Performance Anxiety – The Growing Impact of Performance Measures on Transportation Planning


Performance measures have been used in transportation planning for a long time. In the 1950s, when we were primarily concerned with building our system of interstates, performance was measured in simple terms such as the number of miles of road built each year. As transportation planning has become more complex, we now need to measure not only the expansion of our highway network but of other modal networks, their maintenance and operations, safety records and the management of congestion, and increasingly issues such as accessibility and livability. Our current resource-strapped age is looking more and more at performance measures to ensure wiser use of limited funds and a good return on transportation investments. The transportation planning profession is encountering performance measures and performance-based planning in several ways. Planners will feel the increased impact of performance management at the federal, state and regional/local levels.

MAP-21 – Holding ourselves accountable

The new federal transportation law, known as MAP-21, mandates a performance-driven, outcome-based transportation planning process that has significant implications for the transportation planning process.  In essence, MAP-21 reflects new fiscal constraints at the federal and state levels and responds to them with a demand for a more competitive, performance-based process for project selection and funding. In addition, MAP-21 gradually, but clearly, raises the bar for regional and local accountability.

To succeed, entities at any level of government must develop a stronger case for transportation projects and tell a more effective story about their value and benefits toward meeting desired regional outcomes and national goals.   Renaissance Vice President Whit Blanton echoed this viewpoint and how the new MAP-21 legislation has the power to promote meaningful planning in communities and cities in the January issue of APA's Planning Magazine.  An excellent summary for transportation professionals and officials alike of the ins and outs of the MAP-21 legislation is available in an easy to read handbook from Transportation 4 America entitled “Making the Most of Map-21.”

Map-21 could lead to a greater integration over time among performance measures at the federal, state and regional/local levels

Performance Measures at the State Level

Performance measurement is nothing new at the level of state DOTs. Many states already measure their transportation networks through annual “report cards”, “dashboards” or other user-friendly rating systems. Only rarely are these measures related to specific targets or measurable goals, however. Under MAP-21, states will soon be required to adopt targets and measure how the transportation systems perform relative to those targets over time, with the expectation that future funding formulas may someday be linked to how effectively they are reaching these targets.

Two well established systems of statewide performance measurement are in Florida and Virginia. In Florida, over a decade of refinement has led to the development of the Florida Mobility Measures System. Under the system, mobility performance measures are used to characterize the success of the system in terms of four dimensions. Further, the DOT recently released its first MAP-21 Performance Report providing summaries on performance for safety, system performance, roadways, bridges, freight, transit, and air quality.

In Virginia, the latest edition of the Statewide Performance Report features a new interface and rating system that is tied to the statewide transportation vision and seven core goals: The Scorecard uses “consumer report-style” filled in circles to show current performance, a graph of the previous year trends, and – most importantly – an arrow to show the direction of the desired trend. This report is available at: . Both Florida and Virginia show a move towards both broadening the range of measures used and to tying measures more closely to broad goals and policies.

Performance Measures in MPOs and Localities

MAP-21 will also move MPOs to work in partnership with states to agree upon performance measures that align with national goals, statewide measures and system performance measures, and define performance targets to achieve desired outcomes for a region. In particular, the development of Long Range Transportation Plans will require greater alignment to MAP-21 by establishing specific goals, measures and targets for the development of a regional multimodal transportation network. Larger MPOs already do many of these things. For smaller MPOs, the move towards greater accountability in transportation investments and their documentation through performance measurement will undoubtedly be harder.

Finally, local governments – cities towns and counties – although not directly tied to new MAP-21 mandates, will likely feel the impact of performance based planning in the way they do transportation planning in the future. In Florida, for example, localities had already been accustomed to documenting traffic congestion through concurrency requirements.

If local governments move closer to performance-based planning, the impetus will likely come from any of three sources; from their MPOs and Long Range Transportation Plans using performance metrics, from state legislation requiring local accountability for transportation investments (as in Florida), or even from local citizens themselves, calling for greater transparency and accountability in the return on investment of public funds.

Conclusion: Two Ways of Looking at it

We can look at performance measures in two ways – extrinsically or intrinsically. If we see them extrinsically, as something imposed on us top-down by new laws and rules, we risk missing their real significance. Ultimately, we should see the recent thrust for performance measurement as something intrinsic – as coming from society itself, and from our own intrinsic desire to hold ourselves more accountable in the future. If we fail to see MAP-21 and its intergovernmental counterparts as part of a wider public sentiment to make transportation programs more accountable, we risk losing the public support that allowed those programs to be funded in the first place.

--Vlad Gavrilovic Cities That Work Blog

A version of this blog will be published as an article by the APA. The article is co-authored by Vlad Gavrilovic and Karen Kiselewski