freight efficiency could greatly reduce crash risks, extending the life of roadways that trucks rely upon every day, as well as reducing the threat of greater congestion and delay.

Future road freight transportation is expected to play a key role in ensuring the environmental sustainability of the region, boosted by advances in technology and increased efficiency. This will include a decrease in mobile source emissions, noise pollution and the use of non-renewable fuels — improving the environmental footprint of freight movement throughout the region.

Future Rail Freight

With OKI’s forecast for growth in road and rail traffic volumes, rail grade crossings will continue to be a major safety concern and a challenge, which will require a balance between rail freight movement and roadway mobility. However, new advancements in rail-related technologies have could greatly enhance air quality along rail corridors and at rail yards; quality of life for residents and businesses near rail corridors (through reductions in noise and emissions); and safety for motorists and non-motorists at rail grade crossings.

Future River Freight

Reliability of our river freight system depends on many factors beyond the control of private barge terminal operators. These include public lock and dam maintenance, and severe weather events that can impact the river’s water level or flood terminal facilities. Therefore, the future of river freight mobility and reliability in the OKI region is dependent on its efficient connection to, and availability of, other modes. This is especially important as the industry actively tries to diversify the cargo mix transported on waterways.

Although the region is expected to see a continued decline in overall river tonnage, the overall value and contribution to our economy is expected to increase between today and 2050. The river’s value is forecasted to be led by the shipment of basic chemicals, which includes those used in manufacturing — chemicals used to make soaps and detergents, household cleaners, and food processing.

Future Air Cargo

For the foreseeable future, CVG’s runways will continue to carry the majority of air cargo by traditional jet aircraft traveling long distances with heavy loads. However, technology is swiftly advancing to introduce air cargo transport vehicles that do not require a runway for take offs and landings. These vehicles potentially allow for other public airports to play a key role in last-mile parcel delivery to local residents and businesses.

The region is expected to see the value of air cargo increase more than 115% between today and 2050. While future growth in air cargo is forecasted for the OKI region, the continued availability of a highly trained workforce in aviation and logistics is one of the most pressing issues for CVG and express shipping partners – now and into the future.

The only other threat facing the region’s air cargo capacity is that of drayage or the ability to accommodate future air cargo growth on the region’s roadway network. New technologies offer help in identifying ways to optimize regional freight flow volumes.

Future Pipeline Freight

As our region and nation move to cleaner, more environmentally sustainable resources, our reliance on pipelines to safely, efficiently and economically transport goods is expected to grow. Future volume forecasts and existing capacity may require a larger diameter replacement pipeline and/or the extension of pipeline to meet demand and to support the mode’s economic competitiveness. Technology provides a safer, more reliable means of monitoring, maintaining, and transporting liquid and gas pipeline commodities.

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