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SAFETEA-LU 1808: CMAQ Evaluation and Assessment Phase II Final Report

6. Site-Visit Case Studies

Report cover image: a parking lot of trucks, a BIKE sign, a towtruck behind a broken down car, and children getting on a school bus


This section provides a brief overview of each of the seven locations visited as part of the Phase II CMAQ Evaluation and Assessment Project. Full-day interviews were held at each location with State, regional, and local officials involved in the planning, programming, and evaluation of CMAQ-funded projects.

Birmingham, Alabama: Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham (RPCGB)


The Birmingham MPO is responsible for comprehensive transportation planning in Jefferson and Shelby Counties in Alabama. Members of the MPO include local and State government officials as well as representatives from the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority and ALDOT. The two counties had a population of 835,000 in 2006. The Birmingham nonattainment area, comprising Jefferson and Shelby Counties, was originally classified as nonattainment for the 1-hour ozone standard by EPA on March 3, 1978 (43 FR 8962)22. The nonattainment area at the time of initial classification was geographically defined as Jefferson County but was later expanded to include Shelby County. The MPO attained the 1-hour ozone standard and was redesignated as attainment on April 12, 2004. On June 15, 2004, Jefferson and Shelby Counties were classified as nonattainment for the 8-hour ozone standard. The area was redesignated to attainment for the 8-hour ozone standard effective June 12, 2006. The area designated as nonattainment for PM 2.5 includes all of Jefferson and Shelby Counties as well as a small portion of southern Walker County.

Since 1991, the Birmingham MPO has been the only area in the State of Alabama that qualifies for CMAQ funding. Currently, the State believes that three new areas may be redesignated as nonattainment in the near future. This would have an impact on how the CMAQ program is operated within Alabama since ALDOT has never had to suballocate CMAQ funds to any agency other than the Birmingham MPO.

CMAQ Objectives and Procedures

The CMAQ program operates within the confines of the overall TIP process. All of the projects or programs in the 4-year regional TIP support the overall goals and objectives in the MPO's long-range plan. In the most recent TIP, CMAQ accounted for about 4 percent of the total dollars programmed. The MPO evaluates all projects together and applies rankings, after which it determines the funding source. Every project competes against the others regardless of funding source. The MPO views this integrated approach as a strength. In the past, the MPO has set aside a small portion of funds for certain project types that it is promoting, such as bicycle and pedestrian projects and transit.

During the early years of the CMAQ program, most of the CMAQ funds were used for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) and signalization-type projects. In the late 1990s, RPCGB decided to shift its priority to focus CMAQ on air quality concerns. The State has intentionally not included any transportation control measures (TCMs) in the State Implementation Plan (SIP). Working with ADEM, RPCBG began using the CMAQ program to include voluntary measures and projects to help achieve emissions reductions.

Using lessons it had learned from its FHWA Transportation Enhancements (TE) Program, RPCGB streamlined the procedures for the CMAQ program. Working with ALDOT, RPCGB developed procedures to speed up the project review process. This included giving the project sponsor responsibility for the planning, design, and bid process. The MPO felt that certain TE and CMAQ projects were being overdesigned. Small projects were being designed to highway standards, leading to higher project costs. Giving responsibility to the project sponsor can speed up the process and reduce project costs, but it requires monitoring by the MPO.

Project Selection and Funding

Each project under consideration for inclusion in the TIP is ranked, and the most appropriate funding source is then identified on the basis of funding eligibility. As one member stated, "A CMAQ project may not start and end the process as a CMAQ project. How it is funded can depend on available funding, and benefit analysis can shift a project between funding sources." The Birmingham MPO often mixes and matches CMAQ and attributable STP funds when deciding how to fund a project.

The MPO has a TIP Subcommittee comprising major project sponsors: the Cities of Hoover and Birmingham, the Birmingham-Jefferson County Transit Authority (BJCTA), ALDOT, and Jefferson and Shelby Counties. This subcommittee reviews the list of projects to ensure a balance by type, geography, and funding sources. For those projects that might be CMAQ-eligible, the MPO Interagency Consultation Group, comprising EPA, FHWA, FTA, ADEM, and the Jefferson County Health Department, among others, conducts a consultation process to determine the eligibility of proposed CMAQ projects.

One recipient of CMAQ funds is the Alabama Partners for Clean Air (APCA), an affiliation of 14 public, private, and nonprofit agencies that work with the MPO to implement voluntary strategies to improve air quality in the MPO. This agency provides public outreach and education about air quality issues, ride-sharing programs, vehicle fleet conversions, and emissions reduction efforts. It has received about $1.4 million in annual CMAQ funds for the past several years, which it uses to support a variety of air quality improvement projects.

