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Unified Regional Visions and Plans: Iowa

Unified Regional Visions and Plans: Iowa

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

The Iowa DOT had embarked on its own initiative to identify and report on performance measures just before MAP-21 was enacted, with a new statewide plan adopted in 2012.  Rather than continue to implement its own new set of measures to report to the Iowa Transportation Commission, the Iowa DOT is focusing its efforts on towards adopting the performance measure framework laid out in MAP-21 to also use in state-level reporting.  The state anticipates that a cooperative target-setting process involving the MPOs and RTPOs will probably emerge following the finalization of federal regulations regarding performance measurement.

At the regional level, many of the Regional Planning Affiliations (Iowa’s RTPOs) are housed in multijurisdictional organizations that also complete other community and economic development plans and programs.  A handful of organizations across the state chose to combine their last long-range transportation plan updates with their regional economic development plan, known as the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy or CEDS.  The CEDS is a document required by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration for its planning grantees.  The Iowa Department of Transportation encouraged, but did not require, its RTPO partners to consider including performance measures in the last round of plan updates.

For the Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission, combining transportation with community and economic development plans made sense to streamline planning processes for one plan as opposed to two plans and to avoid planning fatigue by the public and local leaders.  It also to more closely linked the desired outcomes of the planning process with decision making processes.  The performance measures in the 2012 long-range plan were developed by the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy Committee, and the region also utilized guidance from Iowa DOT on preliminary performance measures developed.  The adopted performance measures align with specific strategies and action items developed in the plan.  Since completed the long range transportation plan update, a priority action for the region has been determining the baseline levels for identified measures and the availability of performance data. As the process evolves in the future, the RTPO plans to have its CEDS Strategy Committee meet each year to evaluate the data and assess the process, the progress toward goals, and policy decisions that may be needed to meet performance goals.

Funding is a challenge for rural areas in Iowa as in many other places across the country.  The RTPOs in Iowa receive an allocation of federal Surface Transportation Program and Transportation Alternatives Program funds to program local projects.  However, the amount of funding is generally not enough to result in major changes to the transportation network, and is typically used for a few maintenance projects each cycle.  Significant change in transportation network performance would likely be difficult to detect given current funding levels.  Even so, the state sees a move toward measuring performance as a way of quantifying shortfalls and communicating the effects of underfunding transportation, with impacts on mobility and the economy emerging from deferred maintenance and a shortage of investment.


Combining transportation planning efforts with other issue areas can create efficiencies and improved public input.  A unified regional vision guides investment and policies in all the areas covered in a plan, leading to performance measures and projects that are supportive of overarching plan goals.  This also leverages planning funds by allowing agencies to collect and analyze background data, such as socioeconomic data, once rather than multiple times for plans that may be on slightly different cycles, and to gather public input for multiple topics at one time.


Consider communicating the measures and a process for evaluating and evolving performance measurement from the very start.  Rather than increasing the complexity for the Iowa Transportation Commission and others using performance data by having multiple sets of measures for audiences to examine, the state is initially focusing on meeting and reporting on the federally required measures.

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