Summary of the Federal Highway Administration’s Scenario Planning Webinar – Scenario Planning Applications for Freight Transportation

July 30, 2014
1:00 - 2:30 PM (ET)

These notes provide a summary of the webinar’s presentations and the question-and-answer session that followed the presentations. Copies of the speakers’ presentations are available for download in the webinar recording or from the contacts listed below.

A complete audio recording of the webinar is available at:




Contact Information

Dave Harris

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA)
Office of Planning

(202) 366-2825

Chip Millard

FHWA Office of Freight Management and Operations

(202) 366-4415

Dr. Chris Caplice

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
Center for Transportation and Logistics

(617) 258-7975  

Barbara Ivanov

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT)
Freight Systems Division

(360) 705-7931

Ted Dahlburg

Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC)
Office of Freight and Aviation Planning

(215) 238-2844


Approximately 140 participants attended the webinar.

Introduction to Webinar and the FHWA-FTA Scenario Planning Program

Dave Harris
Transportation Specialist, FHWA Office of Planning

Chip Millard
Transportation Specialist, FHWA Office of Freight Management and Operations

Mr. Harris welcomed participants to the webinar, the sixth in a series supported by the Scenario Planning Program offered by FHWA and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The FHWA Office of Planning and Office of Freight Management and Operations jointly organized this webinar. Mr. Harris, along with his colleague Chip Millard, moderated the webinar and provided opening remarks.

The purpose of the webinar was to share information about applications of scenario planning for freight transportation. Using insights from three agency presenters, the webinar focused on a specific scenario planning approach that is often used to address uncertainty and long-term planning for freight investments.

Overview of Scenario Planning and FHWA/FTA Scenario Planning Program

While the webinar focused specifically on freight scenario planning, Mr. Harris briefly described a more common scenario planning approach that agencies often use. This approach includes public involvement activities and discussions on a variety of topics such as trends in the region and the intersections between transportation and land use. In addition, Mr. Harris offered information on the FHWA/FTA Scenario Planning Program.

Scenario planning can be a useful resource for transportation planning processes. It brings many benefits, including helping agencies and stakeholders evaluate transportation choices and alternatives, engaging stakeholders in discussions about the future of their community, and encouraging an informed and collaborative decisionmaking process. The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) also addresses scenario planning. MAP-21 encourages and provides an option for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to use scenario planning.

The FHWA/FTA Scenario Planning Program offers a variety of resources for agencies interested in using scenario planning. Resources include technical assistance such as on-call technical assistance, peer-to-peer sharing, and customized webinars and workshops. In addition, FHWA and FTA developed a Scenario Planning Guidebook, which provides a six-phase framework for using a scenario planning approach. To learn more about the FHWA/FTA Scenario Planning Program and its resources, please visit:

Overview of Freight Scenario Planning

Mr. Millard then provided an introduction on how agencies can use scenario planning to advance freight transportation activities.

It is important to understand how freight works when conducting planning activities. For example:

  • Freight is multimodal and often long-distance.
  • Freight transportation volumes are driven by company and ultimately consumer demand.
  • Freight transportation demand has a close tie to the types of land uses in communities and other locations.

Freight transportation demand, while often consistent over time, can sometimes change significantly due to a variety of factors. Understanding these factors helps enhance transportation planning efforts. Factors include:

  • Natural or human-induced disasters or events;
  • Macro-scale economic changes;
  • Demographic changes;
  • Political and/or regulatory changes;
  • Infrastructure availability changes; and
  • Technological developments.

Future Freight Flows: Using Scenario Planning to Assist in Long-Term Transportation Infrastructure

Dr. Chris Caplice
Executive Director, MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics

Dr. Caplice provided an overview of freight scenario planning and examples of possible challenges that may arise when developing projections about the future based on past trends. He began his presentation by discussing the objectives and findings of National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) 20-83(01).1 Findings from NCHRP 20-83(1) are published as NCHRP Report 750: Volume 1.2

NCHRP 20-83(1) analyzed the driving forces behind anticipated economic patterns that could impact future freight transportation systems in the United States. The project developed projections for the year 2030 and beyond to provide transportation decisionmakers with information that could help inform decisions about freight policies and investments at the regional, State, and national levels. The project also aimed to engage a range of stakeholders, including the private sector, in discussions about future freight needs. The research demonstrated the unpredictability of macro-economic and technology forces on supply chains. In addition, the research found value in preparing for potential effects over predicting future events.