To support the transit system, the region transfers about $3.2 million of CMAQ funds per year to transit. These funds are mostly dedicated to supporting public- and nonprofit-operated paratransit services. However, funding is also provided to BJCTA to support regular fixed-route transit services through the purchase of transit vehicles and the provision of maintenance support. CMAQ funds have also been used in the past, and are expected to be used in the future, to help jump-start new fixed-route transit, in particular suburban-to-urban commuter bus services. Alabama is one of only six States where the use of State gas tax funds for transit is prohibited.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

In order to standardize project assumptions and determine project effectiveness, the MPO commissioned a consulting firm to develop guidelines for air quality project effectiveness. The resulting set of assumptions and methodology covers most project types. If a project falls outside of the methodology, the MPO relies on information from other MPOs that might have evaluated a similar project. A project sponsor is responsible for providing information about a project, but the MPO staff usually apply the appropriate assumptions and then calculates the air quality benefits.

For the ozone awareness program, APCA has hired a market research firm to conduct public opinion surveys. One survey asked what actions people took in response to an ozone alert day. This helps the MPO to calculate benefits, gauge the overall effectiveness of the program, and refine the program for the future. One interviewee noted that the market research money is some of the best money the MPO spends as it gives important feedback on the program.

Reporting/Post-Project Evaluation

Because the Birmingham MPO is the only user of CMAQ funds within the State, the MPO prepares the documentation of CMAQ projects and benefits and forwards the information to ALDOT. ALDOT then transmits the information to FHWA for use in the CMAQ database.

Each of the projects that are part of the APCA program is required to provide pre- and post-project benefit reports. This allows the MPO to evaluate APCA projects and adjust funding for those types of projects that do not provide enough measurable benefits.

Boston, Massachusetts: Boston MPO


The Boston MPO consists of 101 municipalities in Eastern Massachusetts. It is governed by a 14-member MPO board comprising the City of Boston (a permanent member); three cities; three towns, which rotate among the many municipalities in the MPO; and a mix of regional and State agencies. The entire State of Massachusetts is classified as moderate nonattainment for the 8-hour ozone standard. In addition, Boston and eight surrounding cities have a CO maintenance plan. Massachusetts Executive Office of Transportation (EOT) receives the Federal allocations for the State and distributes most of these funds directly to MPOs for programming on the basis of their population, but reserves a portion of the CMAQ allocation for projects with "Statewide significance." With the money the State retains, it has developed a substantial Statewide CMAQ portfolio, which includes projects like the Statewide school bus diesel retrofit program.

For FY 2008, the State and the Boston MPO programmed a total of $60 million in CMAQ funds. Major projects included $12.5 million for the Statewide school bus retrofit program, $6.2 million for the Statewide ITS, and $1.9 million programmed by the Boston MPO for transit hybrid locomotive switchers. Other project categories include signal timing adjustments, bicycle/pedestrian improvements, and the suburban mobility/TDM program.

CMAQ Objectives and Procedures

Many States treat CMAQ as a pass-through distributed directly to MPOs, but Massachusetts takes a more hands-on approach and allocates funds between regional and Statewide projects. The Statewide program is used to fund initiatives that span the various MPOs and benefit from having a single program. State officials feel that the flexibility they have to use CMAQ money for Statewide projects has been a success. Some programs, such as the Statewide park-and-ride initiative, are needed on a scale requiring a degree of cooperation between regional planning agencies that can be difficult to achieve. State staff feel that they can usher through some projects more expeditiously at the State level than would be possible at the regional or local level due to challenges that would be posed by the fragmentation of local governance.

The Boston MPO uses CMAQ as a funding mechanism but does not run a stand-alone CMAQ program. The agency seeks to address the overall goals of reduced congestion and improved air quality throughout its entire planning work, not solely through projects funded with CMAQ dollars.

The primary goal of the Boston MPO in programming CMAQ funds is to support the best overall projects with air quality benefits. Staff reported that having CMAQ as a funding source allows the MPO to undertake projects that might have had more difficulty competing if "transportation" were the only criterion at play in the evaluation. The school bus retrofit and truck stop electrification projects, for example, might not exist without CMAQ because most people would see them as "air quality" projects more than as "transportation" projects. A strong bicycle and pedestrian advocacy community exists in the Boston MPO, so the MPO often uses CMAQ in support of bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Project Selection and Funding

For at least a decade, the Boston MPO and the State as a whole tended to underfund the CMAQ program due to the high level of Federal funds dedicated to Central Artery projects. This has now changed, and the State has a target of programming 100 percent of available CMAQ funds. Beginning in 2005, the State EOT began setting CMAQ programming "targets" for each MPO to help ensure that CMAQ monies would be spent. The targets have been a useful tool in helping MPOs to obligate all or most of the CMAQ funds they are authorized to spend.

