A new study says America's freight system – encompassing highways, railroads, ports, waterways, and airports – faces a massive near-term infrastructure crisis as funding has slipped well below what’s needed to maintain, much less improve, the movement of goods in the U.S.

The report – “Unlocking Freight” -- compiled by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) calls for the development of a national multimodal strategic freight plan along with a wide range of expansion infrastructure efforts, especially for highways.

Those highway improvements include: Adding 32,000 lane-miles to the current Interstate system; upgrading 14,000 miles of current interstate highways; adding 14,000 lane-miles to North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) corridors; adding 8,000 lane-miles of truck-only toll facilities; and adding 400 lane-miles to provide access to key port and intermodal facilities.

AASHTO’s report also calls for significant intermodal investments as well, such as:

• Ensuring funding eligibility for intermodal connectors – usually local roads in older industrial and residential neighborhoods used by truckers to travel between major highways and the nation’s ports, rail terminals, and air cargo hubs.

• Support for increased collaboration between states and railroads on public-private partnerships and federal investment tax credits to finance growing needs of the freight rail network.

• Use of existing surplus funds from the Federal Harbor Maintenance Trust Fund for critical seaport dredging projects, while directing the Federal Inland Waterway Trust Fund to complete needed lock and dam construction and maintenance projects, as more than half of the 240 locks funded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are more than 50 years old and have exceeded their economic design lives.

Overall freight demand will double, the study noted, from 15 billion tons today to 30 billion tons by 2050. Freight carried by trucks will increase 41% and by rail by 38% from today’s quantities. AASHTO noted that traffic on the Interstate Highway System increased by 150%, while interstate capacity increased by only 15%, between 1980 and 2006.

“Our overpowering need is for infrastructure investment in all modes, for no single mode can stand alone,” said Larry "Butch" Brown, AASHTO’s president and executive director of Mississippi’s Department of Transportation (DOT), during the introduction of the group’s freight report in Des Moines, IA, today.

“To compete globally, we must invest in transportation capacity,” Brown said. “Because in the freight environment we live in today, we’ve got to be able to move goods quickly and efficiently from point A to point B, no matter where points A and B are located in our country.”

Much of the nation’s future freight will be carried by trucks, so a good portion of AASHTO’s report focuses on the needs of motor carriers.

The U.S. population reached 308 million in 2010, and is expected to reach 420 million by 2050, meaning more food, clothing, and other goods will be consumed, creating a higher demand for freight being shipped across the country, according to AASHTO’s data. As a result, three billion more tons of freight than currently hauled will be moved in the U.S. by 2020, requiring the services of another 1.8 million trucks.

On average, 10,500 trucks a day travel busy sections of the Interstate Highway System, but by 2035, this will increase to 22,700 with some segments seeing 50,000 trucks a day, according to the group’s data.

“Notice the number of trucks, semis, and other cargo vehicles the next time you are driving,” said John Horsely, AASHTO’s executive director. “Now imagine in 20 years: For every two trucks you see on the road today, there will be an additional one right behind it. If we don’t add more capacity, those additional trucks will be right next to you on the roadway, adding congestion and delays. Is that a future you want to experience?”