US freight activity dips

After three consecutive months of growth, US freight movements, as measured by the Transportation Services Index, fell 0.5% in September. But stimulus-funded transportation projects continued to rise, with 10,000 projects worth $30.6bn approved.

The Transportation Services Index fell 0.5 percent in September after three straight months of increases, reflecting lower levels of economic activity. 

However, transportation spending funded by the US economic recovery act reached a new milestone of more than 10,000 projects worth $30.6 billion, the Department of Transportation said today.

The index, which measures month-to-month changes in freight shipments by trucking, rail, inland waterways, pipelines and air carriers, has now declined in 10 of the past 14 months and five of the first nine months of 2009. This is despite a three-month string of increases that began in May and ended in August.

Transportation Services Index: volatile
Source:, based on US Government data.

Since freight movements are directly correlated to the US’ level of economic activity, the index has been closely watched this year for signs of recovery stemming from the $787 billion economic recovery act signed into law  by US President Barack Obama in February.

In September, when the index posted its first monthly increase since February, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood greeted the increase as a sign of economic recovery. “Freight shipping is increasing, and someone is buying that freight… we're talking about economic activity,” he blogged at the time.

Transportation projects funded with money from the recovery act passed the 10,000 mark for the first time, the department of transportation said Thursday. As of this week, state agencies reported a total of 10,041 approved projects that will use up $30.6 billion of the $48.1 billion the transportation department has made available for highway, road, transit, bridge and airport construction and repairs nationwide.

About two-thirds  –  or 6,547 – of the approved projects are already under way, the department said.

“From the beginning of the recovery act, it has been our top priority to get money out the door quickly to create jobs and boost the economy,” LaHood said in a statement, adding that many of the projects approved thus far “would have been stalled or shelved altogether without recovery act dollars”.

Recipients of stimulus funds from the transportation department have reported 45,520 jobs created by the recovery act, according to the department’s latest weekly update.

Overall, the federal government claims to have created 640,000 jobs through the stimulus bill through 30 October, according to