Research Program Design---Administration of Highway and Transportation Agencies. Strengthened Economic Basis for Systematic Selection of Highway and Transit Projects

Two policy developments associated with the next Congressional authorization of the Federal highway and transit programs suggest that a more comprehensive and generally acceptable methodology for analysis of the economic and environmental merits of alternative investment opportunities is needed.  First, the report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission has called for a restructuring of the federal programs to be more performance-based, outcome-driven, and accountable for results.  Second, concerns over global climate change will likely require that an overall assessment be made of how proposed transportation system improvements will affect greenhouse gas emissions. These new policy developments call for more effective methods for direct comparison of highway and transit investments, calling into question whether benefit-cost analysis of projects, as currently practiced, alone provides an adequate basis for making systematic investment decisions. Project benefit-cost analysis assesses whether the benefits to be realized from an investment are sufficiently great to justify the investment costs. As the method currently is applied, benefits are defined primarily as improvements in transportation services, for example reductions in travel time or shipping costs for system users. These benefits are presumed to be associated with enhanced economic performance and societal wellbeing, but the relationships are difficult to measure. Direct comparison of highway and transit projects is problematic because they typically serve very different sets of users. Valuing environmental consequences of these investments is also problematic. Concern over global climate change has suggested to some observers, for example, that reducing transportation-related greenhouse-gas emissions should take precedence over any concerns for the user benefits and broader economic benefits that have traditionally been the justification for transportation investments. Recent work in the United Kingdom has begun to explore the need for a new investment-analysis framework.  The U.K. Department of Transport report <em><span>Towards a Sustainable Transport System, Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World,</span> expresses a commitment to a transportation policy that delivers economic growth and lower carbon emissions, asserting that "supporting economic growth and tackling carbon emissions … does not have to be an either or choice." </em>for example, </font><font size="2">Two other British documents--<em>The Eddington Transport Study</em> and <em>The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change</em>, both produced in 2006--considered the importance of the transportation system to the nations economy, the role of the transport sector in reducing greenhouse gases, and the needs for more comprehensive perspective on benefits and costs in transportation investment decision making. A consensus has begun to emerge in Europe that if transportation policies and projects to be considered "sustainable" they must represent a careful balance of economic, environmental, and societal concerns.  AASHTO's 2007 report, <em>A New Vision for the 21st Century</em>, concurs with this principle, calling for adoption of a "triple bottom line" assessment of U. S. transportation policies, strategies and project investments to ensure that they yield robust economic growth, a healthy environment, and improved quality of life for all citizens.  While it is likely that some concerns such as reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions will most effectively be addressed at sector levels, the balance needed achieve sustainability in project selection requires new investment-analysis methods. These methods must not only support choices among alternative investment options, but also provide bases for assessing how effectively chosen options contribute to achievement of broader policy goals established, for example, in legislation or program planning. The objectives of this research are to devise a comprehensive framework for assessing highway and transit projects based on their improvement of transportation system performance and their sustainability and to demonstrate how the framework can be applied by state DOTs and MPOs to support project-selection decisions. The framework should consider how transportation investments may improve both mobility and access, including lower-income individuals, those with disabilities and other special need, and rural as well as urban communities. Because these objectives are quite broad, this project may be the first stage of a larger research effort to develop a guidebook for transportation project analysis.</font></div><div style="MARGIN: 0in 0in 0pt"> </div></font></div>


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  • Status: Terminated
  • Funding: $350000.00
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 20-24(65)

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Lemer, Andrew

  • Start Date: 20081030
  • Expected Completion Date: 0
  • Actual Completion Date: 0
  • Source Data: RiP Project 19821

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01549595
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Cooperative Highway Research Program
  • Contract Numbers: Project 20-24(65)
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Jan 3 2015 1:01AM