For the Boston MPO, CMAQ is viewed as a funding category, not a programmatic one. The MPO divides available funding for CMAQ projects into three programs: Suburban Mobility, TDM, and the Regional Bike Parking Program, each with specific qualification guidelines and individual administrative committees or agencies. These programs receive approximately $1.5 million a year, with a set amount of funding for each, which leaves approximately $7 million of CMAQ target funding available for programming. The MPO distributes this money among projects selected from the larger TIP universe, which is the list of projects for which Federal funding has been requested. Selection of projects from this larger pool is done by the Transportation Planning and Programming Committee during the TIP development process. This is a bottom-up process: proposed projects work themselves up from the municipal to the regional level, where they must compete with other municipalities' projects, and they make the cut for TIP inclusion only if they are broadly beneficial.

CMAQ eligibility is determined by a State CMAQ Consultation Committee, which meets twice a year to determine if a project is eligible for CMAQ funding. MassDEP serves as a member on that committee. The State CMAQ consultation process is not technically a consultation or a prioritization of projects; it only provides a check for regional determinations on the eligibility of projects to qualify for CMAQ funds. After the eligibility determination, each MPO prioritizes and selects projects as part of the overall TIP project selection process described above.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

The Massachusetts EOT developed most of the methodologies the Boston MPO uses to quantify the estimated emissions changes and cost-effectiveness of proposed projects to determine their CMAQ eligibility. Currently, the Boston MPO uses EOT methodologies for the following project types:

Not every CMAQ project undergoes the standardized quantitative analysis. The Boston MPO takes qualitative factors into account as well, to determine CMAQ eligibility when quantitative analysis is not possible or practical. All spreadsheets calculate emissions changes and cost-effectiveness for Year 1 of the project only. Focusing on the first year standardizes/normalizes calculations across project/modal types to create an even playing field and minimizes the number of assumptions built into the model. The State noted that there are continuing debates within the transportation and environmental agencies regarding how to measure and judge the short- versus long-term air quality impacts of different project types. While traffic signalization provides short-term benefits, the benefits diminish over the long term due to shifts in travel patterns. The fact that short-term benefits are easier to measure may explain why the eligibility process focuses on that area.

Reporting and Evaluation

The Boston MPO compiles information about its CMAQ projects and programs, which it forwards to EOT. EOT compiles all of the regional CMAQ programs along with the Statewide program and then forwards this report to FHWA for inclusion in the National CMAQ database.

For operations-type projects, EOT undertakes a variety of routine post-project analysis work. This includes collecting information such as daily ridership statistics on transit lines, monthly reports on shuttle bus ridership, and bicycle and pedestrian counts on paths and routes that have received Federal funds. These analyses can be used in combination with the CMAQ 3-year funding limit for operations-related projects to steer money away from unsuccessful projects toward projects and programs yielding better results. Part of the challenge with follow-up is to ensure a level playing field. The staff noted that given the limited planning resources, it is difficult to justify the additional cost to do post-project evaluation for all CMAQ projects, let alone non-CMAQ ones.

Denver, Colorado: Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG)


The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) has received CMAQ funding since the program's creation in 1991. The size of the CMAQ pot has grown from $3 million annually under ISTEA to $18 million annually under SAFETEA-LU. This has allowed DRCOG to test new program areas and the program to evolve over time. The Denver MPO experienced frequent violations of NAAQS in the 1980s but has undertaken a number of measures to improve regional air quality since that time. As a result, the MPO is currently in maintenance for CO and PM 10. After several years in attainment, however, EPA redesignated most of DRCOG's planning area as "marginal" nonattainment for the 8-hour ozone standard in November 2007. The newly formed Denver/North Front Range nonattainment area covers nine counties in the Denver metropolitan region and spans portions of three separate regional transportation planning regions:

A Memorandum of Agreement was signed in March 2008, authorizing DRCOG and NFRMPO to determine conformity on behalf of the portion of UFR TPR that falls within the 8-hour ozone nonattainment area. Because the air quality boundaries are not the same as the planning region boundaries, DRCOG's transportation planning and conformity determination processes have become more complicated.

CMAQ Objectives and Procedures

The DRCOG committee structure, which includes the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC), the Regional Transportation Committee (RTC), and a study session committee comprising DRCOG board members and the Metro Vision Issues Committee (MVIC), oversees transportation planning for the MPO and makes recommendations to the DRCOG board on funding of the TIP. The TIP process has established policy on how to fund different types of projects within its three discretionary Federal funding sources (CMAQ, Federal Surface Transportation Program [STP]-Metro, and STP-Enhancement). CMAQ is used to fund the following types of projects:

When asked what would be different without the CMAQ program, DRCOG responded that, without the program but with the same overall funding authority, it would still have invested heavily in transit and bicycle/pedestrian projects but it might not have funded as many air-quality-focused projects.

Project Selection and Funding

DRCOG does not treat CMAQ as a stand-alone program; instead, CMAQ-type projects are solicited and selected as part of the 4-year TIP-update cycle. Eligible applicants include county and municipal governments; regional agencies, such as the Regional Transportation District (RTD), the Regional Air Quality Council (RAQC), and DRCOG itself; and State agencies, such as CDOT and the CDPHE. Thus far, local governments and regional agencies have been most active in soliciting CMAQ funds through TIP. For the most recent TIP, DRCOG programmed $106 million in CMAQ projects for the FY 2008–2013 TIP, which is 4.3 percent of the $2.5 billion in the current TIP.

