Freight research hub planned for Chattanooga as Thrive, Georgia Tech create new center

Staff File Photo by Robin Rudd / Traffic backs up at the Interstate-75/Interstate-24 interchange just north of the Ringgold Road overpass in East Ridge.

Chattanooga's reputation as the center of "freight alley" is expected to grow with creation of a new research hub to help business and government in the area make better decisions about infrastructure.

Called the Greater Chattanooga Freight Hub, the first-of-its-kind interactive open source data platform will be crafted by Thrive Regional Partnership and Georgia Tech, officials said.

The aim is to better understand freight capacity and multi-modal freight transportation in the tri-state area, they said.

Debra Stone, McKee Foods Corp.'s logistics cost analyst and chairwoman of Thrive's Freight Mobility Coalition, said the region is a critical logistics center that supports local industry and consumers.

"But there's a lack of centralized data that highlights how freight movement in one state or sector impacts quality of life in another," she said. "This research partnership will provide planners, businesses, and elected officials open access to the information they need to make well-informed decisions that encourage safe and efficient transportation of people and goods."

The tool will integrate information from Tennessee, Georgia, and Alabama where there are critical corridors of the supply chain network in the Southeast, officials said.

Logistics and manufacturing companies along with public leaders and educational institutions that have supply chain and transportation professional programs are expected to benefit, they said.

"It will be a comprehensive resource to those who need to understand current and ongoing trends," said Rhett Bentley, director of communications for Chattanooga-based Thrive, the nonprofit that has crafted a long-range growth plan for 16 counties in Southeast Tennessee, Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama.

According to Thrive, one in eight people in the region work in the transportation sector. The Chattanooga area has a slew of freight brokerage and related businesses, as well as two of the nation's largest over-the-road trucking companies in Covenant Transportation Group and U.S. Xpress Enterprises.

Officials expect research from the Thrive and Georgia Tech collaboration to potentially identify projects which could benefit from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill.

Also, the research will parallel environmental priorities in Thrive's Cradle of Southern Appalachia regional conservation blueprint, officials said.

Layering transportation needs and projections alongside environmental priority areas will help planners and leaders, they said.

Tony Giarrusso, Georgia Tech's associate director of the Center for Spatial Planning and Visualization, said geospatial data not only underscores what the issues are but pinpoints where they occur.

"We are pleased to partner with Thrive on this transportation and mobility data hub which, especially when layered with environmental research, will be a valuable tool for government and industry leaders to understand the impacts of infrastructure decisions at the community and regional level and in various contexts," he said.

Bentley said the hub will be accessed through Thrive's website at

She said it will like take about a year to compile the research and get the hub up and running. The partnership is funded by an investor who wanted to remain anonymous, according to Thrive, which wouldn't disclosed how much money was given.

Contact Mike Pare at or 423-757-6318.