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Performance Based Planning and Programming Guidebook

2. Overview of PBPP: Key Concepts

While performance management has its roots in the private sector, where it is used to improve business outcomes, performance management has become increasingly common among public-sector agencies. Whether the process is public or private, the strategic objective of a performance based approach is to use performance information to make decisions that are more effective and efficient and lead to improved outcomes.

Within transportation planning and programming, this means selecting investments to most effectively and efficiently achieve desired outcomes, as determined through public input and agency strategic direction. A PBPP process becomes cyclical with information on the performance of the system and the expected benefits of system improvements strategically directing investments.

PBPP is an integrated way of doing business within statewide, metropolitan, and non-metropolitan transportation planning and programming. While some transportation agencies have dedicated staff for performance management, others do not. Regardless of the organizational structure for collecting, reporting, and using performance information, it is important that there is an understanding and buy-in among various departments within the agency and among stakeholders about a PBPP approach, given the cooperation associated with this approach. This section provides an overview of:

Why Use a Performance-Based Approach to Planning and Programming?

There are many benefits to adopting a performance-based approach to planning and programming. PBPP focuses agencies on desired outcomes, outlines how to attain results, clarifies necessary resources and evaluates the results attained. Below are some of the advantages of adopting a performance-based approach to transportation planning and programming.

Improved Investment Decision Making

PBPP allows for clear and open discussions about desired outcomes of the public and the strategic direction that an agency should take. PBPP provides key information for the decision-making process by heightening the role of data and focusing attention on performance outcomes. Furthermore, the focus on the multimodal transportation system helps officials move beyond "siloed" thinking and policymaking.

Improved Return on Investments and Resource Allocation

In a performance-based planning and programming cycle, information about past performance and expected future performance feeds into decisions about the best use of public funds, thus increasing the return on investments made with increasingly scarce resources. Data on performance gaps and needs and the prioritization of projects using information on their contribution to meeting objectives also improves resource allocation. PBPP should be integrated into transportation asset management (TAM), transportation safety planning (TSP), congestion management and other performance-based processes, which supply data necessary for informed investment decision-making. By making decisions to improve how the transportation system functions, agencies engaged in PBPP can minimize life-cycle costs of keeping the transportation system in good condition.

Demonstrating the Funding-Performance Link

In 2005, the Minnesota Department of transportation submitted a proposal to the state's legislature that outlined a performance-based case for reallocating funding from highway construction to highway maintenance based on reports of poor pavement quality. By demonstrating that the adjustments would result in long-term savings, the DOT was able to get policymakers' approval of the reallocation.

Improved System Performance

By ensuring that resources are spent to achieve the goals set forth in a PBPP process, societal needs such as safety, mobility, asset preservation, and the environment can be addressed in accordance with the priority placed on each by the public. Rather than focusing on the stand-alone benefits of a specific project, PBPP encourages planners to evaluate and recommend strategies, projects, and programs to policy-makers based on anticipated system-wide impacts and support for goals.

Increased Accountability and Transparency

By providing clear documentation about why transportation dollars were spent in a certain manner and what were the performance results, gives the public a greater understanding and faith that transportation dollars are being spent wisely to solve the most pressing problems.

Demonstrates Link between Funding and Performance

Budgets across the country are tighter than ever, and policymakers' funding decisions receive intense scrutiny by the public. Performance-based planning and programming-by offering clear expectations about the level of performance that is likely to be achieved with a given level of funding-can help make the case for additional funding.


Among transportation agencies, terminology related to performance management are often used in different ways - specifically, terms such as "goals," "objectives," "policies," "principles," "strategies," and "recommendations" are sometimes used interchangeably or in ill-defined ways. What may be considered an objective in one area may be a goal in another, and sometimes the goals that are defined may be more like policies or strategies in another area. Moreover, terms like "performance measures," "metrics," "indicators," and "measures of effectiveness" are often used in different places to represent essentially the same thing.

In order to have a common understanding of the process of PBPP, the following terms are defined in this document as follows (and an example for "safety" as a goal is provided):

Common Elements of PBPP

While there are unique issues associated with transportation planning and programming at the statewide level, metropolitan level, non-metropolitan level, and within transit agencies - including different requirements in relation to long-range transportation plans (LRTPs), programming documents (TIP/STIP), and related processes and funding programs - there are common elements associated with PBPP.

