Truck Route Management and Community Impact Reduction Study

Freight in the 10-county New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) region is carried predominantly by truck. Nationally in 2010, about 30 percent of freight tonnage in the United States was carried by modes other than truck, however, less than 10 percent of freight tonnage in the NYMTC region is carried by modes other than truck. The relatively low rail mode share can be attributed in part to limited freight rail connections, especially to geographic Long Island, and in part to historical reliance on rail-to-barge car floats that by the middle of the 20th century were no longer competitive (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 2014).

With efficient truck operations vital to the region’s economy, chronic congestion presents a significant problem, as does the need to maintain a state of good repair. The fact that many limited-access highways in the region do not allow trucks, combined with size and weight limits more restrictive than federal standards, make freight access even more difficult (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 2014).

Figure 46

In 2007, several policy changes conspired to restrict truck size and weight in New York City (NYC). A first group of these policy changes was an outgrowth of the Truck Route Management and Community Impact Reduction Study (New York City Department of Transportation 2007). Concurrent with the completion of the study, the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) began to implement many of the study recommendations. These measures aim to improve the overall management of the Truck Route Network, initiate steps that will reduce unnecessary and illegal truck traffic in communities, and provide a comprehensive update to the policies and regulations that govern truck movement in New York City. These short-term implementation measures, which can be broken down into five distinct categories, included:

  • Creation of the Office of Freight Mobility
  • Development and deployment of educational materials and improved public outreach
  • Improvements to truck signage
  • Enforcement of truck routes
  • Review and update of truck regulations and policies

Key short-term results included:

  • NYCDOT incorporated truck route summons into TrafficStat, resulting in a quadrupling in citywide off-route violations from August 2006 to January 2007 (increasing from 860 to 3,419).
  • In the fall of 2006, the DOT began to develop a pilot program for truck weight monitoring (weight-in-motion) and camera enforcement (New York City Department of Transportation 2007).

The second policy change occurred one week after the tragic collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 1, 2007. At that time, the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority (TBTA) in New York City restricted the maximum allowable gross vehicle weight for trucks crossing its Bronx-Long Island bridge spans from 105,000 to 80,000 pounds. The new regulations required trucks weighing more than 80,000 pounds with divisible load permits to obtain advance permission from the agency, schedule the crossing, and cross only at night between 11pm and 4am at a maximum speed of 30 mph in specific lanes while under escort. This effectively eliminated such overweight trucks from serving the city (Jack Faucett Associates Inc. 2007).

Project Policies, Programs and Motivations

The Truck Route Management and Community Impact Reduction Study sought to coordinate engineering, education, information and enforcement efforts to mitigate the negative impacts relating to truck traffic, as well as improve the overall truck management framework that exists in the City of New York. Various city, state and federal guidelines govern the movement of trucks and commercial vehicles. Many of the truck routes and management techniques within New York City are a vestige of the last comprehensive truck study that DOT began in the late 1970s, and formally completed in 1982. For the most part, the city instituted these guidelines and policies during the 1980s and early 1990s, and they have remained constant since (New York City Department of Transportation 2007).

However, the nature of goods movement, land use and the City’s infrastructure has changed dramatically over the past twenty-five years. Three themes reflect the changes in land use and zoning conditions in industrial and manufacturing areas since the last comprehensive revision of the New York City truck route regulations between 1974 and 1981. The three themes are:

  1. The changing nature of industrial and manufacturing uses.
  2. The relaxation of zoning regulations governing industrial and manufacturing areas to allow greater residential and mixed use.
  3. The arrival of “big box” retailing establishments (New York City Department of Transportation 2007).

The Truck Route Management and Community Impact Reduction Study sought to identify and address some of the areas in the city where trucking and local quality of life and safety concerns come into conflict, and look at methods to mitigate these conflicts and improve the overall management of trucks and commercial vehicles in New York City.

