A Wisconsin Evaluation of a Tool to Estimate the Economic Development Benefits of Highway Projects

HEAT is one of the more sophisticated configurations of computer programs for estimating the economic benefits of highway investments. However, there are several major issues related to adapting HEAT to another state and a complete re-implementation of HEAT may not be cost-effective. Potentially, certain concepts of HEAT can be efficiently strapped onto conventional statewide travel forecasting models with freight components; these are available in about one-fourth of the states, including Wisconsin. Wisconsin is an ideal location for testing HEAT-type concepts, beyond the demonstrated interest in the subject, because of the ready availability of critical software components. This project will implement enough of the HEAT methodology for testing the concept in selected highway corridors. Many states, including Wisconsin, have long sought a valid method of determining the economic development benefits of highway projects. It is widely recognized that economic development benefits are principally tied to the ability to move freight between points of production and points of consumption. A modeling system developed in Montana, called the Highway Economic Analysis Tool (HEAT), has shown promise as being able to tie forecasts of freight transportation to forecasts of economic development. This project will test a HEAT-like model.