Figure 1 provides a framework for PBPP, identifying primary process elements of an analytic approach to transportation planning and programming, drawing on discussions of PBPP among agencies across the country. This framework demonstrates how PBPP stages fit within a traditional planning and programming process.[20]

Figure 1. Framework for PBPP

Title: Figure 1. Framework for PBPP - Description: The Framework for PBPP includes 3 main components - Planning, Programming, and Implementation and Evaluation. Planning has two stages, 1. "Strategic Direction - Where do we want to go?," which includes a. Goals and objectives and b. Performance measures. 2. "Analysis - How are we going to get there?," which includes a. Identify trends and targets, b. Identify strategies and analyze alternatives, and c. Develop investment priorities. Planning leads to "Programming - What will it take?," which includes a. Investment plan, b. Resource allocation, and c. Program of projects. Programming leads to "Implementation and Evalutaion - How did we do?" which includes a. Monitoring, b. Evaluation, and c. Reporting. Public involvement and Data are important components of the framework. The goals, objectives, measures, and strategies can all be adjusted, if necessary, through a feedback loop based on the findings from the analysis, programming, and implementation and evaluation stages.

Strategic Direction (Where do we want to go?) - PBPP is based on a strategic direction, which is used to shape decisions about policies and investments. In the transportation planning process, strategic direction is based upon a vision for the future, as articulated by the public and stakeholders. This vision often encompasses broad community factors such as quality of life, economic vitality, and environmental quality. PBPP includes:

Programming (What will it take?) - Programming involves selecting specific investments to include in an agency capital plan and/or in a STIP or TIP. In a PBPP approach, programming decisions are made based on their ability to support attainment of performance targets or contribute to desired trends, and account for a range of factors.

Implementation and Evaluation (How did we do?) - These activities occur throughout implementation on an on-going basis, and include:

The data generated through monitoring system conditions and evaluating the impacts of investments feeds into subsequent cycles of planning, and are critical for refining objectives, measures and targets, and for informing prioritization of future investments.

A significant aspect of PBPP is that each step in the process is clearly connected to the next. Goals tie directly into specific, measureable and actionable objectives, which are often developed in connection with the selection of performance measures. These objectives and performance measures, in turn, are used to develop targets or desired trends and are a basis for selecting and analyzing strategies for the LRTP. The LRTP priorities are tied into project selection decisions for the TIP/STIP. Public involvement and data from monitoring and evaluation efforts are used throughout the process.

Common Themes within a PBPP Process

Some common themes within a PBPP process include: coordination and cooperation among planning partners; integration among planning activities; public and stakeholder involvement; and use of data and tools.

Cooperation and Coordination

Given that the transportation planning process is commonly referred to as a 3C process - due to its cooperative, continuing, and coordinated nature - collaboration among planning partners is vital in a PBPP process.

Within Agencies

PBPP will require greater internal agency coordination across "silos" that can occur when focusing on specific functional areas, such as safety, congestion, asset condition, and environmental programs. This goes beyond traditional approaches and requires coordination in thinking about how targets relate to each other, as well as considering concepts such as risk management, lifecycle costs, and long-term sustainability. PBPP involves considering the potential trade-offs among goal areas, and considering how strategies support more than one goal.

Across State DOTs, MPOs, RTPOs, and Transit Agencies

Effective PBPP almost always involves collaborative thinking about performance across agencies, particularly given the relationships of different agencies in transportation planning, project development, and operations. Specifically, State DOTs, MPOs, RTPOs, and transit agencies need to align their goals, objectives, measures, and targets with one another. This does not mean that each agency must use the same goals, objectives, and measures. Unique local circumstances, agency-specific issues, and differences between urban and rural areas can all spur variations among agencies in the emphasis placed on different performance areas. However, it is important that goals and objectives of various transportation agencies working in the same areas are supportive of each other.

Linkages between State, MPO, and Transit Agency Performance-Based Plans

An MPO shall integrate in the metropolitan transportation planning process, the following elements of state and providers of public transportation Performance-Based plans directly or by reference:

  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Performance measures
  • Targets

23 USC Section 134 (h) (2) (D)
49 USC Section 5303 (h) (2) (D)

A State shall integrate into the statewide transportation planning process, the following elements of state and providers of public transportation (in urbanized areas not represented by an MPO) Performance-Based plans directly or by reference:

  • Goals
  • Objectives
  • Performance measures
  • Targets

23 USC Section 135 (d) (2) (C)
49 USC Section 5304 (d) (2) (C)

With Traditional and Non-Traditional Planning Partners

In relation to many goals (e.g., safety, economic vitality, asset preservation, health, and environment), non-transportation decisions and strategies (e.g., driver behavior, vehicle technologies, and land use patterns) play an important role in determining and achieving desired outcomes. Therefore, setting goals and objectives may highlight the important role of collaboration between transportation agencies and other partners, such as local governments, the business community, freight communities, law enforcement, housing agencies, economic development organizations, and others. This approach has been effectively applied in Strategic Highway Safety Plans, which bring together transportation engineers, law enforcement, public education, and policy makers to examine data on the sources of safety problems and consider a full range of strategies. Planning partners in PBPP should include tribal governments, the health community, education community, resource agencies, Federal Land Management agencies, and others. Stakeholders and partners should also be kept in mind when developing measures to ensure they resonate, are easy to understand, and relate to common goals.