In making decisions about how to allocate its CMAQ funds, DRCOG's project selection criteria differ by project type. For each project type, criteria may be established that incentivize certain projects within those categories. Project types that are typically associated with CMAQ funding include air quality improvement, station area master plans, new bus service, and non-FasTracks transit passenger facilities. Bonus points are also available and depend on the project type, which can include diesel retrofits (a SAFETEA-LU priority) and overmatch of funds.

DRCOG's TIP application process is Web-based, with tailored evaluation criteria embedded in each project type. Eligible applicants submit project proposals online and are able to self-score their projects as they fill out the application. The scoring assessment is quantitative: applicants are asked to submit data relevant to the specific project-type category to which they are applying, using embedded formulas to generate final scores. DRCOG staff screen submitted applications for eligibility; they then review and correct the scores as necessary for consistency and quality control.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

Applicants are responsible for initially estimating the benefits of their proposed projects, using the evaluation criteria embedded in their Web application. Formulas embedded in each of DRCOG's project-type applications online generate quantitative estimates of proposed projects' benefits, such as emissions reduction, cost-effectiveness, and usage, for consideration in the prioritization and final selection process. In Phase I of project selection, 75 percent of DRCOG's CMAQ funding goes directly to the projects that scored highest within its 10 project category types, making quantitative analysis the primary focus. Target percentages for each funding category, such as CMAQ, are also preset for each project type to assist in project selection before the selection process begins. For example, for the first 75 percent of CMAQ funding, 70 percent will go toward air quality improvement projects. The maximum percentages awarded for the evaluation criteria in CMAQ-related-funding project types are as follows:

In Phase II of project selection, projects for the remaining 25 percent of funding are selected by the DRCOG board by balancing the final evaluation scores with a series of concerns outside the project-type-specific criteria. Phase II priorities include:

Reporting/Post-Project Evaluation

When preparing information for reporting, DRCOG must gather information for two different reporting systems, FHWA's CMAQ database and CDOT's recently developed CMAQ Reporter. This creates administrative challenges since each system requires different information and calculations. In 2000, the Colorado Transportation Commission expressed concern about the effectiveness of the CMAQ program in improving air quality and adopted a resolution (TC-807) to increase accountability for how CMAQ funds are spent. This led to the development of the CMAQ Reporter, a database maintained by CDOT that requires fund recipients to report annually on the effectiveness of their CMAQ expenditures. MPOs are working with CDOT to develop methodologies in the CMAQ Reporter that will more accurately calculate future-year air quality benefits of various project types.

DRCOG conducts post-project evaluations on certain types of CMAQ projects but not all. Consultants are hired to prepare post-project evaluations, track the emissions reductions of diesel retrofit projects, and conduct follow-up surveys to see if people have changed their behavior as a result of one of DRCOG's outreach programs like carpool/vanpool or Bike-to-Work Day. For the latter, DRCOG conducts follow-up surveys to see if participation led to any other travel behavior changes and then tracks the Denver-area results relative to other cities organizing Bike-to-Work Days. This helps to track the project's progress from year to year and to compare it with that of other cities trying to support more bicycle transportation.

Fort Collins, Colorado: North Front Range MPO (NFRMPO)


NFRMPO is the MPO for 15 local governments in northern Colorado. It covers an area of about 675 square miles with a population of about 440,000 residents. The MPO has been experiencing rapid growth; the population is projected to grow to 730,000 by 2035. The major urbanized areas in the MPO are Fort Collins and Greeley. The City of Fort Collins is in nonattainment for CO. This is the only area within NFRMPO that is eligible for CMAQ funding. The area meets NAAQS for nitrogen oxide and PM 10.

CMAQ Objectives and Procedures

Currently, CMAQ functions as a stand-alone program separate from the solicitation of other projects for TIP. Beginning with the next TIP update in 2010, NFRMPO will consolidate the call-for-projects process. At that time, CMAQ will be handled as part of the overall TIP funding process.

The NFRMPO CMAQ program consists of capital, transit, TDM, and service projects. Until 2005, the major focus within the MPO was on TDM measures. More recently, additional emphasis has been placed on intersection and traffic flow improvements. Because only the City of Fort Collins is eligible for CMAQ funding, the MPO must determine which portion of any proposed CMAQ project is contained within the city boundaries and where any benefits may accrue. For projects that are outside of the maintenance area, a graduated benefit amount is applied. For instance, a new transit service that operates both within and outside of the city boundaries can only claim emissions reductions for the portion of service that occurs within the city boundaries.

NFRMPO focuses its CMAQ funding efforts on air quality issues. Its CMAQ selection process does not directly address congestion issues. In 2007, the MPO adopted a Congestion Management Process (CMP), and there is a desire to better integrate the CMAQ program into the CMP.

