Regional Workshop on Performance-based Planning and Programming - Workshop Summary
3. Key Workshop Themes
This section provides key themes that emerged both from the group discussion and the breakout sessions.
Most Agencies are Using Performance Measures Today
One overriding finding from the workshop was that most agencies are using performance measures within their planning process in one form or another. Most of the state DOTs were focused on asset management, while most of the MPOs had a focus on congestion management. Participants generally felt that they had a basis from which to build.
A number of participants observed that they are trying to put transportation goals and objectives, and performance, into a broader context that also recognizes economic, social and environmental goals, as well.
Challenges to Implementation Remain
Overall, participants recognized performance-based planning and programming as good management practice, but noted that additional guidance is needed to really implement it as a day-to-day practice of most transportation agencies. Participants identified a range of potential challenges to implementing performance-based planning and programming, including
- Linking planning and programming. Connecting goals and objectives and system planning to project selection and programming decisions. Specific issues raised included:
- Project selection criteria that reflect key performance measures and other factors, as well;
- Legacy project pipelines that are fully stocked for multiple years reducing the impact of a new performance management approach unless existing projects are "reevaluated";
- Political sponsorship of many projects adds an additional challenge if some of these projects don't score well from a performance perspective.
- Target setting. While some agencies are setting targets, most recognize that it is a difficult area because of the limits on data and tools, concerns that many factors affect performance (at least for some areas), and general nervousness about the consequences of not meeting a target.
- Program level tradeoffs. Participants recognized that one step in any planning and programming process is making resource allocation decisions about the relative emphasis of investment for various program areas, such as preservation, safety, mobility, and others. These tradeoffs have performance implications and, of course, are greatly affected by total resources available. A strong sentiment was expressed that the appropriate program level tradeoffs will vary from location to location.
- Institutional Complexity. Several participants noted the multitude of agencies involved in transportation in different areas (and especially in metro areas) and recognition that successful performance management approaches will require collaboration among the agency stakeholders and others. Examples of this can be found where multiple metropolitan areas are growing into one another, and where one metropolitan area includes multiple agencies (i.e., MPOs) with responsibility for planning. Another example is in areas where multiple transit agencies serve different or even overlapping areas, but with limited coordination of investment and operations.
- Operations vs. Capital Funding. A number of participants observed that constraints on the funds available to support operations relative to capital improvements constrained performance management efforts by restricting the potential to consider tradeoffs in these areas. This is an especially significant issue for transit agencies, but some DOT's face these constraints as well.
- Performance Measures. Participants acknowledged that defining clear and useful measures is easier for some performance areas than for others. Mobility was specifically mentioned as a challenging area. Further, the measures selected may constrain the range of strategies and policies that are considered (i.e. those likely to affect the measures selected). If easy to define measures reflect readily available, and often highway oriented, performance issues then there may be a built in bias by mode or investment type. Focusing measures on the things that are easy to measure may reaffirm existing biases in funding and investment.
Establishing a National Program
Some reservations were expressed about the prospect for a national performance management program or performance-based planning and programming requirements, including:
- Constraints on local priorities and choices
- Creation of an unfunded mandate that is challenging for state DOTs, MPOs, and transit agencies to fulfill
- Creation of a paperwork exercise that does not add value to existing performance management efforts already occurring at the state or local level
- Challenge to develop consistent data and performance measures
- Potential for variation in implementation across FHWA divisions and FTA Regions
- Complexity of linking performance management neatly into the current standard 20-year planning horizon. Investment planning may require shorter time horizons to be realistic, while long range visions for a state or region may need to look beyond the 20-year horizon.
- The reality that performance management requirements will not, by themselves, improve performance without additional federal funding.
Participants had concrete ideas for how to help a national program achieve success. Some of these ideas included:
- Ensure a careful regulatory process. Participants observed that the details of a national performance management program will be established primarily through the regulatory process. Congress is likely to set certain goals, but the process of implementation will be left to regulation. If the process takes into account the feedback being provided at forums like these and learns from the experiences of agencies both in the U.S. and abroad that have taken on performance management, it will be much more successful.
- Learn from others. Participants specifically suggested that FHWA and FTA should pay attention to the lessons learned from other countries who have attempted something similar. Several participants noted that the Performance Measurement International Scan that was conducted in 2008 provided several key lessons, including providing significant flexibility to non-federal agencies in developing approaches and setting targets.
- Establish a clear vision. One clear value that participants saw from a national approach to performance measurement was the potential for Congress to set a vision for and define a national transportation system. If Congress and U.S. DOT set a vision for a national transportation system, it can potentially simplify the planning and programming process, while allowing individual states and regions to determine the appropriate measures, targets, and planning approaches to address regional and local priorities. Participants noted that if federal goals are too loosely defined, than federal performance reporting is likely to be too general to be of value.
- Develop a common method to describe progress. Participants did note that any national program will only be successful if a common method is used to calculate progress. Similarly, some participants thought it critical that any national program have "teeth" to avoid being just a paper exercise.