This article is a section in the 2014 NADO Research Foundation report Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions.
Another region in California, the Amador County Transportation Commission (ACTC) adopted a comprehensive update of its Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) in 2015, after an exhaustive process of engaging with stakeholders, fellow agency staff members, and commission leadership to define desired outcomes and related performance measures for use in the transportation planning and programming process. The RTP development process involved discussing measurement at three levels: using “big picture” evaluation criteria to evaluate plan-level alternatives, measures to evaluate project priorities for the programming process, and metrics to choose among build-alternatives for final project design. The initial step was to select a plan alternative, which set the overarching vision for the RTP. The alternatives offered broad regional approaches, from doing nothing to expanding highways, emphasizing rehabilitation and maintenance, or improving circulation. These four plan alternatives were scored according to seven criteria:
- optimize community connectivity
- reduce congestion and improve mobility
- enhance safety
- preserve or enhance community character and the environment
- ensure feasible funding plan and implementation
- provide opportunity for positive socioeconomic growth and development
- preserve the existing system
Each of these criteria was used to assign specific scores for each alternative to help decisionmakers connect RTP’s desired outcomes to investment scenario embodied by each plan alternative and pick one that could best achieve the desired outcomes they agreed to. After assessing the high, medium, or low impact that each plan alternative had on each of these criteria, the “Multimodal Circulation Improvement Program” alternative was selected as the plan alternative would best achieve the RTP’s desired outcomes and meet all of the region’s future transportation needs. This alternative incorporates all relevant modes of transportation through a diverse mix of strategically prioritized regional roadway improvements and alternative strategies designed to meet the region’s various transportation needs to the greatest extent possible, given environmental, right of way, community-acceptance, and funding constraints.
The next step was to prioritize specific projects, using the same seven criteria that were used in selecting the plan alternative, although the metrics used in ranking were tied to project-level data, rather than the larger scale descriptive criteria used in the plan-level decision. The process was highly technical, with ACTC staff analyzing how projects fared in the most technical categories, such as examining results of the traffic model and alternative modes for the congestion and mobility score. Some criteria were more straightforward, such as safety data coming from the California Highway Patrol’s Statewide Integrated Traffic Records System (known in the state as SWITRS). Other criteria were open to more debate, such as the impact on socioeconomic growth and development, which received a high, medium, or low score based on information about business exposure and land use. Using the seven criteria and a score on the deliverability of each project, a list of Tier I projects for the Capital Improvement Program were selected, for which full funding may be available within the 20-year time horizon of the plan. Additional projects were also prioritized into Tier IIA, partial funding committed but full funding not available within 20 years, and Tier IIB, no funding committed. Including the additional projects without committed funding allows local governments to identify priorities for preserving right-of-way to minimize cost and improve deliverability when funds do become available. This also establishes a set of alternatives with an estimated cost that demonstrates the funding gap to achieve all the proposed projects consistent with the goals, objectives, and strategies of the RTP.
An extensive amount of education was critical to ACTC’s RTP update process. Over a period of five years, the commission conducted over 20 stakeholder advisory committee meetings, 12 commission workshops, and countless one-on-one caucuses with those involved. The outcome was the selection of a plan alternative and assignment of project priorities in a way that involved all relevant parties and balance numerous competing interests within the limited amount of funds reasonably available over 20 years. Further, an important objective in the plan’s Action Element was to continue developing the commission’s performance measures, analysis tools, and data sets into the future. Now that the RTP has been adopted, the commission will complete countywide safety “hot spot” mapping and develop a predictive safety analysis tool to quantify the anticipated benefit of planned safety improvements and determine an efficient way to measure the cost/benefit or return on investment for their planned improvements These first two efforts are aimed at improving the measurement process and the data and tools used in evaluating the measures before the next RTP update, to continue evolving and enhancing the process and the usefulness and defensibility of the plan alternative and projects selected. Between continued education and formalization of a data-driven process and reliable analytical tools, ACTC hopes to increase the level of political acceptance of the plan and prioritization results.
Establishing performance measures requires a significant investment in staff time and technical resources in order to education and the involvement of stakeholders, agency staff members, and elected leaders to build consensus on the process and achieve acceptance of the results. For ACTC, this was a very intensive effort that was difficult for a small rural planning agency to accomplish while also trying to carry out its other administrative, planning, funding, and project delivery functions. Adopting a larger scale effort to address performance measurement across a state or the nation would require careful consideration of the staffing capacities, technical capabilities, and funding constraints that the agencies operate within.
Connecting performance measures with the programming of transportation funding causes this technical process to have real implications for participants. If done right, this can result in helping to reduce the degree to which funding decisions are politicized, by tying them to transparent and measurable outcomes.
For more information, visit http://www.actc-amador.org.