Transportation performance measurement connects strategic vision to desired outcomes, such as increased safety and mobility. It tells planners, decisionmakers, and the public about existing conditions of their transportation system and how their transportation goals are faring over time, and it can help to determine whether funds are adequate and whether policy decisions about types of transportation improvements can improve particular goal areas. Performance measurement is often thought of as a discreet and highly technical process, but it can be integrated into existing strategic planning processes. Although federal legislation creates a national transportation performance management framework, states, regions, and localities have increasingly adopted aspects of performance measurement as funds have become limited and the public has increased its scrutiny of how government works.
The 2012 surface transportation law Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21) established a new process for measuring transportation performance and connecting it to planning. The legislation set asset management and safety as required performance areas for transit, as well as seven goal areas in the highway program: safety, infrastructure condition, congestion reduction, system reliability, freight movement and economic vitality, environmental sustainability, and reduced project delivery delays. The U.S. Department of Transportation began a rulemaking process after the law’s passage to define measures for some of those goal areas, including pavement and bridge condition for the Interstate and National Highway System, safety, congestion and air quality, and freight movement.
MAP-21 does not require rural regions to take any steps regarding performance measurement themselves. Rather, state DOTs and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) must set numeric targets to for those measures. States and MPOs are also required to develop plans that set a strategic direction for the agency and reports assessing system performance. The U.S. Department of Transportation, in turn, will deliver performance reports to Congress.
Even without specific, legislated tasks, rural areas and RTPOs might find it useful to use the federal legislation as a guide to move toward a performance measurement process themselves. Some may be asked to assist the state DOT with performance measurement, much as they do with other planning tasks in support of statewide planning such as public and local official engagement. Such supporting roles might include assisting with local official or stakeholder outreach that a state might engage in regarding target setting. RTPOs might decide to consider some of the same measures in their planning processes, where the measures make sense, so that their plans and priority projects are viewed in the same context as the state’s own performance process, and locally supported projects can demonstrate how they contribute to the state’s performance effort.