One of the greatest challenges was the region’s dependence on truck traffic, with trucks delivering nearly 99 percent of goods. In addition, New York City had an arterial system that was more conducive to automobile traffic than trucks. Between the limited system of interstates and the geometric constraints on the parkway system, most of the city’s truck traffic traveled on the arterial street network, much of which is nearly a century old, if not older (New York City Department of Transportation 2007). The study’s key findings included that:

  • The city had designated only five percent of its streets as truck routes. Most of these truck route streets operated at, or near, capacity. Commercial deliveries were essential to the city’s economy; thus, a further reduction in the number of streets in the Truck Route Network was not practical.
  • The city designed and built its streets to accommodate the trucks and commercial vehicles of twenty to thirty years ago. While the city can rebuild street segments adjacent to the construction of redevelopment projects to meet design standards for large trucks, similar improvements to all of the truck routes were not possible.
  • Heavy truck traffic had caused damage to residences and roads and contributed to traffic congestion and safety concerns for pedestrians and motorists. While there was an urgent need to alleviate these problems, the economic survival of commercial and industrial areas in the city depended on maintaining a significant level of daily truck activity (New York City Department of Transportation 2007).

The study authors did not explicitly mention mode shift as one of the major goals of the study. However, in increasing logistics options, Goal 3 could imply mode shift. As stated in the Executive Summary, the broad set of study goals included:

  1. Ensure that trucks do not inappropriately utilize residential streets.
  2. Improve the quality of life for residents and workers in New York City.
  3. Increase logistics options that will benefit businesses, transportation providers and consumers.
  4. Improve the economic competitiveness of New York City by enhancing the attractiveness of industrial sites at major distribution points in the city.

The new bridge weight regulations applied to the Throgs Neck, Bronx-Whitestone, Triborough, and Verrazano-Narrows Bridges. However, trucks heavier than 80,000 pounds that were not TBTA-approved had to cross the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, since ongoing extensive repair work to the bridge began in 2005. TBTA introduced the new regulation after concern was expressed about stress on the gausset plates that connect the angular steel girders on the Throgs Neck Bridge. However, TBTA officials have repeatedly emphasized that the concerns pose no risk to bridge users. In 2005, when the TBTA first reduced truck weight limits to 80,000 pounds, Thomas Bach, the chief engineer at the TBTA, said “There is no imminent danger [to the Throgs Neck Bridge] … The purpose of what we’re doing here is to prevent the damage from continuing and getting worse (New York Times 2005).” After introducing the new regulations in August 2007, the MTA Executive Director Elliot Sander said, “Let me emphasize that the Throgs Neck Bridge is safe to the motoring public (New York Post 2007).”

Trucking interests argued that the new nighttime exemption for overweight trucks is of limited use to businesses most affected by the new regulation. Construction activities involving deliveries of rock, gravel, sand, and cement are often restricted from occurring during these hours by local ordinances and safety considerations. Re-scheduling of milk, gasoline, fuel oil and deliveries of other time-critical products to accommodate the new regulations is very difficult and may increase risks to public safety. During the winter, restrictions on time-sensitive deliveries for fuel oil and salt might increase delays and public risks by limiting the deliveries of key materials used in snow removal services (Jack Faucett Associates Inc. 2007).

The stated motivations for the new bridge weight regulations were solely safety-related.  None of the interested parties mentioned mode shift.

Challenges to Mode Shift

The regulation of truck size and weight in the NYMTC Region presents major challenges due to the physical limitations of key truck routes. In addition, the large number of overlapping regulatory jurisdictions, including New York City, New York State, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the New York State Thruway Authority, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the U.S. Department of Transportation hampers regulation (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 2014).

Within New York City, tractor-trailer combination vehicles operating on most truck routes and interstate highways may not exceed 55 feet in total length. Trucks with 53-foot trailers, which is today’s standard trailer length nationally, may only travel on the portions of I-95, I-695, I-295, and I-495 that cross the city between the Bronx-Westchester County line and Queens-Nassau County line for through movements to and from Nassau and Suffolk counties, and are not permitted to serve locations in the five NYC boroughs. This issue represents a cost to shippers and receivers in New York City who must receive shipments by smaller-than-standard tractor-trailer combinations. In practice, tractor-trailers exceeding the 55-foot limit are a frequent sight, serving a range of NYC businesses despite the risk of summons (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 2014).

Reported instances of bridge strikes, pavement and bridge damage, and the use of improper or unsafe places to park demonstrated the need for improved efficiency in managing truck movements and enforcing regulations. The resources available to law enforcement agencies and the slowness to develop and deploy new technologies limit the region’s capacity to enforce the truck route network, truck size and weight, and truck parking and loading regulations (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 2014).