Linkages across Performance-Based Planning Activities

PBPP is integrated throughout the decision-making process. Consequently, data driven and performance-based plans should be integrated into a PBPP process. A range of plans outlined below use performance- based approaches, including the following:

State [Highway] Asset Management Plan: "A State asset management plan shall include strategies leading to a program of projects that would make progress toward achievement of the State targets for asset condition and performance of the National Highway System." 23 USC Section 119(e).

State Strategic Highway Safety Plan: "[A] State shall have in effect a State highway safety improvement program under which the state (A) develops, implements, and updates a State strategic highway safety plan that identifies and analyzes highway safety programs and opportunities…, (B) produces a program or projects or strategies to reduce identified safety problems; and (C) evaluates the strategic highway safety plan on a regularly recurring basis in accordance with subsection (d)(1) to ensure the accuracy of the data and priority of proposed strategies." 23 USC Section 148(c).

MPO Congestion Management Process: "The transportation planning process in a TMA shall address congestion management through a process that provides for safe and effective integrated management and operation of the multimodal transportation system, based on a cooperatively developed and implemented metropolitan-wide strategy, of new and existing transportation facilities… through the use of travel demand reduction and operational management strategies. The development of a congestion management process should result in multimodal system performance measures and strategies that can be reflected in the metropolitan transportation plan and TIP." 23 CFR Section 450.320(a),(b).

Transit Asset Management Plan: "…each recipient of Federal financial assistance under this chapter shall establish performance targets in relation to the performance measures established by [USDOT]....Each designated recipient of Federal financial assistance under this chapter shall submit to the Secretary an annual report that describes- "(A) the progress of the recipient during the fiscal year to which the report relates toward meeting the performance targets…for that fiscal year; and (B) the performance targets established by the recipient for the subsequent fiscal year." 49 USC Section 5326(c).

Transit Agency Safety Plan: "…each recipient or State… shall certify that the recipient or State has established a comprehensive agency safety plan that includes…methods for identifying and evaluating safety risks throughout all elements of the public transportation system of the recipient…strategies to minimize the exposure of the public, personnel, and property to hazards and unsafe conditions…performance targets based on the safety performance criteria and state of good repair standards…" 49 USC Section 5329(d).

State Freight Plans: "The Secretary shall encourage each State to develop a freight plan that provides a comprehensive plan for the immediate and long-range planning activities and investments of the State with respect to freight." MAP-21, Section 1118, amending 23 USC 167.

Each of these documents and their associated processes include objectives, performance measures, data collection and monitoring, selection of strategies, and evaluation. These performance-based planning efforts can provide inputs and insights to inform State and MPO LRTPs, and should be developed to support the broader vision, goals, and objectives of the LRTPs.

For instance, transportation asset management is a strategic and systematic process for managing physical assets effectively throughout their lifecycle in order to make better decisions based upon quality information and defined objectives, and is closely linked to PBPP. Consequently, a Transportation Asset Management Plan (TAMP) should connect with the LRTP and reflect common goals and priorities. [21] The best way to define the relationship between asset management and performance based planning is to recognize that a transportation system's performance depends on many factors influenced by the physical condition of facilities, including passenger and freight demand, safety characteristics, capacity, and user behavior. Agencies should try to ensure that the schedule for developing the TAMP aligns with planning and programming cycles so that the results can be incorporated into these processes. Planning staff should be involved in TAMP development so that there is heightened coordination between the TAMP and LRTP.

In addition to required plans, PBPP approaches can be applied to corridor planning efforts, transit agency capital program development, operations plans, and other efforts, so that these planning activities build upon the goals, objectives, and measures defined through the LRTP. It is important to recognize that since planning and programming is a continuing process, incremental changes can be made over time. Implementing a PBPP approach does not mean starting from scratch, but builds on existing plans, programs, and procedures.

VTrans - Performance-Based Asset Management Framework VTrans, the Vermont Agency of Transportation has a sophisticated system of developing performance measures to guide its asset management, which shares many of the key PBPP process components. The agency's Asset Management Framework, below, follows a clear performance-based approach to planning and programming that includes key steps such as goal-setting, analysis of strategies, resources allocation, and monitoring and reporting results. Like other PBPP processes, the agency's process relies on quality information tools. Source: VTrans Asset Management Vision and Work Plan, - Title: VTrans - Performance-Based Asset Management Framework - Description: VTrans, the Vermont Agency of Transportation has a sophisticated system of developing performance measures to guide its asset management, which shares many of the key PBPP process components. The agency's Asset Management Framework, below, follows a clear performance-based approach to planning and programming that includes key steps such as goal-setting, analysis of strategies, resources allocation, and monitoring and reporting results. Like other PBPP processes, the agency's process relies on quality information tools. Source: VTrans Asset Management Vision and Work Plan,

Public and Stakeholder Involvement

Public involvement plays an important role in PBPP. While engaging the public is a required component of metropolitan and statewide and non-metropolitan transportation planning, and is a common practice among transportation agencies at all levels, the public should play a critical role at various stages of a PBPP process. These include: development of goals, development of objectives and performance measures, selection of targets, and assessment of strategies that feed into planning and programming decisions. Communicating to the public about performance also plays an important role so that the public and stakeholders understand the benefits of transportation investments and can play an informed role in selecting priorities.