The MPO requires that each project proposal be submitted by either a municipal or State agency. However, it does encourage other agencies and groups to cosponsor with a governmental agency. The MPO requires any local sponsor to provide a local match, usually 20 percent of the project cost. This local match can be either cash or in-kind services.

The 14-member CMAQ Evaluation Committee oversees MPO staff in the project evaluation and selection process. The committee consists of representatives from Federal agencies (FHWA, FTA, EPA), State agencies (CDOT, CDPHE), and the MPO.

Project Selection and Funding

Each sponsor must fill out a standard application including sections on purpose, project participants, scope of work, and evaluation process. In order to ensure that proposals meet the eligibility requirements, the project sponsors are requested to preview the scope with the MPO staff. The MPO staff has found that this can expedite the process of identifying potential problems early in the application process.

As part of its CMAQ Project Submittal Process Package available to all potential project sponsors, NFRMPO offers a word of caution about using Federal funds: "There are two caveats related to scale to bear in mind in pursuing a Federal-Aid project. First, the administrative burden of a Federal-Aid project is substantial. A very small project is often best accomplished with local funds to avoid the extra administrative burden. Second, the project scope and scale may expand because of Federal procedures."

Once projects have been submitted, the MPO uses a three-tiered scoring system to evaluate them, which includes:

  1. Short-term air quality benefits (Year 1): 50 percent of total score.
  2. Long-term air quality benefits (Years 2–5): 20 percent of score.
  3. Regional planning achievement: 30 percent of score.

Bonus points are awarded for a local overmatch, multiagency or PPP projects, and multimodal projects. Specific preference is not given to diesel retrofit proposals, but historically these types of projects have scored well and have received funding.

The scoring of projects is done by the staff, with review by the CMAQ Evaluation Committee. The Evaluation Committee then compiles a list of projects for proposed inclusion in TIP. This list might include suggestions for the scopes of projects to be modified or staged over multiple years. The list is then approved by the MPO board for inclusion in the regional TIP.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

In 2004, NFRMPO moved from a qualitative project selection process to one that relies heavily on a quantitative process to determine projects that will receive CMAQ funding. This process was introduced to help balance the competition for funding and to remove some of the perceived political influence. To help standardize the quantitative analysis, NFRMPO hired a consulting firm to oversee the development of calculations for CMAQ programs and projects.

While the responsibility for estimating air quality benefits rests with project sponsors, MPO staff and the air quality consultant review their assumptions, and at times request that they recalculate the air quality benefits analysis post-review. The air quality consultant supports NFRMPO staff with the technical expertise to ensure that the assumptions and estimates are reasonable.

Reporting/Post-Project Evaluation

As part of the CMAQ proposal submittal process, project sponsors must submit an evaluation plan. This is usually a brief statement of how the sponsor will measure the success of the program. This information is then shared with NFRMPO. Part III of the application states: "Projects should have a detailed evaluation process identified prior to application submittal. This process should provide means of evaluating the effectiveness of the project over time, its ability to meet project goals and objectives, and quantify the air quality benefits." Beginning in 2009, CDOT now requires this evaluation plan as part of the contract for all of its CMAQ-funded projects.

Due to Colorado State requirements, NFRMPO must collect data for two reporting systems: the FHWA CMAQ database and the Colorado Transportation Commission's Colorado Reporter, the State's CMAQ reporting system. For the FHWA CMAQ database, NFRMPO provides the data and information to CDOT. CDOT then compiles the information for the State and transmits the data to FHWA. The Colorado Reporter requires additional data from each CMAQ project. While FHWA requests data on the first year of operation of a CMAQ project, Colorado requires a life-cycle estimate of benefits.

Medford, Oregon: Rogue Valley Council of Governments (RVCOG)


RVCOG is one of six MPOs in Oregon. Located in southern Oregon, RVCOG has a 22-member board of directors, including 15 local governments and seven special districts such as higher education, economic development, soil and water conservation, and regional transit. The RVCOG board delegated responsibility for the MPO to the Rogue Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization (RVMPO) Policy Committee. The Policy Committee comprises eight local member jurisdictions, an ODOT representative, and a representative from the regional transportation district. RVCOG staffs RVMPO. The Rogue Valley was first designated as nonattainment for PM 10 in 1990 but moved into maintenance in 1996. The Medford Urban Growth Boundary is also designated "moderate" maintenance for CO. Both maintenance areas fall within RVCOG's transportation planning region.

There is no Statewide CMAQ program in Oregon. ODOT uses its own formulas to distribute CMAQ funds among the nonattainment and attainment areas rather than relying on Federal apportionment formulas. In the past, RVMPO received only about $400,000 per year in CMAQ funds, and member jurisdictions divided the funds among themselves in a relatively informal process. ODOT recently adjusted its CMAQ allocation formulas, however, which more than doubled the size of RVMPO's allocation to more than $1 million in annual CMAQ funding. This increase spurred RVMPO to develop more formal, standardized processes for distributing CMAQ funds within the region. For RVMPO's 2008–2011 TIP, CMAQ projects accounted for about 2.5 percent of the total funds programmed ($4.8 million out of a $198 million TIP).

