Improving the region’s freight system

Northeastern Illinois is a major freight hub. A quarter of all rail freight in the U.S. originates, terminates, or passes through our region. But this freight activity brings pollution, safety concerns, and conflicts with passenger trains and motor vehicles. Many of these burdens disproportionately affect people with low-income and communities of color. Thoughtful planning grounded in current data can support the freight system and the movement of goods while reducing the burdens of pollution, injuries, and delays.

CMAP’s ON TO 2050 long-range plan calls for our region to maintain its status as North America’s freight hub, meaning we must adapt to the changes while protecting quality of life and limiting public costs. CMAP completed a freight snapshot and developed the Regional strategic freight direction, which provides direction for CMAP and key partners in its freight planning work.

In 2025, CMAP is scheduled to complete a freight-system assessment as part of the upcoming regional transportation plan. Ongoing CMAP activities in the current regional strategic freight direction include:

  • Truck routing studies and local truck regulation support, in Will County, south Cook County, and the O’Hare area
  • Highway-rail grade crossing studies in Joliet and in Berwyn
  • Grade-crossing study prioritization
  • Support funding for the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) Program, a partnership among public and private rail stakeholders
  • Environmental study and analysis of the freight system in the context of ongoing climate action plans and clean-air-to-communities studies

Freight assets

Northeastern Illinois’ freight network includes highway, rail, air, water, and pipeline assets.

The region’s 10 interstate highways provide the key network for truck freight connections to the rest of the country. The remainder of the region’s arterial roads, including the National Highway System and designated truck routes, allow goods to flow to and from local businesses in our communities.

All 6 Class I railroad companies operate in the region. The region’s rail system includes facilities for interchanging and classifying carload freight (e.g. boxcars and tanker cars, between and among the railroads). The region’s rail system also includes 18 rail-truck intermodal terminals, where containers and trailers are lifted by cranes between railcars and truck chassis.

Our region is home to more than 100 miles of navigable waterways, as well as two major airports in Chicago.

Grade crossing prioritization

Northeastern Illinois has nearly 3,200 places where railroads cross highways. About half of these are “separated,” with the railroad over or under the roadway. But more than 1,600 highway-rail crossings are “at grade,” or level. At many of these crossings, there are often slow-moving or even stopped trains that cause travel issues for motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrians. CMAP estimated that in 2018, motorists were delayed 44,300 hours each weekday at highway-rail grade crossings. View the top dozen at-grade crossings with the greatest delays below or the full listing of at-grade railroad crossings.

Crossing ID Street name County Municipality Delay per weekday (hours)
174087Y IL 72/Touhy Ave Cook Des Plaines 935
079493L IL 43/Harlem Ave Cook Berwyn, Riverside 723
174106B US 12/Rand Rd Cook Des Plaines 567
079508Y US 12/20/45 LaGrange Rd Cook La Grange 555
372133T IL 171/Thatcher Ave Cook River Grove 521
174136T IL 68/Dundee Rd Cook Northbrook 478
372135G Des Plaines River Rd Cook River Grove 418
173996K IL 171/1st Ave Cook Maywood 403
388037N IL 68/Dundee Rd Cook Northbrook 394
386399T IL 58/Dempster St Cook Morton Grove 394
386381H Touhy Ave Cook Niles 352
163437H 87th St Cook Evergreen Park, Chicago 343

CMAP collaborated with regional partners to identify 47 priority grade crossings, based on vehicle delays, crash risks, truck volumes, bus routes, and pedestrian safety impacted by the crossing. Since its publication, numerous studies have been initiated for several at-grade crossings. An update to the priority list is planned for 2025, with updated grade crossing delays data using the Federal Railroad Administration’s model for highway-rail grade-crossing safety.  

Technical assistance

CMAP awards federal funding to projects that improve air quality and roadway congestion through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. The regional Surface Transportation Program Shared Fund also awards federal funding to advance projects that address high or critical safety issues with countermeasures appropriate for the crash type(s) in the project corridor/area.