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Data-driven Prioritization: North Carolina

May 11, 2015

This article is a section in the 2014 NADO Research Foundation report Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions.

North Carolina has gone through a transformation in the way that projects are considered for inclusion in the STIP since 2009. The statewide strategic prioritization process initially was developed in response to an executive order of the governor and has continued to evolve based on lessons learned, models from other states, and statutory language. This data-driven process assigns a priority score to projects of all modes based on several performance measures, including benefit-cost, congestion, economic competitiveness, safety, freight, multimodal, pavement condition, lane width, and shoulder width. There are three pots of funding that projects may be assigned to: Statewide Mobility, Regional Impact, and Division Needs. For Statewide Mobility funding, each projects’ score is based entirely on performance information, while for Regional Impact, the score is derived 70 percent from quantitative criteria and 30 percent local input, and Division Needs are scored at 50 percent local input and 50 percent quantitative data. The local input comes from the North Carolina DOT (NCDOT) Division, as well as the MPOs and RPOs served.

NCDOT makes data available to the MPOs and RPOs for their use in planning. The data include information about safety, pavement condition, congestion, and travel time. With the RPOs’ staffing typically limited to one person with transportation as a main responsibility, RPOs often cannot fully use all the data available or to develop their own measures using data other than what NCDOT provides. In the 2014 round of prioritization, the regional planning entities were required to develop a ranking process to determine their own prioritization, which made up the local input scores used in the state’s prioritization. “In the first round, most of the regions used information that was easily on hand,” says Patrick Flanagan, planning director for the Eastern Carolina Council. According to Flanagan, many of the measures that were easy to develop relate to project delivery, such as corridor continuity, whether a project appeared in a LRTP, whether it is a priority for local stakeholders, and how far along in planning and permitting process a project is. “Now, we have collected everyone’s methodology, and we are looking for common criteria as well as unique criteria developed in just one region that could apply to everyone in the state.” This information is being used as the state prepares for the fourth round of prioritization. For each round of prioritizing projects, NCDOT has used a work group made up of local partners such as MPOs and RPOs from the whole state, advocacy groups representing local and regional governments, and internal NCDOT staff from various offices and modes, and FHWA in an advisory capacity. Together, these partners have addressed evolution in criteria and weighting to implement prioritization statewide as part of the factors for selecting projects to include in the STIP.

Outside of the specific performance measurement process occurring in the state, North Carolina’s 14 MPOs and RPOs serving the eastern portion of the state have formed the Eastern North Carolina MPO/RPO Coalition in order to advance shared interests, issues, and policies and address collective transportation needs. This group identified key economic assets shared across the 14 metro and rural regions: military, agriculture, health care, tourism, and education. This coalition became the forum for selecting shared project scoring criteria for Regional Impact and Division Needs projects, which was agreed upon by the NCDOT Division Engineer and all RPOs and MPOs within the DOT division. Rather than using a set of default weights for criteria, the eastern MPOs and RPOs and NCDOT were able to come up with unique formulas for prioritizing criteria that make up the local input portion of the project scores.


Use existing data where possible to get started in measuring performance.


Although different regions may have some different characteristics they want to measure, it can be worthwhile to partner with neighboring regions to identify community assets, economic ties, and transportation facilities and measures of high strategic importance that may be held in common, and use those to inform the performance-based planning and programming process.

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Selecting Measures

Selecting measures to use in a performance-based planning and programming takes consideration of several factors. Connecting the measures to the vision, goals, and objectives ensures that investment strategies are linked to the overall vision for the region. Identifying some measures that have some performance data already available and complement performance efforts at the state level can be beneficial for rural and small metro regions.


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