CMAQ Objectives and Procedures

RVMPO treats CMAQ as a stand-alone program, with its own solicitation, public input, and selection processes. CMAQ is a critical component of RVMPO's transportation program as it accounts for 70 percent of the discretionary funds over which RVMPO has direct programming authority. CMAQ is also an integral component of RVCOG's air quality conformity process. Emissions reduction credits from CMAQ projects are applied during conformity determinations and are the MPO's sole mechanism for mitigating onroad mobile source emissions. Staff noted that without these "CMAQ credits," the MPO's ability to meet conformity requirements would be in question.

The primary focus of RVMPO's CMAQ program is addressing the MPO's PM and air quality problems. The agency's official CMAQ solicitation packet states four objectives for CMAQ-funded projects:

  1. Enable the MPO to maintain the NAAQS.
  2. Meet regional air quality and transportation needs.
  3. Meet multimodal objectives.
  4. Meet State and local goals and objectives (e.g., reduce reliance on automobiles).

As the size of the CMAQ program has grown, the RVMPO Policy Committee has formalized the decisionmaking process to ensure a fair distribution of funds based on project quality. The board developed and adopted a single set of quantitative criteria that it now uses to evaluate all CMAQ project proposals. The RVMPO Policy Committee worked closely with member jurisdictions to develop these criteria, trying to build an evaluation tool that would be flexible over time and allow the program to fund new and innovative types of projects23. The new process emphasizes the notion that CMAQ monies are awarded to projects, not jurisdictions. RVCOG staff report that moving toward a more formal process like this helped to improve the efficiency, fairness, and effectiveness of the program.

Project Selection and Funding

RVCOG staff issue a call for CMAQ projects every 2 years in conjunction with the TIP update cycle. The solicitation is an open application process that lasts for 2 months. Public input is conducted through public notices, public comment during RVMPO committee meetings, and review and recommendations on project funding by a Public Advisory Council (PAC) comprising 11 residents from member municipalities. RVMPO typically uses CMAQ to fund short-term projects (i.e., those that can be completed within one TIP cycle)24.

Public, private, and nonprofit agencies are eligible to apply, but local municipalities have been the most common and successful applicants for CMAQ projects in the past. The Oregon DEQ has submitted applications as well, such as for the first diesel retrofit funded in the region. A new focus on PPPs and diesel retrofits means that private businesses also are increasingly submitting applications.

Once solicitation is complete, 1 month is set aside for project grading and evaluation. RVCOG staff present applications and work with members of the TAC to evaluate projects and develop rankings. The TAC comprises 16 municipal representatives (city managers and a mix of planning, public works, and economic development staff) and six representatives from other regional and State agencies (regional transit district, ODOT, Oregon DEQ, and Oregon Department of Land Conservation and Development [DLCD]). A single set of evaluation criteria is used to rank and score all projects. Projects can earn up to 115 points across 10 criteria such as CO/PM 10 reduction, cost-effectiveness, and likelihood of reducing reliance on automobiles. Once the TAC has evaluated all project proposals and tallied all scores, it makes recommendations to the RVMPO Policy Committee, which has final discretion over ultimate funding. The Policy Committee comprises eight local member jurisdictions, an ODOT representative, and a representative from the regional transit district.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

RVMPO uses standardized calculations to estimate the specific air quality benefits of each proposed project prior to that project's overall evaluation and ranking. It also uses standardized calculations to estimate the VMT reduction benefits of several types of projects:

Sponsors are asked to provide the information needed to perform these calculations and are given guidance to explain how emissions benefits will be derived to increase the transparency of the process. They are not asked to complete the calculations themselves; this is done by MPO staff. Currently, emissions benefits are calculated only for CO and PM 10. This may change, as the State is now strongly encouraging MPOs to address carbon emissions and climate change.

Reporting/Post-Project Evaluation

Using information provided by the MPOs, ODOT staff are responsible for reporting to FHWA's CMAQ database. Post-project evaluation is required by ODOT for all diesel retrofit projects. RVCOG staff noted the benefits of conducting post-project evaluation on all project types but explained that it is not currently possible due to limited staffing and resources.

RVMPO has found that, due to the reporting, administrative, and design requirements that come with the use of Federal funds, it is not efficient to use Federal funds for projects costing less than $200,000. Local jurisdictions estimate that complying with the requirements of using Federal money increases their project costs by 60 percent, and they are trying to work out an arrangement with the State to swap CMAQ funds for State funds that would not have the same requirements.

