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Wasatch Front Regional Council

Introduction

The Wasatch Front Regional Council (WFRC) serves as the MPO for 60 cities and 5 counties in the greater Salt Lake City region. WFRC's work is governed by a 25-member board comprised of local elected officials, and representatives of regional and state agencies.

WFRC is moving towards a performance-based approach to multi-modal transportation planning by integrating performance measures into its primary planning and programming documents, the Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Approach

WFRC's formally adopted performance-based planning approach focuses on outcome measures and transportation system performance analysis in the RTP. WFRC is relatively new to performance measurement, so staff noted that the agency's approach is in a state of refinement and evolution.

WFRC does not currently use formally adopted performance measures to evaluate the success of the planning process itself. However, staff observed that a "successful" planning process:

Staff also suggested two informal measures that could be used to demonstrate the "success" of the planning process itself:

Based on these two criteria, WFRC staff noted that the region's current RTP planning process was more "aggressive and successful" than any of its past planning efforts. For example, more than 1,000 people provided input in over a dozen workshops through a partnership with Envision Utah, to develop a vision for regional growth and development that flowed directly into RTP preparation. Staff reported two major effects of this level of outreach and engagement during the planning process:

In conclusion, WFRC's approach to performance-based transportation planning is balanced between formally adopted outcome measures, and more informal "process" elements such as public outreach and stakeholder engagement.

Long Range Planning

WFRC's formal use of performance measures is concentrated in the long-range transportation planning process. Staff noted that the current 2007-2030 RTP (adopted in May 2007) was a departure from past plans in the level of outreach and engagement, and also marked the council's first concerted attempt at "performance-based" planning. WFRC conducted two primary levels of performance evaluation to shape decision-making for the $14.6 billion in highway improvements and $6.1 billion in transit improvements included in the RTP:

Prior to beginning the RTP update, WFRC partnered with Envision Utah to conduct a scenario-based land use and transportation planning exercise called Wasatch Choices 2040 in 2005. The process engaged more than a 1,000 members of the public to evaluate alternatives, then develop and adopt a vision to guide future growth and development in the region. WFRC used the results of the Wasatch Choices visioning exercise to create a vision to guide the RTP as well. As a result, the RTP vision includes quantifiable performance targets for the transportation system in 2030 (which flow directly from the performance vision of Wasatch Choices 2040):

WFRC then conducted a "system-level" evaluation of three transportation system alternatives for inclusion in the RTP, all of which were designed to have approximately the same overall cost:

The intention of this analysis was to evaluate system level performance, rather than individual projects. Nineteen system performance measures were developed to evaluate the overall transportation functionality of each alternative with respect to financial, social, and environmental costs (see Table 11 below). The analysis focused on relative values that would allow for comparison and contrast among alternative system investment choices. For each evaluation measure, one of the three systems performed better, middle, or worse than the others.

Table 11 . WFRC's Transportation System Evaluation Measures (for RTP)

Evalution Measure Definition*
Highway
Vehicle Miles Traveled Total daily auto miles traveled (millions of miles per day).
Auto Delay Annual number of hours of auto delay caused by traffic congestion during the peak periods (millions of hours per year).
Home-based Work Auto Speeds Average speed of all auto trips between home and work on a daily basis (miles per hour).
Freight Center to Freeway Access Sum of the individual afternoon peak period travel times, in minutes, between each of the largest freight centers and the nearest freeway (travel time in minutes).
Auto Access to Major Activity, Mixed-use, and Infill Areas Sum of all households and jobs within 20 minutes automobile travel time during the afternoon peak period of each of the identified major activity centers, mixed-use centers, and infill areas (millions of households and jobs).
Households and Employment Potentially Impacted by New Capacity Projects Number of households and jobs in each five acre grid cell adjacent to a roadway project (millions of households and jobs).
Person Hours by Auto Total Daily person hours spent in an automobile (millions of persons per auto hour).
Transit
Weighted Transit Speeds Average perceived travel speed of all transit trips assuming that the time waiting for transit is perceived as twice as long as the time spent on the vehicle (miles per hour).
Transit Access to Major Activity and Mixed-use Centers Sum of all households and jobs within 20 minutes transit travel time during the afternoon peak period of each of the identified major activity centers and mixed-use centers (millions of households and jobs within 20 minutes).
Transit Proportion of Work and College Travel Proportion of all Home-based Work and Home-based College person trips taken by transit in the afternoon peak period (percentage of total population).
Transit Passenger Miles Number of miles traveled by transit passengers each day (millions of miles per day).
Both Highways and Transit
Traffic Volumes in Constrained Critical Corridors Sum of all morning peak period auto volumes on all modeled street segments that fall within identified areas that have both severe congestion and a practical inability to widen roads (millions of automobiles).
Employment Access for Disadvantaged Populations Sum of all jobs within 20 minute auto and transit afternoon travel times of all Traffic Analysis Zones with a disproportionately high percentage of low income families, minorities, persons with disabilities, seniors, and households with no autos (thousands of jobs within 2-minute commute).
Improvements to Geographic Choke Points Both the number of projects crossing regional geographical choke points and the peak period auto and transit seat capacity added by these projects (number of alternatives and capacity added).
Potential Impacts to Historic Neighborhoods Project miles bisecting US Census Block Groups which have a proportion of homes built prior to 1950 which is higher than the regional average (project miles).
Potential Impacts to Disadvantaged Populations Project miles bisecting a US Census Block Group with a disproportionately high percentage of low income families, minorities, persons with disabilities, seniors, and households with no autos (project miles).
Air Quality Tons of Nitrogen Oxide, Carbon Monoxide, and Volatile Organic Compounds emitted daily by transportation sources in winter conditions (tons of emissions per day).
Potential Impacts to Environmentally Critical Lands Acres of steep slope, wildlife habitat, wetlands, streams, and lakeshores within 100 to 300 feet (depending upon facility type) of a project centerline (number of acres).
Construction Costs Estimated 2006 highway construction and major transit capital costs (millions of 2006 dollars).