Policy Results

According to an MPO official, mode shift has long been an active policy (Mann, 2014). For example, three of the four 2004 regional freight plan recommendations involved improving the reliability of overall movement of freight in the region by:

  • Expanding alternatives for trucks
  • Encouraging multimodal shipment
  • Improving the physical infrastructure (New York Metropolitan Transportation Council 2014)

The MPO official pointed out that it is difficult to create mode shift because: redundancy in the NYC freight system is virtually nonexistent; there is a lack of rail and water facilities; and many of the boroughs (especially Manhattan and Queens) no longer have working waterfronts or waterfront industry. Despite these challenges, the official believes that mode shift has occurred.  He noted that the available data indicate that rail mode share has increased, (while cautioning that the data are not strictly comparable across years, and the business cycle complicates comparisons). The official also pointed out that since the Long Island Railroad sold their service in 1997 to a private operator, the NY and Atlantic Railway, the volume of railcars has tripled to 30,000 a year. He also pointed to the growth of intermodal rail in the NYC region, and increases in truck weight monitoring through the placement of a Weight-In-Motion (WIM) sensor at the I-95 eastbound span into NYC, with the planned addition of two more WIM sites (Mann 2014).

The President of the construction company that led the opposition to the truck weight restrictions on the TBTA bridges also indicated that the policy had led to mode shift. Although his opposition group had fought the restrictions in court and won some concessions, he reported that the amount of cargo his trucks could move per trip declined from 40 tons to about 34 tons.  He estimated that his Long Island market averages about two million tons a year. His company moves sand out of Long Island and gravel in from West Nyack, NY.  In the past, the company had evenly split the movements between truck and barge to truck intermodal. However, the truck weight restrictions on the bridges had caused the company to switch to a mix of 40 percent truck and 60 percent barge to truck.  He estimated that the switch from truck to barge to truck reduced truck mileage per trip from 55 miles each way to 17 miles (Cooney 2014).

The company representative also pointed out that the effect of these changes was to raise costs.  Trucking costs are higher due to smaller load sizes.  Barge to truck is more expensive due to the need to load and reload several times.  Barge is also less able to balance and take advantage of the back and forth of the sand versus the gravel, leading to more empty backhauls.  In most cases, he estimated that his company was able to pass along the increased costs to customers.  However, in selected competitive markets, his company had to charge reduced margins (Cooney 2014).

Lessons Learned

The motivations for this project or policy encompass a variety of goals. These goals include increased safety, improved quality of life, reductions in road wear, and positive contributions to economic competitiveness.  While mode shift was not a directly stated goal of the truck route study or the TBTA bridge weight restrictions, restrictions on truck sizes, weights and routes can raise the cost of trucking, potentially encouraging the shift of some movements from truck to rail or water.

Three distinct areas of lessons learned include:

  • How and why did mode shift occur?
  • How did public policy influence this outcome?
  • How can this policy or program be transferred or adapted to other situations or locations?

The initial motivations for the truck route study and bridge weight limits was not to cause mode shift, but to increase safely, advance quality of life, increase logistics options, and improve economic competitiveness. However, as noted above, restrictions on truck sizes, weights and routes can raise the cost of trucking, potentially encouraging the shift of some movements from truck to rail or water. Moreover, these restrictions, combined with the policies and investments that the regional freight plan championed, were enough to cause modal shift.

Public policy, in the form of restrictions on truck sizes, weights and routes, was the primary driver in causing the mode shift that the government and private business officials observed. Mode shift in an older and dense urban area, with limited space and overcrowded facilities, will always be a challenge. However, the combination of size and weight restrictions along with targeted investments and overall freight policy can have an effect. The relatively short urban haul distances, and the relatively high costs of transloading will limit the size of this effect. Policymakers must weigh the positive public policy gains from modal shifts against the increased costs to consumers.

Planners, policymakers and members of the shipper and carrier industry can use the truck route study and bridge weight limits as examples of the kinds of potential tools that are available to influence mode share.  Some may deem these policies a success in terms of reduced road damage and improved safety and quality of life. Others will point to the increases in costs to consumers as evidence to grade these policies as unnecessary government regulation. Private interests argue that increased government investment in bridge safety and additional truck infrastructure would have a long-term positive economic impact on the city (Jack Faucett Associates Inc. 2007, Cooney 2014).

Truck size, weight and route restrictions can raise the cost of trucking, potentially encouraging the shift of some movements from truck to rail or water. Policymakers seeking the benefits of reduced trucking can employ such policies in their urban areas. The positive results can include reductions in road wear, pollutant emissions, noise and congestion, as well as increased safety and improved quality of life. The negative results can include increased costs to shippers and consumers.  Policymakers should be sure to fully evaluate the costs and benefits of each proposed policy and, in particular, be aware of the increased costs of alternative modes.

