Hampton Roads Transportation Planning OrganizationHRTPO
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 Freight transportation influences every aspect of our daily lives and keeps our businesses and industries competitive in the local and global economy.  While Hampton Roads and the Commonwealth of Virginia have established an integrated multimodal freight system that facilitates the efficient, reliable, and safe movement of freight, our challenge will be to maintain and expand the system to meet the needs of tomorrow.  

All metropolitan areas are impacted by the movement of freight to some degree; the Hampton Roads region, however, experiences it much more intensely than many regions.  Hampton Roads’ Mid-Atlantic location makes it an ideal base from which to serve the large consumer and industrial markets located along the United States East Coast.  According to the Hampton Roads Economic Development Alliance, Hampton Roads is located within 40% of the U.S. population and has access to approximately 128 million consumers within one day’s drive.

Hampton Roads is a multimodal region that includes ports, airports, rail, private trucking, shipping and warehouse distribution facilities, as well as a network of road and rail corridors for the delivery of freight, goods, and services.  Hampton Roads is home to the Port of Virginia’s deep water marine terminals—Norfolk International Terminals (NIT), Newport News Marine Terminal (NNMT), Portsmouth Marine Terminal (PMT), and Virginia International Gateway (VIG)—which have significant economic impacts to the Commonwealth of Virginia.                                                                 

The newest generation of containerships (over 14,000 TEU) began calling at the Port of Virginia in May 2017, representing the beginning of a new era for Virginia and the U.S. East Coast.  With the completion of the Panama Canal expansion in 2016 and other East Coast projects to raise navigational clearances in 2017, additional larger vessels will call Virginia’s ports.  The net effect is fewer vessel calls, but with larger amounts of containers that are discharged and loaded with each ship call resulting in surges that must be rapidly transferred from the ship/marine terminal and transported over road/rail connections. 

The Port of Virginia’s channels (50 feet) are among the deepest on the East Coast, and are currently being widened and deepened to 55 feet.  In addition, the Port of Virginia is the only U.S. East Coast port that is not air draft constrained due to its use of tunnels – instead of bridges across the navigable channels.  This is a strength, but also a source of road congestion, that creates bottlenecks at tunnel approaches.

In order for Hampton Roads to remain competitive in attracting new business interests, retaining existing businesses and continue to grow economically, its transportation network must facilitate the rapid and efficient movement of raw materials and finished products using trucks, trains, ships, and planes.


HRTPO Freight Planning Efforts

With the rising importance of freight at the national, state, and regional levels, the HRTPO has engaged in many freight planning efforts.  The HRTPO has established a Freight Transportation Advisory Committee (FTAC), integrated freight into the Long-Range Transportation Plan’s Project Prioritization Tool, and produced several regional and local freight studies. 

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) outlined six major factors of successful freight planning as part of a new freight course on Integrating Freight in the Transportation Planning Process. HRTPO has undertaken the following work under each of these factors through ongoing studies, networking, coordination, and planning. 

  1. Development of data and tools – Successful freight planning begins with good freight data from both public and private sources that is summarized using freight analytical tools.
  • The HRTPO uses public and private freight data (e.g. IHS Transearch, Freight Analysis Framework, VDOT vehicle classification counts) and produces summaries using a variety of analytical tools (e.g. Access databases, Geographic Information Systems) within each freight study.

2. Networking with stakeholders – Understand who the stakeholders are; work to build trust, define policy, develop plans, and implement projects.

  • The HRTPO established a Freight Transportation Advisory Committee (FTAC) in 2009 to work with freight industry leaders to gain input, develop plans, and make recommendations for key freight projects within the Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).
  • FTAC Chair is a non-voting member of the HRTPO Board and sits at the table with regional transportation decision makers.

3. Education and outreach – Decision-makers and the general public may not realize the importance of freight and of integrating freight movements into the transportation planning process.

  • The HRTPO continues toraise awareness of the freight issues with decision-makers and thegeneral public through numerous freight studies and presentations.
  • FTAC created a video in 2011 entitled “A Region United” to highlight the importance of freight movement and efficient transportation systems to regional, state, and national economies.


