Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
Planning · Environment · Real Estate

HEP Events Guidance Publications Glossary Awards Contacts

Washington State Department of Transportation

Introduction

Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is regarded as a leader in the use of performance measures for reporting and planning. In Washington, data collection and analysis of transportation system performance was first legislatively mandated in 1990, when WSDOT was directed to perform a "Programming and Prioritization Study" to evaluate the agency's programming process. Since that time WSDOT has made significant investments in data collection and analysis to support programming decisions. In 2002, WSDOT began to apply performance-based approaches to its public outreach and strategic communications.

WSDOT has used performance measures and strategic business plans to explain the organization's needs and performance to the public. Executives at WSDOT credit their performance-reporting techniques, adopted in 2002, with changing public perception of the agency. They used bound quarterly performance reports, distributed to legislators and media members, to demonstrate their ability to efficiently deliver projects and provide a high level of service. Over a five-year period, WSDOT was able to build a credible case to the public for increasing funding. A five-cent gas tax increase was approved in 2003, followed by a nine-cent gas tax increase in 2005.

Washington State produces a number of performance reports and performance-based planning documents, many of which are mandated by State Legislation or Executive Order (See Table 18).

Table 18. Washington State Transportation Plans and Performance Reports

Plan/Report Purpose
2007-2026 Washington Transportation Plan Statewide long-range transportation plan outlines transportation policy goals and investment priorities for the state.
2007-2026 Highway System Plan Identifies and prioritizes state highway system needs to support goals and objectives.
Strategic Highway Safety Plan, Target Zero 2007 Analyzes statewide safety data and identifies measurable priority objectives and strategies.
Other Modal Plans Identify needs, priorities, goals and performance measures for investments, strategies and policies for specific modes.
Business Directions: WSDOT's 2009-2015 Strategic Plan Sets measurable Agency objectives and strategies to achieve long- range transportation goals for a seven-year period.
2008 Sustainability Plan and Progress Report Reports on Agency's progress toward sustainable business practices and efficiencies goals.
The Gray Notebook Comprehensive quarterly Agency progress report on transportation measures.
Government Management, Accountability, and Performance Monthly progress report to Governor's office on progress toward transportation objectives.
Transportation Progress Report A biennial report submitted by the State Office of Financial Management to the State Legislature and Governor on progress toward transportation system goals.

Long Range Planning

The Washington statewide long range transportation plan, "2007-2026 Washington Transportation Plan (WTP)" was a collaborative effort between the Washington State Department of Transportation and the Washington State Transportation Commission. The plan provides recommendations for policy guidance and identifies transportation system investment priorities for all modes and jurisdictions statewide. It outlines a data-driven performance-based approach to setting policies and investment priorities.

In the 2007-2026 WTP, the Washington Transportation Commission recommended the development of a coordinated and comprehensive performance reporting process. The plan recommends investing in the development of robust outcome-based measures and for local jurisdictions to use a performance-based approach to investment decisions. The plan provides a series of examples taken from various editions of the Gray Notebook to illustrate how WSDOT measures system performance. As part of the long-range planning process, WSDOT developed a Data Library, a centralized online body of information and resources to support decision-making. The Data Library includes data and charts covering four key topics: Population, Economy, Facilities & Systems, and Facilities & System Use.

In Washington, six transportation policy goals guide the focus of the state transportation plans. Revised Code of Washington 47.04.280 was passed after the 2007-2026 WTP, and lists statewide Transportation Policy Goals with which projects and plans need to be consistent. A series of modal and regional transportation plans are consistent with the policies in state law. The 2007-2026 Highway System Plan, for example, assesses the condition and forecasts the needs of the state highway system and identifies potential solutions. Information from the Highway System Plan is necessary for updates to the statewide long range transportation plan and modal plans.