*All transportation statistics are projected for the year 2030

*All transportation statistics are for travel within Weber, Davis, and Salt Lake Counties

*Morning and afternoon peak periods are 6:00 am through 9:00 am and 3:00 pm through 6:00 pm

As a result of the system-level performance evaluation, WFRC adopted the "Vision" alternative, which performed in the middle for VMT and transit ridership outcomes (i.e. represented a balance between the "Freeway" and "Arterial" alternatives), but was the best match for Wasatch Choices 2040 growth principals of "provide good access to mixed-use areas, disadvantaged populations, and freight centers."

Programming

WFRC updates its six year TIP every year. The 2010-2015 TIP, adopted in August 2009, includes approximately $27 million each year for individual highway, transit, and bicycle/pedestrian projects.

WFRC applies nine overall performance criteria across three project category types1 to judge proposals against RTP goals and make final project selection decisions. The criteria are given different weighting depending on the project type under consideration; they reflect the performance evaluation measures used in the RTP but are not formally linked to them. Staff noted that WFRC would like to develop formal links between performance measurement in the RTP and TIP, but explained that it is challenging to develop measures that apply to both, since the RTP process focuses on system-level analysis and the TIP focuses on project-level analysis.

Implementation and Reporting

WFRC does not currently conduct a post-implementation evaluation of projects to assess performance outcomes relative to RTP goals or TIP criteria. Staff noted that the current TIP criteria lend themselves to after-action evaluation, and expressed an interest in moving in this direction in the future.

Staff report that WFRC has begun tracking certain aspects of system performance in the past two-to-three years. Performance tracking is partial and carried out internally, however; it is not synthesized in a single, publically available report or website, formally linked back into the planning process, or adopted as part of an overall performance management approach. For example, WFRC tracks air quality and congestion levels at the regional level and incident management for individual projects in separate reports and publications, but does not report systematically on all nineteen evaluation measures used in the RTP performance analysis. However, staff reported an interest in moving in this direction in the future. In particular, staff noted an interest in benchmarking against RTP goals and tracking performance towards accomplishing them.

One constraint noted by staff with regard to performance reporting/monitoring is the availability and quality of data. Currently, data are more readily available at the system level rather than for individual projects because WFRC does not collect official before/after data on individual projects. Staff noted that there are opportunities to move in this direction, however. As WFRC moves to define more specific performance measures, increase performance tracking, and refine its tools, data, and technical analysis it hopes to use reporting to help integrate performance monitoring and create more consistency across planning, programming, and project development phases.

Discussion

WFRC staff noted that the agency has become much more performance-oriented in recent years by developing more specific goals and objectives and beginning to track performance; however staff also expressed that WFRC "hasn't achieved full performance-based planning yet - we do a good job now and are moving in this direction but need better technical tools and more consistency across planning phases."
Currently, WFRC focuses its formal performance evaluation on the outcomes of its plans, rather than on the planning process itself. Staff felt that it is useful to focus on projects and outcomes first, but noted an interest in developing measures to assess the success of the process in more formal ways as well. Staff also noted that adding an additional layer of analysis would require additional resources, however, since the Council already invests significant staff time and resources into analyzing projects included in its plans and programs.
WFRC staff described several challenges to effective performance measurement:

WFRC staff also provided feedback, recommendations, and requests regarding national performance measures:

Observations and Insights


1 The only exception is CMAQ, for which WFRC performs a separate benefit cost analysis based on air quality emissions reduction estimates.

Updated: 09/15/2011
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