Engaging elected officials is also important, so that they "buy in" to the benefits of a PBPP approach. This approach enhances decision making by building an awareness of the "big picture" providing the opportunity for decision-makers to focus on system performance as a basis for investment decisions as opposed to a focus on individual projects.

Communication with stakeholders is a critical element of PBPP. New technology has changed the way transportation agencies communicate with stakeholders and the public. Vast amounts of technical data can be communicated easily and quickly. Effective visualization significantly improves the ability to assess complex PBPP scenarios and proposed alternatives. Through the use of clear concise visuals-such as annotated maps, graphs, photos, illustrations, and videos- an audience can be made to quickly understand an important topic more effectively than through statistics and numerical tables.[22] It can be used to identify, analyze and evaluate alternative scenarios for clear and effective public involvement and feedback.

Data and Tools

Data and analytical tools play a critical role throughout a PBPP approach. Conducting system or project analysis will require a suite of approaches, tools, and methodologies. Data are a foundation for:

Collecting, compiling, and analyzing data is often a challenge for agencies, including the costs of data collection and difficulty of using some types of data (such as the vast amount of real-time traffic information) for planning and programming decisions. However, there are a wide array of national, state, and local data sources and systems available. Some performance areas have significant on-going data collection efforts, such as the National Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS), the National Bridge Inspection (NBI) Program, and the National Transit Database (NTD). Other areas, such as asset condition, have well established tools, such as pavement and bridge management systems.

Analysis tools also play an important role in forecasting future performance or in conducting analysis of alternative investments or scenarios. At the metropolitan level, regional travel demand forecasting models play a key role in analyzing issues such as vehicle travel, congestion, emissions, and access to jobs. Other types of analysis tools also may be used, such as economic analysis tools like the HERS-ST (Highway Economic Requirements System - State) tool, which can be used to assess benefit/cost ratios for different types of projects and to prioritize investment needs. TERM-Lite (Transit Economic Requirements Model - Lite) is a similar application that can be used to estimate an agency's transit capital investment needs to maintain or improve the physical condition and performance of the agency's transit infrastructure. The range of approaches used will vary by the level of maturity, size, and other differences among State DOTs, MPOs, and transit agencies.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) also may support performance-based planning and sharing data among agencies, and provide a spatial component to data that can be helpful in identifying specific needs for targeted investments. Several GIS-based decision-support software tools are available that utilize visualization to display complex data analysis and scenarios to demonstrate potential implications of different plans and choices, support scenario planning, sketch planning, 3-D visualization, suitability analysis, impact assessment, growth modeling and other popular techniques.[23] These tools assist with understanding potential impacts of decisions on future outcomes and can help with decisions that address a wide range of strategies, including transportation investments and land use changes, and address a range of performance measures, including those related to mode shares, accessibility, and sustainability. Other tools, such as emissions models, can be combined with travel forecasting models, to estimate criteria pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, for use in PBPP.

One challenge, however, is consistency in data elements, since common metrics and calculations over time are needed to track performance meaningfully, and this is not always easy as data formulations, models, and tools may change. In addition, many agencies do not have staff with the analytical skills necessary to handle the growing complexity and amount of performance data. FHWA's Travel Model Improvement Program (TMIP) works to advance modeling capabilities and support transportation professionals in its mission of improving analysis practices to ensure that transportation professionals are well equipped to inform and support strategic transportation decisions.[24]

Feedback Mechanisms

The 3-C planning and programming process is by nature an on-going and cyclical process, and correspondingly, PBPP is by nature an iterative process that is refined over time. In a PBPP approach, as conditions are monitored and strategies are evaluated, this information may inform changes in later versions of plans and programs. For instance, strategies could be revisited or revised based on performance information, new performance measures may be selected to better reflect outcomes of most concern to the public and stakeholders, or targets may be adjusted to reflect new financial realities or external factors that affect the ability to attain targets. In programming, project selection criteria may be assigned different weights, or reconsidered, based on public input on the most important goals and priorities. Data collected through performance monitoring and evaluation, together with public input, provide important information to inform updated cycles of long range planning and programming.

Updated: 10/10/2013
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