Epilogue – Recent Developments

The most salient freight statistic for New York City is the heavy reliance on trucks, which move almost 90 percent of the city’s freight tonnage. Geography presents a challenge for goods delivery, as trucks can only enter and exit the city via a few bridges and tunnels. Three crossings, the George Washington Bridge, the Goethals Bridge, and the Lincoln Tunnel, are the main routes that allow large trucks to enter the city from New Jersey. Moving freight into Brooklyn and Queens usually requires a second crossing over the East River or the Narrows. Industry-standard tractor-trailers have limited access to many of New York City’s roadways due to weight and height restrictions, and commercial traffic is restricted or prohibited on parkways. As a result, trucks often take inefficient routes. In addition, truck access regulations between New York City, New York State, and New Jersey, sometimes conflict. Most of New York City’s maritime and rail facilities date to the early 20th century, and the current average life of the city’s bridges exceeds 70 years.[1]

The City’s DOT and other related agencies have focused on freight and have undertaken several large-scale plans and initiatives including the 2015 Urban Freight Initiatives, the Smart Truck Management Plan, NYC DOT Strategic Plan 2016, and Freight NYC.

The existing Truck Route Network and the regulations in place today are nearly identical to those put in place in 1981 at the end of the Citywide Truck Studies. Over the past 25 years, there have been some amendments to the route system, although these are local in nature and impact.[2] In the summer of 2018, New York State Senate Deputy Minority Leader Jeff Klein (D-Bronx) held a meeting about truck weight restrictions. He included DOT Commissioner Astrid Glynn and her senior staff in the meeting. The Commercial Truckers Association (CTA) and LICA were also participants. The discussion focused on the haphazard weight restrictions of the MTA’s river crossings, particularly the Throgs Neck, Triborough and Whitestone bridges. The conversation also covered discrepancies between truck permits of various governmental issuing agencies, such as New York State and New York City, and other states within this region. The legislator questioned the rationale for the existing weight limits on the MTA crossings. Both the Triborough and Whitestone have completed extensive rehabilitation projects and the truck weight limits are set to remain at 80,000 lbs. Yet, the Throgs Neck Bridge, which is currently undergoing structural repairs, allows trucks in its center lanes at 105,000 lbs. LICA member Matt Metz of Ranco Sand & Gravel Corp. offered another example of the irrational logic. He advised Klein that the Tappan Zee Bridge, which is probably in the poorest condition of any of the metropolitan bridges and now operating beyond its life expectancy, allows 120,000-lb. trucks. That bridge is now under study for replacement.[3]

In the last 4-5 years, the city has continued to work towards implementing mode shift strategies. For example, several projects to shift truck traffic on to barges, and several other more general goals to meet the same target, are part of the Freight NYC project that the City’s Economic Development Corporation is implementing. The development of a marine barge terminal at the South Bronx area known as Hunts Point is a key part of the plan. Ryan White, the EDC’s director of freight initiatives and ports said he hopes the Hunts Point project would “jump- start” a harbor barge growth service that would start in the Bronx and expand to a more regional service throughout New York harbor. Another proposal that has an RFP circulating would be to find a developer for land near the Sunset Park freight hub and the Brooklyn Army terminal on the East River. Part of that freight hub includes the 65th Street railyard. White said he envisions a joint maritime/rail/truck facility that can take in barge traffic, take rail cars floated across the harbor from New Jersey, and ship the freight out to parts of the city and Long Island either by truck or by the rail connection at the railyard. That cross-harbor service is the focus of an ongoing Port Authority of New York environmental impact statement. The EIS is looking to expand the cross-harbor project, either by increasing rail cars on barges or by building a long discussed and ambitious cross-harbor freight tunnel.