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania: Southwestern Pennsylvania Commission (SPC)


SPC is one of 15 MPOs in Pennsylvania. SPC's planning region covers 10 counties and is served by 10 fixed-route transit agencies. The governing board includes representatives from the City of Pittsburgh, the region's counties and transit agencies, and State and Federal agencies such as PennDOT, the State economic development agency, FHWA, and FTA. The SPC planning region comprises nine separate NAAs and maintenance areas within southwestern Pennsylvania for five separate air quality standards. These include the Pittsburgh Central Business District for CO, one area within Allegheny Country for PM 10, three separate areas for the 8-hour ozone standard, three separate areas for the annual PM 2.5 standard, and one area for the daily PM 2.5 standard.

SPC recently refined its CMAQ project selection process in response to new provisions related to the enactment of SAFETEA-LU as well as to formalize what had previously been a more informal, ad-hoc process. As part of this reexamination, a consultant was hired to facilitate the update of SPC's CMAQ project solicitation, evaluation, prioritization, and selection procedures. SPC identified examples of MPOs around the country with noteworthy CMAQ practices to guide its update and also used FHWA's CMAQ guidance and integrated suggestions from the Transportation Research Board's (TRB) Special Report 264 – Congestion Migitation and Air Quality Improvement Program25.

SPC solicits and programs CMAQ projects in conjunction with the TIP update cycle: a four-year TIP is updated every 2 years. The SPC region receives about $25 million a year in CMAQ funding, which accounts for about 3 percent of total TIP funding. SPC has done focused outreach to public agencies and the public to bring them into the process and have a wider range of participants.

PennDOT suballocates all CMAQ funding directly to the MPOs; there is no separate Statewide CMAQ program at the State level. If PennDOT has a project it would like to fund using the CMAQ program, the appropriate PennDOT District Office must submit a project proposal to the MPO for funding consideration, like any other project sponsor. Although PennDOT does not maintain its own stand-alone CMAQ program, it does take a leadership role in supporting and coordinating MPO and CMAQ efforts. At the beginning of each TIP update cycle, PennDOT and MPO staff from around the State meet to discuss strategies and techniques for preparing individual TIPs and evaluating project proposals within Federal and State transportation programs. The result of this effort is concurrence on financial and procedural guidance for the TIP update. This guidance document establishes fiscal targets for programs, including the allocation of CMAQ funding for each of the qualifying MPOs.

Objectives and Procedures

The SPC CMAQ process, as endorsed by the board, has established priority for four types of projects for CMAQ funds: signalization, diesel retrofits, TDM, and bicycle/pedestrian. CMAQ projects are solicited in conjunction with the TIP update cycle. As such, there is no stand-alone public input process for CMAQ projects.

Proposed projects that are not selected in one round may be resubmitted and may recompete for funding during the next TIP update and CMAQ solicitation. In order to do so, they must update costs, assumptions, emissions benefits calculations, and scopes (as appropriate). Under SPC's revised CMAQ process, all proposed CMAQ projects, both new and resubmitted, are subject to quantitative analysis and are then ranked on current costs, assumptions, and estimated costs and benefits during each update to the TIP.

As SPC has opened its CMAQ program processes and worked to expand its reach, it has seen a rise in the number of "nontraditional" transportation project applications such as those for diesel retrofits and car-share programs. Bringing more nontraditional sponsors into a Federal funding process can lead to new types of projects, but it also has challenges, especially in terms of educating project sponsors about Federal requirements for activities such as contracting and financing.

Project Selection and Funding

SPC has a well-defined evaluation process. Staff color-code each CMAQ project proposal by type/category and then rank projects within those categories to facilitate fair and logical comparisons. In the past, review of applications was done by staff. Now, all applications are packaged and distributed on a CD to the committee members for their review and evaluation to identify unrealistic assumptions or benefits. After ranking each proposal within project categories, the CEC develops a recommended list of projects for TIP. The selections are made by the CEC through secret ballot.

Without the CMAQ program, SPC staff felt that they would not be able to fund some current innovative projects like the City's car-sharing program with the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership (PDP) or marine diesel retrofits with the Port of Pittsburgh Commission. These projects confer quality-of-life and air quality benefits to the residents of southwestern Pennsylvania but may not have traditionally been thought of as "transportation" projects or may not be able to be funded through other federal transportation funding programs.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

Projects are ranked using three separate measures. First, SPC quantifies the air quality benefits for each project proposed for CMAQ funding. All projects are evaluated for five air quality and cost/benefit factors, using a standardized set of analysis models developed by PennDOT. One of the factors measures cost-effectiveness in reducing air pollution by calculating the cost-per-unit change in emissions. Second, projects that are within one of the four board priority categories are given preference. Third, projects are rated according to a set of nine ancillary factors that include:

services are made available to the State's MPOs to assist in quantifying the benefits of new projects such as the City's car-sharing proposal, which arise in new funding rounds and are not easily quantified by traditional standardized analysis tools. Staff estimate that this accounts for about 10 percent of new projects. SPC staff expressed that, from an MPO perspective, having this kind of State leadership and support on technical assistance was an invaluable component in improving their own process.