Dr. Caplice discussed traditional planning methods agencies use, focusing on the notion that these methods are a function of the desired planning horizon. Point forecasting techniques such as time series analysis, exponential smoothing, and regression analysis allow agencies to project recent trends into the future and work best with short-term planning horizons. For longer-term planning horizons, agencies often use risk management approaches or range forecasts to test projections and change key drivers to evaluate potential impacts. Dr. Caplice argued that these types of approaches have limitations, as they assume a linear projection and rely on present trends to make assumptions about the future.

Dr. Caplice then presented his perspectives on scenario planning. Scenario planning shifts the focus from predicting future trends to preparing for a set of possible futures. While agencies can model many different futures, the key is to narrow these down through a standard process such as scenario planning. Dr. Caplice emphasized the importance of creating a series of plausible alternative futures that contain uncertainty dimensions as well as social, technological, environmental, economic, and political dimensions. It is also crucial to explore all scenarios and not focus on a preferred or probable future since doing so will limit the success of the scenario planning activity. The scenarios created do not project the future but rather highlight the differences among various futures. Scenario planning should not focus on past events but rather the impacts the scenarios will have on the transportation system.

This type of scenario planning approach is useful for freight transportation and supply chain management. Five types of impacts typically affect flow freight flow patterns: Sourcing patterns; flow destination; routing; flow volume; and value density. Scenario planning allows agencies to reduce a wide range of potential events to a selected few based on these five impacts, moving away from predicting future events and instead towards preparing for potential effects.

As part of NCHRP 20-83(1), Dr. Caplice’s team led the development of four scenarios that each envisioned different futures for the date, November 2, 2037.3 The project team then facilitated six, one-day Future Freight Flows workshops across the country to test the scenarios.4 Representatives from Federal, State, and local governments, the private sector, and other freight industry stakeholders participated in the events. The project team developed immersion tools to provide background information for each scenario, including a narrative, brochure, pamphlet, detailed statistics and charts, and short video. These materials became the basis of the NCHRP Report 750, which provides a complete toolkit for using scenario planning.

Dr. Caplice emphasized several key lessons that emerged from the NCHRP 20-83(1) findings relating to process and methods, insights and outcomes, and outstanding challenges.

  • Process and Methods:
    • Determining the attendees who will participate in a scenario planning workshop is crucial, as the attendees set the dynamic for the discussions.
    • Neutral facilitation by a third-party, objective facilitator can help encourage a healthy dialogue.
    • Workshop participants should be asked to identify both the investments they prefer and those that they do not prefer (positive/negative voting).
    • A range of immersion tools such as brochures, reports, video clips, charts, and tables allows participants to absorb information in different ways depending on their preferred learning style.
  • Insights and Outcomes:
    • System connections across different modes of transportation and the flexible use of existing facilities were the most robust investments identified by workshop participants.
  • Outstanding Challenges:
    • Future challenges to address include identifying ways to:
      • Enable State DOTs to conduct these types of scenario planning workshops on their own; and
      • Incorporate scenario planning into existing processes.

Using Scenario Planning to Prepare for the Future: The Washington State Freight Plan

Barbara Ivanov
Director, Freight Systems Division, WSDOT

Ms. Ivanov shared insights on the Washington State Freight Mobility Plan (“State Freight Plan”) and how Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) used scenario planning to develop this plan.

The goals of the State Freight Plan were to:

  • Meet Federal MAP-21 guidance for State Freight Plans;
  • Make a strong case for funding priority projects across the State in future Federal and State transportation budget bills and programs; and
  • Guide capital and operational policy changes and improvements in the State’s freight systems.

Ms. Ivanov then presented seven key activities accomplished by the Washington State Freight Plan. Her presentation focused on the testing of Freight Analysis Framework (FAF) forecasts against the results of near-term trends analysis, and the use of scenario planning to prepare for the long-term.5 WSDOT used the NCHRP scenario planning toolkit developed by Dr. Caplice and his team and partners to guide this testing.

