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Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions

In This Article:

Performance measurement ties the vision and direction set in a strategic planning process to decisionmaking efforts, such as planning for the transportation network. Analyzing data over time can show how program implementation is affecting performance. Performance-based transportation planning and programming examines information about the transportation network and sets up a framework for developing goals and prioritizing projects according to meeting the needs of system users. State departments of transportation (DOTs) have increasingly encouraged or required their regional partners to include performance measures in their regional plans, and regions have formalized their planning and programming processes to include more formal project selection processes.

Why measure performance? Rural transportation networks may not have ready access federal, state, or local funding resources for making major transportation improvements that would result in a significant change in performance. Transportation funding in many places, rural and urban, continues to be limited, and states and local governments are seeking feasible ways to raise new funds. Performance measurement takes time to conduct and requires data about the transportation system, but it can demonstrate to the public, public officials, and legislators what they are getting for their investments, how a new funding source could affect transportation outcomes, and what the impacts of what the impacts of lack of investment could be. Finding performance information may require requesting data from partners or sharing data with them. This can open up new lines of communication, dialogues about goals and strategies, and shape the way that information is shared in the future, even outside of the specific dataset requested. Over time, measurement can show whether a new investment strategy has been successful, or expose assumptions about the transportation system, travel patterns, or the effects of investment that are holding back progress.

The NADO Research Foundation report Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions (PDF), published in December 2014, draws on research and training efforts conducted by the NADO Research Foundation from 2010 – 2014 and with support and guidance from the Federal Highway Administration. Throughout this period, the NADO Research Foundation collected planning documents from rural, regional transportation planning organizations, held interviews and conversations about planning and performance measurement with regional planning professionals and their state partners, and conducted training and outreach on performance measurement where discussion in the sessions also informed the research effort.

The research found that many organizations are adopting measures and considering performance measurement carefully. The efforts of state DOTs and state legislatures to increase performance culture play a significant role in determining the extent to which regional agencies are moving toward performance measurement. In many cases, a strategic planning framework is already well entrenched in RTPOs’ planning processes and could be adapted to include systematic performance measurement.

Some of the strategies to move toward performance-based planning used by RTPOs, MPOs, and state DOTs that participated in the research include working with partners on data, analysis, selecting measures, and creating measurement frameworks; communicating the information that resonates with the audience; using data to drive decisionmaking; making use of funding scenarios and plan alternatives to understand the performance implications of potential future investment decisions; and more.

View the case studies and resources below:

Full report in PDF: Moving toward Performance-based Transportation Planning in Rural and Small Metropolitan Regions

Name Game: Agencies Involved in Regional Planning

What Is Performance Measurement?

Strategies for Performance Measurement

 Appendix: Common Performance Measurement Terms

Additional Resources on Performance Measurement


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Additional Resources


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