4. Intra- and inter-agency coordination – Most freight projects involve several agencies—both within and outside of transportation.

  • The HRTPO engages various stakeholders and agencies (e.g. Virginia Port Authority (VPA), FTAC, VDOT, and Military) to plan, develop, and implement freight projects within Hampton Roads.  For example, VPA is an active participant on the HRTPO Board, Transportation Technical Advisory Committee (TTAC), and various subcommittees and working groups.

5. Linking freight to existing statewide/metropolitan long-range planning processes – Treating freight with the same level of emphasis as passenger movements facilitates long-term commitment to freight planning.

  • HRTPO staff coordinates with regional freight stakeholders to ensure that freight planning activities coincide with VTrans, the Commonwealth of Virginia’s long-range transportation planning process.  The HRTPO also integrates freight directly into the LRTP by incorporating freight performance measures into the Project Prioritization Tool.  This tool is also used by HRTPO for RSTP projects.

6. Project definition, prioritization, and delivery – Project delivery legitimizes freight planning programs and helps maintain momentum.

  • The HRTPO continues to work with regional freight stakeholders to identify, prioritize, and build freight-significant projects in the region (e.g. I-564 Intermodal Connector, I-64 Peninsula widening, I-64 Southside Widening/High-Rise Bridge, HRBT widening).

Integration of Freight into the LRTP

Millions of tons of freight are transported in, out, and around the Hampton Roads region throughout the year.  To plan for this safely and efficiently, freight considerations are factored into the regional Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP).  The LRTP is the regional transportation blueprint developed to guide multimodal transportation investments that promote system efficiency and connectivity while maximizing the use of scarce transportation funds.  The current Hampton Roads 2045 LRTP, adopted by the HRTPO in June 2021, was developed over a 5-year period and is based on a collaborative process involving many regional stakeholders and the public to identify, prioritize, and fiscally constrain needed transportation investments. 

Several goals of the 2045 LRTP pertain to freight and its impact on the region: 

  • Support regional growth and productivity 
  • Support efficient freight movement 
  • Increase safety with an adaptive transportation system for all users, including minimizing conflicts between motorized and non-motorized modes 
  • Increase accessibility, connectivity, and mobility of people and goods 
  • Provide a variety of transportation options that accommodates all users 
  • Increase the coordination of the transportation system, across and between modes, for people and goods 
  • Reduce delay and improve travel efficiency 

To meet these goals, the HRTPO has incorporated several freight-specific criteria within the Project Prioritization Tool.  The HRTPO also conducts freight-related studies and coordinates with stakeholders to develop, prioritize, and implement transportation projects that will have a positive impact on freight movement, thus enhancing both regional and global competitiveness.

Hampton Roads Regional Freight Study

Starting with the ISTEA legislation in 1991, Congress has encouraged the consideration of freight movement and intermodal connectivity in statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes.  As a result of this emphasis, the HRTPO began a series of regional freight studies in the early 1990s, and released the region’s first report in 1996.  Updates to the Hampton Roads Regional Freight Study were released in 1998, 2001, 2007, and 2012.  Through these regional freight studies, HRTPO identifies, develops, evaluates, and implements transportation strategies to improve the movement of goods and enhance connectivity among all modes of transportation.

HRTPO completed the latest update to the Regional Freight Study in July 2017.  The overall purpose of this study is to understand the impact of freight movement on regional and statewide employment, income, and economic growth in order to guide policy and investment decisions—particularly for prioritizing transportation projects—that will improve connectivity, efficiency, reliability, and safety of the Hampton Roads freight multimodal transportation system.  This report details the movement of goods across all freight facilities—highways, ports, railways, and airports. Special emphasis is placed on freight moving by trucks across highways as they serve as the predominant mover of freight.

Freight in Hampton Roads Brochure CoverAs part of the Regional Freight Study update, HRTPO prepared the Freight in Hampton Roads brochure, which includes highlights from the study. The brochure details why freight is important to Hampton Roads, how freight arrives in the region, the impacts of congestion on the trucking industry, and many key freight-related facts.