This article is a section in the 2014 NADO Research Foundation report Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions.
States such as California have suggested that their regional partners to include performance measures in long-range plan updates. Up until now, the process was not very prescriptive. As a result, the measures included in the regions’ plans looked fairly different and have often included output measures that track completion of plan elements and planning process, rather than focusing on characteristics of the system.
Going forward, California may formalize the types of measures that the RTPOs should be including in their long-range plans. In 2015, the California Department of Transportation, or Caltrans, will review all of the long-range plans completed by the MPOs and RTPOs (called Regional Transportation Planning Agencies, or RTPAs, within California) in the state to review particular characteristics of the plans. This will include an inventory of the measures that the plans contain, which models of assessing performance are used, and the purpose of the measures. This information will be used as the agency updates its long-range plan guidance for all the metropolitan and rural regional organizations in the state.
In 2014, the Nevada County Transportation Commission, one of the California’s 26 rural Regional Transportation Planning Agencies, completed a study on performance measurement for pavement condition in the state’s rural counties. Funded by Caltrans, the report analyzed pavement needs and funding scenarios, evaluated the outcomes of various funding levels, and recommended use of the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) as a measure common to all rural transportation agencies in California, not only in Nevada County. The report found that many agencies had historically used PCI and had standard data collection and analysis capabilities, so the data for that measure already exist. Compared to other ways of measuring pavement, PCI seemed most appropriate for the pavement surface types often found on roads in rural areas, such as chip seal.
In the course of the study, each RTPA was asked to set a numeric target for average PCI for their roads in 20 years. On a scale of 0 (failed pavement) to 100 (excellent condition), the agencies set targets ranging from 50 to 80, with an average target across the state of 68. The current average score for rural roads is 58, so many regions will need to find ways to improve their pavement condition in order to meet their targets.
The report also analyzed expected revenues and the ability to meet the RTPAs’ pavement condition targets. Three funding scenarios were analyzed for their effects on local road pavement performance compared to meeting management standards across the state:
- impacts of continuing at the current funding level with a focus on preventive maintenance (expected $6.7 billion shortfall in the form of deferred maintenance, and PCI decreases to 42)
- impacts of continuing at the current level with a focus on treating the worst assets first (expected $8.1 billion-worth of deferred maintenance, and PCI decreases to 42)
- funding on the order of $9.8 billion would be needed to meet the targets set by the RTPAs for pavement condition on local roads
This kind of information helps to plan for strategic investment in rural places. In California, 5.6 percent of the population resides in rural areas, and 14.2 percent of maintained lane miles are in rural places. However, the counties can only access 9.4 percent of available funding for pavement. The funding scenario analysis provides another information point to help the RTPAs make decisions, given the limited funding available. Although condition will be just one metric that RTPAs might use to rank projects in their programming process, knowing that preventive maintenance projects could help to save on the total amount of funds needed over time will be helpful in prioritizing. Scenario analysis that presents the magnitude of the funding gap to reach pavement condition targets can also shape the localities’ efforts to raise local transportation funds, such as through local sales taxes or impact fees that are in use in some counties in California.
Dan Landon, executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, sums up performance measurement trends in Nevada County, across California, and in many other rural and small metro places:
Performance measures justify the use of scarce resources—we need to show that we are selecting the best projects. In the past, we focused on safety, level of service, community input, and common sense. Now, there’s an emphasis on meeting federal and state requirements and guidelines, and rural agencies will probably need to step up and show in their submittals for the STIP how projects will be consistent with meeting statewide targets. In the future, performance measurement will guide cost effective expenditure of public funds on infrastructure that achieves, state, regional, and community goals.
Going forward, Caltrans is likely to adopt the condition measure required to be reported on certain roads that will be developed through U.S. DOT rulemaking. The state’s regional partners might consider adopting the same measure to achieve statewide consistency in reporting, monitoring, and evaluation of investment policies over time.
The transportation context in rural and metropolitan regions might lead them to identify different measures, such as pavement condition metrics that allow for different pavement types, or different targets, based on the available funding to focus on a particular performance effort.
Analyzing funding scenarios is a useful tool for understanding the impacts of investment decisions and documenting the need for resources.
Caltrans is seeking to build momentum by analyzing the performance efforts already underway and adding more guidance and consistency, an initiative that is likely to allow for continuity of effective planning practice while adding more performance elements.