Like Dr. Caplice, Ms. Ivanov noted some of the challenges surrounding freight trade forecasts. Trade forecasts project historical economic trends, but when planning for transportation projects for the long-term, it is difficult to estimate future industries and trends using past conditions. State DOTs often face challenges in making strategic investment decisions today to meet industries’ needs in the future. In addition to long-term capital infrastructure investments, State DOTs must also plan for near-term operational improvements.

As a Future Freight Flows workshop host, WSDOT convened more than 60 representatives from across Washington. WSDOT divided participants into four groups to discuss the four long-range scenarios established under NCHRP 20-83(1). Participants engaged in activities to: 1) consider how their assigned scenario would impact demand on Washington’s multimodal freight corridors; and 2) determine the facilities in the State’s freight transportation network that were likely to play significant roles in the future, using the five types of impacts provided in NCHRP 20-83(1). Participants also discussed potential investment bundles (e.g., infrastructure, operational improvements) to address this demand. To guide discussions, WSDOT developed maps to match the potential investment bundles against the State’s major freight corridors.

WSDOT used scenario planning to better anticipate long-term possible futures for the State’s freight system. The FAF forecasts originally anticipated increased truck growth along the north-south Interstate-5 (I-5) corridor. The Future Freight Flows workshop allowed participants to consider demands on other modes such as the east-west transcontinental freight rail, intermodal, and waterway systems, in addition to highway freight movement.

To better understand near-term industry trends, WSDOT conducted interviews with more than 150 shippers, goods receivers, and carriers in the State. These interviews provided WSDOT with “sensors on the ground” to collect real-time information on near-term trends from freight industry sub-sectors. The interviews also helped WSDOT assess how these near-term trends might impact the long-term scenarios created. WSDOT used a trends analysis to test the assumptions in the scenarios and to identify a range of forecasted demand.

Moving forward, WSDOT noted several considerations for freight scenario planning, based on its experiences:

  • In-person meetings or workshops with a smaller number of participants and targeted themes can help supplement larger events involving multiple stakeholders. Specific themes and in-depth discussions with subject-matter experts can often allow for detailed discussions of particular topics to advance the state of the practice.
  • Business processes are needed to demonstrate how State DOTs and MPOs can use the knowledge gained from the Future Freight Flows workshops.
  • As MAP-21 discusses State Freight Plans, there may be opportunities to develop related planning tools, in addition to the FAF, in the future.
  • Additional research in the fields of freight forecasts, trends analysis, and scenario planning can help State DOTs and MPOs plan for both near- and long-term investments.

For more information about the Washington State Freight Plan, please visit:

DVRPC’s Future Freight Flows Workshop

Ted Dahlburg
Manager, Office of Freight and Aviation Planning, DVRPC

Mr. Dahlburg discussed how Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) has used scenario planning, both in its Future Freight Flows workshop and in its current freight activities.

DVRPC is the officially-designated MPO for the Philadelphia-Camden-Trenton region. The region has approximately 5.4 million residents, making it the 6th largest metropolitan area in the United States. DVRPC regularly coordinates with nearby State DOTs and MPOs to address freight planning in the region. All of the nine counties in the DVRPC planning region have active freight rail lines, and seven have active marine terminals.

Mr. Dahlburg noted that freight is often one of many planning considerations that State DOTs and MPOs address. DVRPC used its Future Freight Flows workshop to focus on the freight planning topic and begin thinking of strategies to guide future freight investments. Approximately 70 participants from the private and public sector, representing all freight modes, attended the event.

DVRPC structured its workshop around eight investment bundles.6 Like the WSDOT workshop, participants were organized into four groups, one for each of the NCHRP 20-83(1) scenarios. Participants received “chips” to vote on the investment bundles, indicating their preferences for investments that should be prioritized and those that should be deemphasized. Several themes resulted from this activity, including the need for investing in a multimodal transportation system and for fortifying National Highway System connectors to intermodal facilities and freight centers.

