Cargo Transportation in Massachusetts

Massachusetts Freight Plan
MassDOT has set five overarching performance goals established in its performance management report, published annually by the Office of Performance Management and Innovation. Each of these can be applied to the freight system, though budget and capital performance is somewhat more loosely related.

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The performance goals are listed below in bold, followed by a description of how the freight system can impact MassDOT’s ability to achieve it.

 - Customer experience 
The freight system should work for all its customers: shippers, carriers, consumers, workforce, and communities

 - System condition 
The condition of the freight system should be improved to ensure an efficient and reliable supply chain

 - Budget and capital performance 
Capital budgets should be set in part using freight performance metrics, to ensure that the benefits of projects for freight uses are properly considered in decision-making

 - Safety
Freight movement should be safe for operators, motorists and passengers, bicyclists, and pedestrians, in urban, suburban, and rural areas

 - Healthy and sustainable transportation
The freight system should not adversely impact the health and livability of the communities it touches, and it should contribute to the achievement of a 25% statewide reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from utilities, industry, transportation, and other sources by 2020

What we are moving

The freight system brings goods everywhere - produce from Central America to Central Massachusetts before it spoils and carries millions of products from Amazon Prime (TM) to your door in two days, guaranteed. It also serves a critical function in supporting the Commonwealth’s economic development.

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A strong Massachusetts economy

 - Population has grown in Massachusetts over the past decade more slowly than the national average, however growth in the Boston Area and Central Massachusetts is greater than in other regions of the Commonwealth

 - Employment has grown in Massachusetts over the past decade faster than the national average and the Boston metro area is growing faster than elsewhere in the state

 - Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Massachusetts is larger and growing faster than in any other New England state

The interviews conducted to support this plan generated a critical set of industry-specific insights, concerns, and identified needs.

 - Institutions buy lots of food and beverages, produce lots of waste, and have their own construction seasons. They are the recipients of a large and increasing volume of e-commerce shipments. In urban areas, truckers have issues with urban road geometries and congestion when delivering materials and foods. Logistics for universities are seasonal.

 - Biopharmaceuticals are typically manufactured out-of-state with the research and development performed in-state by an expensive, highly-skilled workforce. These companies tend to make small shipments of drugs on an ad hoc basis, targeted for clinical trials. They do take multiple daily shipments of lab equipment.

 - Fuel for eastern and central Massachusetts arrives by pipeline into Braintree or into ports in Chelsea and Providence and for western Massachusetts it is trucked from the Port of New Haven and the Buckeye pipeline in the Springfield Area. The fuel supply chain is vulnerable to disruption from flooding.

 - Food is delivered from regional distribution centers and is also becoming more locally-sourced. Increasing urban populations and land prices may lead retailers to increase turnover in urban locations, perhaps requiring more frequent deliveries with smaller vehicles.

How freight moves

Massachusetts’s freight system transported goods were valued at nearly $500 billion in 2015 and are expected to approach $1 trillion in 2045 [per FHWA Freight Analysis Framework 4 (FAF4)]

The majority of freight in Massachusetts travels by road (per FAF4 - see above and right). Road is the main mode of transportation for 88 percent of freight tonnage and 70 percent of freight value. These totals include all commodities inbound to, outbound from, and internal to the state.

The figure above relates responsiveness and flexibility to cost for freight modes. Air freight is the most expensive but also very responsive and flexible. On the other end of the chart, maritime shipping is not very flexible but is very inexpensive. Truck and rail shipping fall between these modes.

The Massachusetts freight network

Massachusetts consumes more goods than it produces, reflecting an industry mix that tilts toward institutions, offices, and other net consumers of freight. As a result, this section places emphasis on goods flowing into the Commonwealth (as opposed to those produced here). The figure to the right shows an example supply chain that moves products from the manufacturer to the consumer.

1. Gateways 
Gateways include rail terminals (e.g., Worcester and Ayer), seaports (Boston and New Bedford) and airports (Boston). These facilities receive and dispatch long-haul, large-volume freight between Massachusetts, the nation, and the world.

2. Corridors 
Corridors include highways and rail lines that serve both short and long-haul freight traffic.

3. Distribution and en-route
Distribution and en-route facilities include warehouses and distribution centers, transload facilities and intermodal logistics centers where uniformly-packed cargo can move rapidly from trains to trucks and vice versa, truck service facilities along Massachusetts highways, and railyards. These facilities are concentrated along the I-495 belt and in the Worcester area.

4. First and last mile 
"First and last mile" is an industry term for the small trucks, vans, bicycles, and people that move cargo from distribution centers to consumers in the urban and suburban core and from manufacturers to gateways.

The highway system

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Major trucking routes tend to either serve Boston directly or circumnavigate the metropolitan area using I-495. The primary through route in Massachusetts enters the Commonwealth on I-84 from Connecticut and New York City, proceeds past Worcester on I-90, continues north on I-495, and exits using I-93 to New Hampshire and I-95 to Maine. An additional through route from Chicago and the Midwest enters Massachusetts via I-90 from New York.

To access Boston itself, trucks from the south and west use I-90 eastbound from I-495, while trucks from the north use I-93. Because I-90 and I-93 pass through Boston at least partly underground, trucks carrying hazardous cargo - including gasoline and fuel oil - must either traverse city streets at night or circumnavigate the city on I-95/Route 128. This has made it increasingly time-consuming to serve fueling stations on the South Shore from the Port of Boston's fuel terminals in Chelsea, which only have surface highway access to and from the north.