Multimodal Transportation

Virginia country road

Multimodal Transportation

Multimodal transportation refers to the network of airports, seaports, roads, rails, transit systems, and walkways that are integrated to form a seamless system for moving people and freight from point to point. Typically, the more viable options there are for movement -- and the better these modes support and interconnect with each other -- the less congestion and stress there will be on all systems.

Why is Multimodal Important?

Virginia has numerous transportation assets, including a major seaport; three international airports (Dulles, National, and Richmond); 74,378 miles of public roadway; 3,214 miles of railroad for freight transportation; 670 miles of inland waterway; four light rail and commuter rail systems; and many bicycle and pedestrian trails and walkways.

When properly planned, maintained, and managed, such assets can be integrated to provide a safe, reliable, rapid, cost-effective, energy-conserving, and environmentally friendly means of moving goods and passengers. Multimodal transport can minimize the amount of freight and people that travel by roadway, help ease congestion, improve passenger safety, reduce travel times, and increase consumer and producer mobility options. An efficient, low-cost multimodal transportation system also contributes to economic growth and development and improves residents' quality of life.

How is Virginia Doing?

Getting to Work

Worker Modes of Commuting by State. See text for more explanation.Since 2006 Virginia has remained fairly steady in the percentage of workers reporting they commuted to work by means that place a lower burden on roads: public transit, car pool, walking, bicycling, or avoiding travel altogether by working at home. Alternative travel in Virginia ranged from a high of 22.2% in 2008 to a low of 20.9 in 2011. In 2015 that rate was 21.2%, lower than the national average (22.2%) and ranking the state 19th best in the nation. Maryland ranked highest among peer states with 25.2 percent, while New York again led the country with 46.1 percent of workers using alternative means to get to work.

Worker Modes of Commuting by Virginia Region. See text for explanation.Among Virginia's regions, the Northern region had the highest percentage (27.8 %) of alternative commuting methods for the 5-year period 2010-2014. The lowest percentages were found in the more rural Southwest (14.7%), Southside (15.9%), West Central (17.4%) and Valley (17.6%) regions.

Moving Goods

Freight originating in Virginia is shipped by a variety of modes, including truck, rail, water, air, pipeline, and combinations of the above. Freight activity can be measured in two ways: tonnage and value. Value provides a good indicator of the economic activity associated with freight, while tonnage better captures the demand placed on the state's transportation infrastructure.

Freight Transported by Single-mode Truck
    2007  2012
United States 71.3% 70.0% 73.1% 71.3%
Louisiana - Leading State 37.2% 36.6% 32.8% 26.9%
Virginia 80.3% 76.4% 85.5% 87.1%
Maryland 80.7% 95.1% 85.0% 93.7%
North Carolina 85.7% 92.6% 87.1% 93.1%
Tennessee 82.0% 90.8% 78.1% 87.6%

In 2012 (latest year national-level data is available), the percentage of Virginia-originated freight shipped by single-mode truck transport was 85.5 percent of economic value, while tonnage was 87.1 percent. These figures are similar to peer states North Carolina (87.1% and 93.1% respectively), Maryland (85.0% and 93.7%), and Tennessee (78.1% and 87.6%),but higher than the national average (73.1% and 71.3%).

The Port of Virginia generates a significant amount of Virginia freight movement. Most cargo going in and out of the port travels by truck. The Virginia Port Authority hopes to increase transportation by alternative modes like rail and barge to reduce roadway congestion. In 2015, 36 percent of freight through the Port of Virginia was transported by rail and barge, down for the second year from 2013's record high of 38 percent.

Vehicle miles traveled on Virginia's heavily used interstate highways remained fairly steady from 2005 to 2014. The mix of traffic changed slightly during this time, with 2-axle passenger cars, buses, and trucks (as well as motorcycles) accounting for an increasing share of volume: 89.2 percent of Daily Vehicle Miles Travelled (DVMT) compared to 87.3 percent in 2005. At the same time, the DVMT for multiple-axle trucks decreased from 8.3 million in 2005 to 7.3 million in 2014.