The city’s other key rail connection is the revived Staten Island Railroad. It has a connection to the “mainland” across the Arthur Kill Vertical Lift Bridge, which crosses the Arthur Kill waterway over to New Jersey. It also connects to the Global Container terminal. That terminal sits on city-owned land.  According to White, “The reactivation has been a good thing for Staten Island in getting trucks off the road.” [4] GCT New York on Staten Island is one of two container terminals in the city, and the largest in the state. In addition to international freight, GCT New York transfers about half of the city’s volume of solid waste. Barges loaded with containerized municipal solid waste in Queens and Manhattan are unloaded at GCT New York and put on trains. This water-to-rail transfer eliminates over 100,000 truck trips each year. Effective January 2018, NYCDOT designated a route from the Goethals Bridge to GCT New York to permit trucks hauling sealed shipping containers to operate safely and legally on city streets and highways. Trucks that are up to 73-1/2 feet in length that are carrying sealed shipping containers and weighing up to 90,000 pounds can use this route, making this NYC port regionally and globally competitive. [5]

In addition, NYC DOT implemented new authorized routes and facilities for truckers delivering or picking up cargo at JFK International Airport. The DOT authorized the use of combination vehicles with industry-standard 53’ trailers on interstate highway routes direct to JFK. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey also opened NYC’s first truck stop at the airport, with food, fuel, and parking. The new direct route to JFK’s air cargo facilities provides access across the George Washington Bridge (I-95) from points west and south of New York City, and via the New England Thruway (I-95) from points north and east. The route then connects to the Whitestone Bridge and onto the Van Wyck Expressway (I-678) directly into JFK.[6]

Many of the other stated goals of Freight NYC are less specific than steps such as the Hunts Point project. They include setting up a barge council for the region, working to expand barge service not just between New York and New Jersey but also up into New England, and maintaining regular dredging of such local waterways as Flushing Bay or Newtown Creek. “From a public policy perspective in the city, we want to see jobs created and we want to see trucks off city streets,” White said. “We know the best way to do that is to move freight in railcars.” [7]

Epilogue – Lessons Learned

New York City’s size, geography, and limited transportation infrastructure all contribute to a difficult environment for freight. Truck size and weight policy alternatives are restricted by the policies and politics of multiple jurisdictions, aging and inadequate bridges, safety concerns on local streets, and the lack of alternative freight rail and freight barge infrastructure. NYC policymakers, and transportation and economic development agencies, have identified these problems and have developed plans and initiatives designed to help ameliorate the shortcomings of the current systems and infrastructure. However, the rapid expected growth of freight movements presents a difficult challenge to overcome. However, given the lack of funding for large scale transformational projects, policymakers and planners must continue to use all of the tools at their command. Some but not all of these strategies include:

  • Incremental improvement of rail and water facilities
  • Use of improved smarter technology
  • Better enforcement
  • Partnerships with freight haulers, receivers, and other industry stakeholders
  • Reduce freight and land-use conflicts
  • Improve truck access to industrial areas, marine terminals, and airports
  • Expand off-hour deliveries
  • Explore micro freight and waste collection centers

Truck size and weight policy should be an integral item on this list. The goal should be to allow maximum access and efficiency with trucks consistent with safety and protection of infrastructure. The lesson learned is that there is no one easy or grand solution, regardless of price.  However, attacking the problem with a thoughtful multi-pronged approach offers hope and a path forward.


[1] Freight NYC –Goods for the Good of the City, PortNYC, NYCEDC, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.nycedc.com/sites/default/files/filemanager/Programs/FreightNYC_book__DIGITAL.pdf

[2] New York City Department of Transportation, Urban Freight Initiatives, September 2015. Accessed at: www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/2015-09-14-urban-freight-initiatives.pdf

[3] Weighing Truck Weight Limits on Area Bridges, Long Island Contractor’s Association, June 19, 2018. Accessed at: https://licanys.org/news/25.php

[4] John Kingston, Barges and rails viewed by New York City as a means to get trucks off city streets, Fright Waves, October 15, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/maritime/new-york-city-barges-rail-truck-traffic

[5] Freight NYC –Goods for the Good of the City, PortNYC, NYCEDC, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.nycedc.com/sites/default/files/filemanager/Programs/FreightNYC_book__DIGITAL.pdf

[6] Now, for 53-foot Trucks… the highway’s the easy way to JFK, NYC DOT. Accessed at: https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=13&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwiarL23ia_eAhVEi1kKHbfuD8oQFjAMegQIAxAC&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.nycedc.com%2Fsites%2Fdefault%2Ffiles%2Ffilemanager%2FServices%2FPortNYC%2F53TruckOne.pdf&usg=AOvVaw0yUz4jj-SbUZl3Bsg2xPP_

[7] John Kingston, Barges and rails viewed by New York City as a means to get trucks off city streets, Fright Waves, October 15, 2018. Accessed at: https://www.freightwaves.com/news/maritime/new-york-city-barges-rail-truck-traffic

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