Report Maps Future Freight Strategy in State

Vital Industry Keeps California, Nation Rolling, but Must Adapt to Changing Times

Photo showing a large cargo ship at the port of Long Beach
California ranks second behind only Texas among U.S. states in exports, and the value of its imports is significantly greater.

Caltrans and its partners are finalizing the California Freight Mobility Plan (CFMP) 2020, which will establish how the state will strengthen and preserve its existing freight-transport system by making strategic improvements to increase mobility and safety while also protecting communities and the environment. A draft of the plan was released late last year for public review.

With a population of nearly 40 million and home to a range of pioneering and dominant industries, California is the fifth-largest economy in the world with a gross domestic product (GDP) estimated at $3.12 trillion, or 14 percent of the total economic output of the U.S.

Freight is a major contributor to California’s ongoing economic success. The CFMP 2020 outlines why freight mobility is such a vital component of the state’s overall economic, environmental and community health.

Photo of a freight train with oil cars
Rail transportation is a critical part of the state’s multimodal freight strategy.

In 2018, California exported $178 billion worth of goods (a 3.6 percent increase from 2017), making it the country’s second-largest exporter behind Texas. Imports totaled about $441 billion, nearly two and a half times more than exports.

Transporting those goods requires more than just tractor-trailer truck drivers, of which there are more than 135,000 in the statewide work force. When you add up all the Californians who are employed in jobs related to construction, manufacturing, wholesale trade, retail trade, and transportation and warehousing, all key components of freight mobility, the total exceeds five million workers.

California’s transportation system already is the most-extensive, least-polluting, highest-capacity and most technically advanced multimodal freight transportation system in the U.S. The system connects California’s international gateways to the rest of the country through several high-speed, high-capacity, multimodal gateways and corridors. The plan recognizes that the freight industry and the infrastructure critical to its future prosperity needs to continue modernizing in order to support less polluting future, and to retain California’s competitive edge.

Among the challenges and disruptions facing the industry are the rapid growth of e-commerce, the development of autonomous trucks and the “greening” of the transportation industry. The CFMP 2020 describes how these innovations could potentially impact established supply chains, and discusses implications for the freight industry and the state transportation corridors critical to the movement of goods and services.

The CFMP 2020 identifies seven primary goals and outlines a series of strategies that should be taken to achieve them:

Multimodal Mobility

Photo of two trucks traveling on the state highway
Interstate 80 serves as a major freight corridor between Northern California and the rest of the U.S.

Making strategic investments to maintain, enhance, and modernize the multimodal freight transportation system that uses either truck, rail or water, or a combination of those options, to deliver goods. Investing in innovative approaches, including advanced technology to optimize integrated network efficiency, travel time reliability improvements, and sustainable congestion reduction.

Strategies to accomplish this goal: Eliminate bottlenecks at ports and along critical highway corridors; study potential alternatives to a highway project (rail, for example), identify the most congested freight corridors and facilities and prioritize for improvement; explore variable tolling for passenger vehicles and trucks to maximize usage; support tax credits and/or loan programs for short-line railroads.

Economic Prosperity

Grow the economic competitiveness of California’s freight sector through increased system efficiency, productivity, and work force preparation.

Strategies: Focus on eliminating freight bottlenecks, reducing freight delay, and accelerating incident response on freight corridors; collaborate with the freight industry to identify critical projects and explore potential public-private partnerships; support and attract private interest in innovative, transformative new technological goods movement systems; encourage regional freight advisory committees; identify and advocate for training programs for the freight work force.

Environmental Stewardship

Support strategies that reduce, avoid and/or mitigate adverse environmental impacts of the freight transportation system.

Strategies: Prioritize projects that promote a shift from road transport to rail; decarbonize the commercial freight fleet; support technologies that eliminate carbon emissions from last-mile deliveries; employ zero-emission technology wherever feasible; promote land uses conductive to protecting the environment while supporting freight operations and the freight work force.

Healthy Communities

Enhance community health and well-being by mitigating the negative impacts of the goods movement system upon California communities.

Strategies: Implement projects in freight corridors that are specifically intended to avoid, reduce, or mitigate freight impacts to the environment and communities; establish development standards to avoid and mitigate environmental and social impacts of freight on communities; partner with metropolitan planning agencies, tribal organizations, and other stakeholders to conduct freight-related community outreach.

Safety and Resiliency

Reduce freight-related deaths/injuries and improve system resilience by addressing infrastructure vulnerabilities associated with security threats, expected climate change impacts, and natural disasters.

Strategies: Expand existing public and private-sector truck parking facilities and develop new ones in strategic locations; work with partners to employ electric charging terminals along key freight corridors; identify commercial vehicle collision hotspots statewide; increase security and decrease theft by placing cameras and other technologies at critical freight-centric locations.

Asset Management

Maintain and preserve infrastructure assets using cost-beneficial treatment as specified in Caltrans’ State Highway System Management Plan, the federal FAST Act and other applicable state and federal statutes and regulations.

Strategies: Ensure adequate and sustainable funding to preserve and modernize the state’s freight system; study the long-term maintenance and operations costs of the existing freight system; expand truck-scale technology to detect and enforce weight limits; fortify bridges and pavement design standards to accommodate heavy freight travel.

Connectivity and Accessibility

Provide transportation choices and improve system connectivity for all freight modes.

Strategies: Prioritize projects that implement state-of-the-art and demonstration technologies, implement pilot projects (such as autonomous truck platoon research that Caltrans and its partners are helping fund) that could transform the freight system; promote good project design that helps avoid community concerns and lengthy and potentially contentious approval processes; explore avoidance incentives to limit pass-through traffic.

The freight plan also includes a project list that was evaluated according to alignment with the seven goals to bring California’s goods transport network into the future. The list consists of projects throughout the state based on the priorities for each region, as determined by the 12 Caltrans regional districts, partner agencies and industry. Each project must meet sustainability goals and be shovel-ready by 2025.



The road toward the California Freight Mobility Plan began in 2013 when Assembly Bill 14 required the California State Transportation Agency to prepare a state freight plan and establish a freight advisory committee. The committee consists of a representative cross-section of public and private sector freight stakeholders from throughout the state, and is responsible for advising the state on freight-related priorities, issues, projects, and funding needs, as well as participate in the development of the state freight plan. Caltrans was assigned to prepare the plan.

California’s first Freight Mobility Plan was completed in 2014, two and a half years after the federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) was signed into law and which encouraged states to develop freight plans. The federal Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, signed into law in 2015, built upon MAP-21 by establishing a national highway freight network and a dedicated funding program for freight improvements. The FAST Act also required states to prepare a federally compliant freight plan to receive federal funds.

Sources: Caltrans Division of Transportation Planning; Assistant Division Chief Nieves Castro, Office Chief Yatman Kwan of Southern California Freight Planning.