Vehicle Miles Traveled by State. See text for explanation.In keeping with trends nationwide, per capita annual vehicle miles of travel (VMT) has decreased steadily in Virginia since the onset of the recession -- from 10,643 miles per capita in 2007 to 9,778 miles in 2013. Virginia's average VMT was higher than the national average (9,309) and ranked 22nd lowest in the country. Maryland's 2013 VMT per capita (9,561) was lower than Virginia, while Tennessee (10,940) and North Carolina (10,684) were higher. Leading state Alaska had the lowest average VMT at 6,595.

What Influences Transportation Mode Use?


Cost, accessibility, safety, speed, reliability, comfort, and privacy are among the most important considerations when commuters choose specific travel modes. Although automobiles make up approximately 84 percent of vehicle miles travelled, many travelers choose other transportation modes such as public transit, bicycling, and walking because of personal preferences, economic constraints, or disabilities. When fuel prices are high, commuters are more likely to opt for public transit or carpooling to reduce costs.

The availability of alternative transportation and patterns of land development can also influence choice. Not surprisingly, research indicates that residents of communities with better alternative modes of transportation in neighborhoods with a mixture of commercial and residential development are less likely to travel by automobile. Demand management strategies such as tolling and congestion pricing can also alter modal choices.


To produce reliable profits, commercial freight carriers choose travel paths and modes that provide the best combinations of cost, speed, reliability and service. Modal choice can be influenced by travel distance, shipment size, value, weight, packaging requirements, product perishability, and hazardous material content. Transportation network characteristics such as infrastructure availability, congestion levels, and transportation mode regulations are also important. Carrier market characteristics such as availability and competition can also affect freight flows. Freight with higher value-to-weight ratios and haul distances less than 500 miles typically use short-haul modes like trucks. Shipments with lower value-to-weight ratios and longer travel distances are more likely to choose long-haul modes such as rail and water. Shipping often involves multiple modes to combine the cost or speed advantages of one mode (e.g., rail, water, air) with the pickup and delivery convenience of truck transportation.

Virginia experiences large freight volumes, due largely to the presence of a major East Coast seaport in Hampton Roads and numerous military installations. Approximately 41 percent of Virginia's freight tonnage passes through the state on the way to or from other states. Consequently, Virginia hosts a relatively large logistics and supply chain management industry which provides state-of-the-art services for the storage, movement, and distribution of freight that in turn supports a robust multimodal transportation system.

Other factors

Roadway usage levels are sensitive to many variables, including transportation mode choices, economic activity levels, energy prices, and demographics. During the recession, reduced flows of both freight and commuters helped to ease congestion in many busy travel corridors. Recent decreases in VMT have also been linked to changing demographics and tastes, such as increasing retirement rates among Baby Boomers and the declining appetite for car ownership among Millennials.

What is the State's Role?

The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment administers multimodal transportation policy in the Commonwealth, under the guidance of Virginia's long-range statewide plan, VTrans2035. Plan goals include:

  • Mobility, Connectivity, and Accessibility – Facilitate the easy movement of people and goods, improve interconnectivity of regions and activity centers, and provide access to different modes of transportation.
  • Coordination of Transportation and Land Use – Promote livable communities and reduce transportation costs by facilitating the coordination of transportation and land use.

The plan coordinates and integrates the strategies of several agencies within the Secretariat of Transportation (Department of Rail and Public Transportation, Department of Motor Vehicles, Department of Aviation, Virginia Port Authority, Virginia Commercial Spaceflight Authority).

With passage of the Virginia's Road to the Future transportation funding and reform package in 2013, over $3 billion in new monies is being directed to the Commonwealth's multimodal transportation network over the next five years, including highway maintenance and construction, public transit, intercity passenger rail, freight rail, airports, seaports, and regional transportation priorities.