Table 19. 2007-2026 Washington Transportation Plan - Targets and Measures

Investment Guideline Goal Measure
Preservation Maintain interstate and state highways so that none are in "poor"" condition (0 percent) Percent of miles in "poor" condition
No bridges in the state are to be structurally deficient - (95 percent of bridges are in at least "fair" structural condition) Percent of bridge in at least "fair" structural condition
Safety Reduce the annual number of fatalities statewide Annual number of fatal collisions
Reduce the severity of collisions statewide Frequency and severity of disabling collisions in areas where cable median barrier has been installed
Reduce collisions caused by driver behaviors including seat belt use and driving under the influence Number of collisions related to driver behavior
Mobility - System Efficiencies Reduce delay time caused by incidents on state highways Actual overall clearance times
Reduce congestion by reducing the number of single-passenger commute trips through the Commute Trip Reduction program Rate of drive alone trips
Mobility - Bottlenecks and Chokepoints Reduce peak travel times Peak travel times
Reduce number of slow traffic days Number of slow traffic days
Reduce amount of lost throughput efficiency Amount of lost throughput efficiency
Environmental Quality Improve streams for fish habitat conditions by removing fish passage barriers Number of fish passage barriers removed
Manage roadsides to achieve better operation and environmental outcomes through Integrated Vegetation Management Percent reduction in the use of herbicides
Control noxious weeds
Achieve slope stability
Preserve sight distance
Mitigate unavoidable wetlands loss with replacement wetlands to achieve zero net loss of wetlands Percentage of successful replacement wetlands
Percent net loss of wetlands

Implementation

Performance-based management practices guide decision making at WSDOT. WSDOT believes that performance management provides an opportunity to better manage the agency and operate the state transportation system, as well as an opportunity to tell WSDOT's story. This means communicating with candor and transparency, using plain talk, making performance information accessible to the public and the media, and being current and timely when communicating agency and system performance.

Having an established performance measurement system in place has helped WSDOT develop a strategic plan that includes feasible performance targets and is aligned with the Governor's priorities and the state's long range transportation plan.. Performance measures helped WSDOT answer the central question its strategic plan proposed to answer: What are the most effective investments and values for tax payer dollars? WSDOT's strategic plan uses performance measures as a decision tool that aids in strategic thinking. WSDOT's strategic plan, "Business Directions", is aligned with the State's long range transportation plan and acknowledges past accomplishments, reports on external and internal driving forces affecting WSDOT's performance, and establishes specific measurable strategic initiatives to be accomplished over two to six years.

Reporting

WSDOT's quarterly systems performance reports, known as "The Gray Notebook (GNB)" set the industry standard for performance reporting. The groundwork for performance reporting was set by efforts begun in the 1990's to improve asset management and project prioritization techniques. The "Gray Notebook" rolls up relevant technical measures used by managers, many of which are taken from asset management systems, into strategic measures that sum up functional needs and progress without oversimplifying. WSDOT tracks more than 100 performance measures a year through the Gray Notebook, including a yearly in-depth Congestion Report analyzing the system performance of state highways.

WSDOT adheres to performance journalism principles, using clear, easy-to-understand language to communicate performance results to diverse audiences. The data are presented graphically and results are explained in concise narratives. The "Beige Pages" of the "The Gray Notebook" report on the delivery of the projects funded by the 2003 Transportation Funding Package, the 2005 Transportation Funding Package, and pre-existing funds. The "Beige Pages" contain project details, narrative project summaries, detailed on-time and on-budget results, and financial information.

WSDOT provides monthly reports to the Governor's Office on the performance of specific system measures. In addition, the GNB represents a "one stop shopping" consistent basis for agency performance reporting and feeds other external reporting needs such as the Governor's Government Management, Accountability and Performance (GMAP) reports The GMAP report graphs trends for specific goals selected by the Governor and provides a summary analysis of current performance and action plans. In addition, WSDOT supports the development of the Governor's biennial statewide Transportation Progress Report that is submitted to the State Legislature. Both of these reports align with the goals set forth in the state law.

WSDOT's Strategic Assessment Office has eight full-time personnel dedicated to collecting and reporting performance measures and developing strategic documents. Initially, WSDOT faced challenges in assuring data quality and establishing internal data control systems. Data quality control and integrity of analysis continues to be the number one priority for managers and staff alike. Currently, the biggest challenges include recruiting and retaining qualified personnel and establishing automated processes for data integration, analysis and archiving.

