Right-Sizing Transportation Investments--Methods for Planning and Programming

Across the United States, transportation agencies share common problems: aging infrastructure, unstable funding, changing performance expectations and even missions, and outdated programs and analytical tools that ultimately hamper the ability of these agencies to expand or even sustain a viable and efficient, multimodal transportation system. Transportation agencies need practical and implementable methods to analyze investment tradeoffs based on application of "right-sizing" scenarios so that they can continue to be good stewards of a functional and accessible transportation system - all while working within limited means. This challenge is one that affects all states. With respect to planning and managing assets, many departments of transportation (DOTs) and other agencies are moving to performance-based approaches such as "Practical Design" which emphasizes the system as a functioning whole rather than as a set of separate projects in limited locations. Performance-Based Practical Design (PBPD) is a concept that has been studied in-depth by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is an approach to transportation system planning and development that relies on use of appropriate performance-analysis tools, taking into consideration both short- and long-term project and system goals while addressing project purpose and need. These performance-based approaches confront the risk of possible overdesign versus infrastructure shortcomings while emphasizing the use of clearly delineated objectives to help guide decision making. Embedded in these approaches is recognition that overinvestment in one location effectively removes resources and availability for other potential projects and reduces overall system performance. The emphasis on understanding the role of individual assets relative to the overall system is part of a much broader U.S. shift toward performance-based planning. Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act require the use of performance measures within a risk-based planning framework. An important component of this new framework is to move beyond condition or state of good repair measures alone, focusing instead on maximizing the performance as part of a transportation system. That shift highlights the need for improved analysis and evaluation procedures in support of decisions, considering a wide array of non-capital solutions that meet performance objectives, moving past a simple binary decision of whether or not to maintain or replace the asset as built. Despite innovations in Practical Design, new approaches to scenario planning, and application of performance measurement, billions of dollars of investment needs are identified each year which remain unmet. The long-term costs to either preserve, replace, or maintain elements of the infrastructure increase with each year of underfunding and neglect until it becomes infeasible for some assets to perform efficiently. Contributing to this problem, agencies may not have up-to-date methods, tools, or even policies to re-evaluate and address the future of either individual assets or the performance expectations of the system as a whole. There are few practical decision guides within the planning and resource allocation process by which an agency can evaluate funding trends, identify right-sizing opportunities, and analyze tradeoffs across multiple objectives to allocate resources appropriately. Given these conditions, there is a critical research need to enhance existing decision-making processes, improve and organize available analytical tools for right-sizing and implementing sustainable levels of investment. Absent such guidance, the problem of passive "disinvestment" will continue to pose both long-term performance challenges and economic inefficiencies. The objective of this research is to develop guidance (tools, procedures, and policies) for identifying, evaluating, and communicating multimodal transportation investment right-sizing scenarios. Although agencies are generally equipped to assess investment strategies, sufficient guidance is not readily available on how to identify and assess right-sizing or disinvestment scenarios in ways that clearly explain decisions associated with resource tradeoffs and constraints and how these decisions impact overall system resilience and sustainability. Outcomes of this research should enable agencies to answer questions such as, "Why are we spending more or less on (or eliminating) a given asset; and why is that a good decision given the functional requirements of the broader transportation system"? In response to this objective, the product of this research should be guidance for practitioners to implement and communicate right-sizing methods, applicable to individual projects and system-wide investment strategies. This guidance should also define and identify additional components that can or should be encompassed by the concept of "right-sizing"; as well as present a set of practical approaches for measuring and evaluating performance outcomes across a broad set of investment options. In addition, it should compile and include a review of existing and emerging innovative technology and policy solutions, by identifying knowledge gaps faced by practitioners as a basis for suggesting analytical and practical approaches designed to fill those gaps. These practical approaches, and their associated analytical techniques, should be readily available and transferrable to DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional planning organizations (RPOs), and other agencies, considering available and emerging models and procedures while analyzing options and outcomes likely to arise from alternative right-sizing scenarios. Planning and development scenarios should also consider the risk of overinvestment versus underinvestment. In summary, the research should develop a business process with supporting analytical methods for identifying, evaluating, implementing, and communicating effective transportation investment right-sizing scenarios. Specifically, the product of this study should (a) guide agencies in the identification of alternative investment situations and right-sizing opportunities, and (b) clearly demonstrate how various tools and techniques can be used in an integrated fashion to compare and contrast the effects of implementing different investment and disinvestment scenarios. In support of the objectives, the research plan should consider but not be limited to the following steps: (1) Propose guidance to (a) identify investment trends and document examples of implicit disinvestment; (b) assess factors driving such trends and their implications; (c) offer right-sizing options to manage the anticipated change in ways that account for potential wider economic and societal impacts, considering resiliency and sustainability; and (d) offer methods for communicating potential tradeoffs; (2) Demonstrate how agencies can alter trends, demand, and levels of funding with effective policy and investment decision making; (3) practitioners as they apply a right-sizing approach to projects, broader asset investments, and overall agency funding priorities; (4) Provide practical methods and business processes for determining whether investment and policy strategies across programs, asset class, or geographic area are consistent with performance outcomes and functional needs; and develop tools, guides, and suggested policies for practitioners to implement those processes. (5) Describe effective and applicable practice(s) for developing and implementing a right-sizing program, including but not limited to the following: (a) understanding and articulating the rationale for planning, programming, and funding decisions; (b) making the most efficient use of asset management planning; (c) recognizing potential disinvestment options and implementable strategies; (d) anticipating, adapting, mitigating, and communicating the long-term consequences of a change in funding level for system users; and (e) using analytical models and technology solutions available to address this issue; and (6) Define and quantify, where possible, the potential benefits of applying the procedures and method(s) developed by this study for stakeholders, including the communities that stand to benefit from infrastructure investment strategies, and describe effective communication tools and techniques.

Language

  • English

Project

  • Status: Active
  • Funding: $500000
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 19-14

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  United States  20001

    American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO)

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

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  United States  20590
  • Project Managers:

    Goldstein, Lawrence

  • Performing Organizations:

    Economic Development Research Group, Incorporated

    Boston, MA  United States 
  • Principal Investigators:

    Duncan, Chandler

  • Start Date: 20170203
  • Expected Completion Date: 20190202
  • Actual Completion Date: 0
  • Source Data: RiP Project 41481

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01628057
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: Transportation Research Board
  • Contract Numbers: Project 19-14
  • Files: TRB, RiP
  • Created Date: Mar 2 2017 1:00AM