The Future Freight Flows workshop helped establish a framework for DVRPC’s current freight planning activities. DVRPC developed the PhillyFreightFinder, a web-based, freight mapping tool, which allows users to customize their search for freight facilities and freight activity in the DVRPC region. The tool includes 7 freight categories (e.g., freight rail, ports/waterways, airports), 20 detailed layers, and approximately 400 individual freight features. DVRPC is currently developing profiles for the region’s nine counties to highlight the freight facilities in each area. In addition, DVRPC is working to make the tool open source.

As significant interchange improvements are underway in Gloucester County, New Jersey, and along Interstate 95 (I-95) in the region, DVRPC’s Office of Freight and Aviation Planning is coordinating internally with the Office of Transportation Safety and Congestion Management and with the I-95 Corridor Coalition, a partnership of transportation and related agencies along the East Coast. The two DVRPC offices have worked together to plot and depict real-time speed and travel time data along I-95, which is then shared with the Coalition and with freight partners. This data allows DVRPC to analyze congestion areas and allows freight stakeholders to identify time periods of high travel demand.

In addition, DVRPC continues to lead freight research and education activities. DVRPC recently completed a grade crossing study for an area in Philadelphia along the CSX mainline. The agency is currently conducting research related to “freight-oriented development,” or development that links National Highway System connectors to freight centers in the region (e.g., intermodal, manufacturing, and warehousing facilities). The freight centers offer potential opportunities as employment centers and for redevelopment. Activities such as presentations and site visits also allow DVRPC to promote freight planning education to local stakeholders.

The results of DVRPC’s Future Freight Flows workshop led to many successes for the agency. In his closing remarks, Mr. Dahlburg noted that the workshop helped identify the need for evaluating specific commodities and supply chains in addition to infrastructure. Mr. Dahlburg also emphasized the benefits of freight scenario planning, from providing awareness of freight system needs and global forces to fostering collaboration and engaging new partners to including freight considerations as one component of the planning activities for a region.

For more information about DVRPC’s freight planning activities, please visit:

Summary of Questions and Discussion

Following Mr. Dahlburg’s presentation, Mr. Millard moderated a question-and-answer period to address questions received during the presentations. Key questions and insights from the presenters are outlined below. To facilitate readability, the answers presented here are summaries and are not direct transcriptions of what occurred during the actual webinar proceedings.

  • Did you have much pushback at DVRPC to accept the scenarios? At WSDOT?

Ted Dahlburg: Scenario planning offers value, as it improves our agility in thinking. We did not find much pushback, but stakeholders may be reluctant to support a particular scenario. Immersion through videos, brochures, and pre-readings in advance of our workshop helped participants come prepared and with an understanding to think about what the year 2037 might look like for the Philadelphia region.

Barbara Ivanov: WSDOT did not experience any pushback.

  • Is the scenario planning process identified in the NCHRP report a version of RAND Corporation’s robust decisionmaking process?

Dr. Chris Caplice: No, it is not. We tried to take a generic scenario planning approach, but there are many good resources available, including Peter Schwartz’s The Art of the Long View.

  • Ted cited the Panama Canal expansion. Would he, or any of the presenters, care to discuss how it will affect freight plans on both the East and West Coasts?

Barbara Ivanov: Although the Panama Canal expansion is a planned event and known to us, over the course of the next 20 to 30 years, we cannot know where there will be more capacity. The gist of this is not to focus on a particular cause. What you are looking at is a scenario in which significant investment is occurring in the expansion of global trade lanes. In this scenario, it would be important to think about what is probable and where there would be less demand.

In another example, we at WSDOT were surprised when, under the various scenarios, our Interstate 5 and east-west mainline freight rail lines remained important investments. The restructuring of the U.S. energy sourcing for crude oil had had an impact, but at the time (in 2011), we did not know that there would be more demand on the transcontinental railway system. Now, it is important for us to think about our role and how we can prepare for growth and potential grade crossing conflicts.

Ted Dahlburg: I agree with Barbara’s comments. The impacts on the West Coast and East Coast and individual plans are not fully known. It is important to transcend one improvement such as the Panama Canal expansion and to think about the specific elements of different scenarios.

  • Were the general topics of the workshops infrastructure-specific or policy-specific?

Ted Dahlburg: DVRPC’s workshop was infrastructure-specific. We used a scenario planning activity in which we asked participants to review and vote on a range of investment bundles, including their investment priorities and investments they would not recommend.