Page last modified March 23, 2017
Worker Modes of Commuting by State. See text for more explanation. Worker Modes of Commuting by Virginia Region. See text for explanation. Vehicle Miles Traveled by State. See text for explanation.

State rankings are ordered so that #1 is understood to be the best.

Data Definitions and Sources

Means of Transportation to Work, Workers 16 year and over
U.S. Bureau of the Census, American Community Survey

NOTE: State figures are based on ACS 1-year estimates. Regional figures are based on the ACS's rolling 5-year estimates between January 2005-December 2014.

Freight Mode
U.S. Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, Commodity Flow Survey

Freight Moved by Rail or Barge
Virginia Port Authority, Port Stats

Virginia Department of Transportation
Traffic Data
DVMT by Federal Vehicle Class

Vehicle Miles of Travel (VMT) Per Capita or Average VMT
U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Highway Policy Information, Highway Statistics Series

Vehicles Miles of Travel (VMT) is defined as the mileage traveled by all vehicles on a road system during a year. Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled (DVMT) is VMT divided by the number of days in a year.

Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment

D. Salon, MG Boarnet, S. Handy, S. Spears, G. Tal. 2012. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D 17: 495-508.

MA McGinnis. 1989. A comparative evaluation of freight transportation choice models. Transportation Journal 29, 2: 36-46.

See the Data Sources and Updates Calendar for a detailed list of the data resources used for indicator measures on Virginia Performs.

At a Glance:
Mutlimodal Transportation
in Virginia

Performance Trend: Trend is maintaining.
State Influence:  

National Rankings:  Virginia ranked 19th for use of alternate commuting modes (2015) and 22nd for average vehicle miles traveled (2013). Thanks in part to the state's significant transportation assets that include a major seaport and 3 international airports, Virginia is an East Coast hub for freight movement.

Virginia by Region:  Not surprisingly, workers in the congested Northern region have the highest participation rates (27.8%) for the use of alternative commuting methods.

Related Agency Measures
State Programs & Initiatives

Intermodal Planning
The Office of Intermodal Planning and Investment is located within the Office of the Secretary of Transportation and was created in 2002 to encourage the coordination of multimodal and intermodal planning across the various transportation modes within Virginia.

The Commonwealth's statewide long-range plan, VTrans, provides a blueprint of Virginia's transportation future; it was recently updated to extend to 2035.

Additional Information

Thanks to its low cost profile compared to light rail and other alternatives to driving, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is being embraced by a host of urbanized communities across the country. That includes localities in Virginia (particularly in Northern Virginia), often with assistance and coordination from the state Department of Rail and Public Transportation:

  • The Crystal City-Potomac Yard Metroway is providing fast, dedicated-lane bus service along a very congested portion of Route 1 to over 40,000 passengers each month.
  • A similar plan is underway for customers along Route 7 between Tyson's Corner and Alexandria, and also for a downtown Alexandria-Pentagon route (West End Transitway).
  • Fairfax County is also in the early phases of a BRT project that will run between Huntington Metro station and Fort Belvoir.
  • And in Richmond, a planned BRT line called The Pulse is expected to run every 10 or 15 minutes from suburban Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing, with at least a dozen planned stations within the city limits of Richmond.

The "Walkable Communities" movement has also spurred new interest in creating and maintaining spaces within urban environments that encourage people to live, shop, dine, visit, play, and otherwise enjoy spending time in that area. A walkable community stresses (among other things) sidewalks, a mix of residential and business concerns, and almost always includes ready access to public transit -- thus allowing people to forego driving in favor of walking or bicycling from point to point. As with other multimodal approaches to transportation, walkable communities are increasingly seen as highly desirable elements in an area's overall quality of life.

Larger cities with longstanding and extensive public transit systems tend to score highest on walkability indices. But several cities in Virginia -- Arlington, Richmond, Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Chesapeake -- place in 2016's top 141 cities for walkability, according to, the leading organization ranking walkable communities in the US, Canada, and Australia.