Figure 10: WSDOT Strategic Planning Framework

need alt text

Source: WSDOT Strategic Assessment Office

Conclusion

Washington State DOT does an excellent job defining performance measures for specific goals and objectives and reporting on those measures. While some of those performance reports are mandated now through legislation or executive order, Washington State DOT initially led the development and has embraced performance-based planning and reporting as a way to make better decisions and communicate to the public. What is clear is that WSDOT has developed and consistently applied a performance based approach that first collects and analyzes data to assess needs and performance, then makes performance based investment decisions, tracks progress towards meeting stated goals and informs future decision making and strategic priority setting goals.

Table 20. WSDOT Long Range Transportation Plan - Targets and Measures

Goal Target Measure
Preservation Maintain interstate and State highways so that none are in "poor" condition (0 percent) Percent of miles in "poor" condition
No bridges in the State are to be structurally deficient - (95 percent of bridges are in at least "fair" structural condition) Percent of bridge in at least "fair" structural condition
Safety Reduce the annual number of fatalities Statewide Annual number of fatal collisions
Reduce the severity of collisions Statewide Frequency and severity of disabling collisions in areas where cable median barrier has been installed
Reduce collisions caused by driver behaviors including seat belt use and driving under the influence Number of collisions related to driver behavior
Mobility - System Efficiencies Reduce delay time caused by incidents on State highways Overall clearance times
Reduce the number of single-passenger commute trips Rate of drive alone trips
Mobility - Bottlenecks and Chokepoints Reduce peak travel times Peak travel times
Reduce number of slow traffic days Number of slow traffic days
Reduce amount of lost throughput efficiency Amount of lost throughput efficiency
Environmental Quality Improve streams for fish habit conditions Number of fish passage barriers removed
Manage roadsides to achieve better operation and environmental outcomes Percent reduction in the use of herbicides
Mitigate unavoidable wetlands loss Percent net loss of wetlands

Programming

The State Transportation Improvement Program identifies specific projects, cost estimates and funding for the next four years.

Implementation

Having an established performance measurement system in place has helped WSDOT develop a strategic plan aligned with the state's long-range transportation plan that includes feasible performance targets. Performance measures helped WSDOT answer the central questions its strategic plan proposed to answer: What do we deliver? How are we performing? What do we need more of? WSDOT's strategic plan uses performance measures as a taking-off point for more strategic thinking. WSDOT's strategic plan, Business Directions, is aligned with the State's long-range transportation plan and acknowledges past accomplishments, appraises external forces affecting WSDOT's performance, and establishes specific measurable strategic initiatives to be accomplished over two to four years (see Figure 10).

Reporting

WSDOT's quarterly reports, known as The Gray Notebook, set the industry standard for performance reporting, but the groundwork for performance reporting was set by efforts begun in the 1990's to improve asset management and project prioritization techniques. The Gray Notebook rolls up relevant technical measures used by managers, many of which are taken from asset management systems, into strategic measures that sum up functional needs and progress without oversimplifying. The data are presented graphically and results are explained in concise narratives. The "beige pages" of the The Gray Notebook report on the delivery of the projects funded by the 2003 Transportation Funding Package, the 2005 Transportation Funding Package, and pre-existing funds. The "beige pages" contain project details, narrative project summaries, detailed on-time and on-budget results, and financial information.

WSDOT provides monthly reports to the Governor's Office on the performance of specific system measures. The Government Management, Accountability and Performance reports serve as an internal and external tool for sharing up-to-date performance data. The report graphs trends for specific goals and provides a summary analysis of current performance and action plans to improve performance. In addition, WSDOT is required to provide a biennial progress report to the State Legislator on transportation goals. Both of these reports align with the goals set forth in the Washington Transportation Plan.

WSDOT has an Office of Strategic Assessment with six full-time personnel dedicated to collecting and reporting performance measures and developing strategic documents. Initially, WSDOT faced major challenges in assuring data quality and establishing internal data control systems. Currently, their biggest challenges are recruiting and retaining qualified personnel and establishing automated processes for data collection and integration.

Conclusion

WSDOT does an excellent job defining performance measures for specific goals and objectives and reporting on those measures. While many of those performance reports are mandated through legislation or executive order, WSDOT has embraced performance-based planning and reporting as a way to make better decisions and communicate to the public. What is clear is that WSDOT has developed and consistently applied a performance-based approach that first collects and analyzes data to assess needs and performance, then develops measurable goals and strategies to meet those needs, and finally tracks progress towards meeting those goals.

Observations and Insights

Updated: 09/15/2011
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000