Transportation and Infrastructure
Congressional Newsletter
A series of periodic updates to Congress on RAND's work in transportation and infrastructure


Developing an Equitable and Efficient Freight Infrastructure Strategy

Sandra Rosenbloom is spending her sabbatical in RAND's Arlington, VA, office, where she is working on infrastructure issues. She is a professor of planning and civil engineering at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she teaches courses on transportation planning and finance, planning theory, and public finance. She works both nationally and internationally on issues of equity in the financing and provision of transportation and other public services, as well as on the transportation implications of a number of major sociodemographic trends, such as the aging of populations. She has a Ph.D. in political science from UCLA.

Why do we need a strategy to encourage the provision of critically needed freight infrastructure?

The nation's freight movement system faces substantial challenges—challenges that compromise the productivity and competitiveness of the entire U.S. economy. For example, there have been major increases in the quantity of freight being moved and new and different pressures on the nation's supply chain network from the rapid growth of home shopping and e-commerce. And there have been major changes in industry production processes, growing international trade, and the proliferation of large-scale warehousing and distribution centers.

How has the freight infrastructure responded?

Unfortunately, the current transportation network is aging without adequate maintenance or replacement, and additional new infrastructure is not being built to respond to these new demands. The result is growing capacity constraints, which means that American travelers and businesses lose billions of dollars each year because of congestion delays, decreased reliability, the need to duplicate efforts, and manufacturing disruptions.

Why is this a federal government issue?

The magnitude of these problems is growing, and private-sector stakeholders and local or state governments are either unwilling or unable to address them. Thus, many analysts—RAND researchers included—have suggested that the federal government may need to take a greater role in addressing local and regional problems in the freight network.

RAND initiated a study to look at this issue, right?

Right. We wanted to know why, when, where, and how the federal government should intervene to address freight infrastructure needs and how those efforts should be financed.

What are you seeing as the study progresses?

Our results are still preliminary, but we suggest that the federal government must follow some basic standards in raising revenue and distributing grants or loans to address inadequacies in the freight supply chain network.

Such as?

Well, we argue the that federal government must have a clear rationale for its involvement in improving local freight bottlenecks, should base its response on explicit performance criteria, and should make its response proportional to the extent of the national benefit. Also, it is crucial that it provide financial assistance to projects that maintain a clear user-pay standard. Finally, where they exist—and this is particularly contentious—the federal government should streamline or remove inappropriate federal statutory or regulatory impediments so the national supply chain network can operate more efficiently.

And concerns about equitability and efficiency must be a part of the federal strategy?

Yes. The research suggests that it is crucial that financing strategies and mechanisms used to raise revenue for federal grants and loan programs equitably and efficiently support and address the above goals. For example, those who directly benefit from infrastructure improvements should share in their initial and continuing costs. At the same time, they should not be unduly burdened by the negative externalities of some improvements, such as increased local congestion, environmental pollution, or community disruption from greater local freight movement.

Two Forthcoming Transportation Studies

How Can Planners Anticipate New Choices by Road Users?

When a new road is built, travelers may reschedule trips, make additional trips, switch from public transportation to car, visit new destinations, or even change their residence—responses that collectively create "induced traffic." While total traffic flows can be measured after a new road is built, the challenge is in predicting the size of such impacts before new roads are planned. A RAND Europe study, commissioned by the UK Department for Transport, developed a predictive choice model to quantify the induced traffic effects of completing the M60 Motorway around Manchester, England. Similar approaches could be applied to projects in the United States.

How Can We Reduce Off-Duty Vehicle Crashes Among Military Personnel?

For military personnel, death rates from motor vehicle crashes are generally higher than they are for the U.S. population at large but similar to those of men of comparable ages. For both groups, motorcycles are a particular concern, since the proportion of crash deaths or motorcycles has been rising. A RAND study for the Private Motor Vehicle (PMV) Task Force, one of a number of task forces under the Defense Oversight Safety Council, provided background on how military fatalities compare to those in the civilian population, as well as a review of empirical studies that can contribute to the understanding of vehicle crashes, how to prevent them, and how to reduce their severity.


Paul Sorensen

Paul Sorensen

Paul Sorensen is associate director of the Transportation, Space, and Technology program at the RAND Corporation. His research focuses on the areas of urban and regional planning, transportation, energy, environment, and emergency response, and his technical expertise encompasses geographic information systems analysis, optimization modeling, simulation, and robust decisionmaking. Recent examples of Sorensen's work include developing plausible long-range transportation energy use scenarios and assessing relevant policy options for state departments of transportation, assessing port infrastructure investments given the potential for significant future sea level increases, evaluating mechanisms for implementing a national system of mileage-based road use charges to replace current excise fuel taxes, developing short-term policy options to reduce traffic congestion in Los Angeles, and examining performance-based accountability systems in transportation planning and policy. Sorensen has published peer-reviewed studies in the areas of geographic information analysis, location optimization modeling, emergency response logistics, and transportation finance policy. He has a B.A. in computer science from Dartmouth College, an M.A. in urban planning from UCLA, and a Ph.D. in geography from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Read more about Paul Sorensen »


Lindsey Kozberg
Vice President, Office of External Affairs

Shirley Ruhe
Director, Office of Congressional Relations

Matthew Dicker
Transportation and Infrastructure Legislative Analyst

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More Congressional Resources on Transportation and Infrastructure

Transportation and Infrastructure Research Area

RAND Infrastructure, Safety, and Environment

Supply Chain Policy Center

RAND Congressional Web Site

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