  • Do you think this type of process is scalable for rural RPCs? With a much smaller pool of potential participants and expertise, I am wondering if the results would be more insightful over traditional methods of “scenario planning.”

Barbara Ivanov: I would encourage all agencies, no matter their size, to consider this. The smaller your region is, the more influenced your economy can be by vast economic drivers. I would also encourage agencies to reach out and identify subject-matter experts in these fields if needed.g>

Dr. Chris Caplice: We have performed this activity at MIT with a range of groups, from small companies to multi-national businesses. Scenario planning has different benefits for different-sized groups, but it is a beneficial practice to encourage people to think outside of the normal day-to-day. We have not seen any size-limiting factors, either too large or too small for an organization.

  • Have there been attempts to coalesce the services between the I-95 Coalition and the American Transportation Research Institute?

Ted Dahlburg: Yes, I believe there have been.

Closing Information

Mr. Millard thanked webinar participants, presenters, and hosts for participating in the webinar. Due to high interest in the webinar topic, a second webinar, with the same presenters and presentations, will be held on Wednesday, September 11th, from 1:00 to 2:30 pm ET.

Mr. Millard also provided information for the FHWA-FTA Scenario Planning Program website and contacts and FHWA Freight contacts.

Participant Polling

Pre-Presentation Poll Questions

Question 1: What is your affiliation?


Number Responding

Percent Responding







Other Federal Agency



State DOT



Metropolitan/Regional Planning Organization



Council of Governments



Transit Agency



Private Sector









Question 2: How many people are participating in this webinar with you?


Number Responding

Percent Responding

0 (just me)















Question 3: What is your familiarity with scenario planning?


Number Responding

Percent Responding

Not familiar



Somewhat familiar



Very familiar



Question 4: What is your familiarity with freight scenario planning specifically?


Number Responding

Percent Responding

Not familiar



Somewhat familiar



Very familiar



Question 5: Is your agency currently engaged in scenario planning to inform freight activities and investments?


Number Responding

Percent Responding

Yes (implementing or in advanced stages)



Yes (just beginning or considering scenario planning)






Post-Presentation Poll Questions

Question 1: After participating in this webinar, how would you now rate your familiarity with freight scenario planning?


Number Responding

Percent Responding

Not familiar



Somewhat familiar



Very familiar



Question 2: What additional information on freight scenario planning would you like to know more about?*


Number Responding

Percent Responding

What are the typical activities involved in freight scenario planning?



How does one gauge the amount and type of data needed that are “above and beyond” what is normally required?



How does freight scenario planning intersect with scenario planning efforts that are based more on land use patterns, economic development, etc.?



How does the establishment of performance measures impact the scenario planning process?



Question 3: What other types of information about scenario planning would be useful to you? (Please select all that apply.)


Number Responding

Percent Responding




Case studies



Workshops / peer exchanges






*Multiple answers allowed.



1 Information on NCHRP 20-83(1) is available at: Dr. Caplice served as the project’s principal investigator.

2 Information on NCHRP Report 750: Volume 1: Scenario Planning for Freight Transportation Infrastructure Investment is available at:

3 The four scenarios are: One World Order; Millions of Markets; Naftátasique!; and Global Marketplace.

4 The six Future Freight Flows workshop hosts were: DVRPC; Minnesota Department of Transportation; WSDOT; Port of Long Beach, California; Georgia Department of Transportation and the Atlanta Regional Commission; and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

5 The six other activities addressed by the plan are: 1) Identification of the Washington State Multimodal Freight Economic Corridors; 2) Integration of freight elements of State transportation plans into one multimodal freight plan; 3) Establishment of measurable freight performance goals for State Truck and Waterway Freight Economic Corridors; 4) Development and testing of methods to analyze the economic impacts of truck freight improvements; 5) Analysis of current performance gaps and needs on highways in the State Truck Freight Economic Corridors; and 6) Development of a new process to include Tribal, MPO, Regional Transportation Planning Organization, port, and State freight strategies.

6 The eight bundles were: 1) North-south interstate highways; 2) East-west interstate highways; 3) Complementary highways; 4) Freight connections; 5) Class 1 rail freight; 6) Local rail freight; 7) Seaports; and 8) Airports.