Reporting and Evaluation

PennDOT has developed a report card to provide information on how money is being allocated to MPOs around the State and other financial management tools. This report card is prepared on a quarterly basis and strives to provide the most up-to-date information on obligations that have been made.

SPC conducts post-project evaluation of some projects to examine actual versus predicted benefits. Staff conduct before-and-after studies for some traffic signalization projects–for example, to demonstrate whether a completed project achieved the benefits projected in the CMAQ project evaluation process. SPC staff noted that as post-project evaluation becomes more routine for traffic signalization projects, sponsors of other types of projects may feel compelled to conduct post-project evaluation to be able to demonstrate cost-effectiveness, congestion mitigation, or air quality benefits. Thus, a trend toward having project sponsors build post-project evaluation into their project plans and budgets may be emerging in subsequent CMAQ funding rounds.

San Francisco, California: Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)


MTC is one of 19 MPOs in California. It serves as the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area MPO and includes such major cities as San Francisco, San Jose, and Oakland. Its 19-member policy board comprises primarily local elected officials (mayors and county commissioners), along with one representative each from the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Area Conservation and Development Commission. Three nonvoting members also participate on the board to represent important State and Federal interests, such as Caltrans, FHWA, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

MTC's planning region overlaps with three air basins (San Francisco, Sacramento, and Northern Sonoma), two of which are in nonattainment:

Caltrans distributes CMAQ funds to MPOs around the State on the basis of population and the severity of air quality. Caltrans does not run a Statewide CMAQ program per se, but it does reserve a small portion of funds for the five non-MPO areas around the State that qualify to receive CMAQ dollars. CMAQ accounts for approximately 2.3 percent ($300 million) of MTC's current (2008–2013) $13 billion TIP.

CMAQ Objectives and Procedures

As in other MPOs, programming of CMAQ projects takes place in conjunction with the TIP update process. CMAQ is not treated as a stand-alone program in the San Francisco Bay region but as an integrated part of the long-range transportation planning process. MTC uses planning goals and measures of effectiveness outlined in the long-range plan to develop comprehensive and multimodal program areas, each with its own specific goals and objectives. Program areas include:

MTC pools the MPOs' CMAQ funds with Federal STP funds and other State and local funding sources to support projects within each of these program areas. Only at the end of the planning and programming process are specific funding sources matched up with individual selected projects. This means that the project sponsors must be aware of the program area to which they are applying but not the funding source that will cover their projects.

Worsening air quality and traffic congestion are two of the major challenges facing the San Francisco Bay MPO, so MTC routinely has many more CMAQ-eligible projects submitted for funding than it has available CMAQ dollars to spend. Still, CMAQ is seen by MTC as a means of further supporting its air quality and congestion goals as well as projects with quality-of-life benefits that may not be eligible for other funding sources. Any public agency with a role in surface transportation planning and implementation may submit projects for consideration by MTC's program committees.

Project Selection and Funding

MTC staff use FHWA guidance to establish which projects are eligible to receive CMAQ funds, but they do not have one standard approach for selecting the projects that will ultimately receive the funds. Each of MTC's multimodal program areas runs its own project solicitation, public outreach, and selection process. Evaluation and selection criteria are tailored to the specific needs of each program to which a CMAQ-eligible project may apply, and funding sources are matched to individual projects only during the project selection process.

Each MTC program area uses different rules and procedures for project evaluation; different committees and member agencies take the lead in selecting projects, depending on the program. With the Transportation for Livable Communities program, for example, two-thirds of the available funding is chosen at the regional level by the MTC board, but one-third is split by formula and distributed directly to member counties, where local agencies and officials determine which projects to fund. In the Regional Bicycle and Pedestrian Program, however, only a quarter of all project selection decisions are made by the MTC board. The other 75 percent of funds are suballocated directly to County Congestion Management Agencies for project selection, subject to MTC program rules and criteria.

MTC staff believe that many of their current projects and programs would continue to be funded even if the CMAQ program ceased to exist. This is because the main criterion for funding projects across all programs and funding categories is consistency with the vision of the long-range plan in which air quality improvement and reduced congestion are primary goals.

Qualitative and Quantitative Measures

As with project selection, the calculation of project benefits depends on the program area within which projects are being proposed. MTC uses quantitative methods to evaluate many of its projects, but qualitative indicators are also used to evaluate proposals having benefits that are difficult to calculate with precision due to the size or nature of the project. Marketing projects are evaluated qualitatively, though quantitative analysis may be used as supporting evidence; for example, a follow-up survey may be conducted to ascertain how many people heard a given radio spot or saw a newspaper advertisement. The decision as to which qualitative measures to use and when to use them is left to the discretion of each of MTC's individual program areas.

In terms of quantitative analysis, MTC staff use a number of methodologies to help estimate the benefits of CMAQ-eligible projects. MTC relies heavily on calculations outlined in TRB Special Report 264 on the CMAQ program, and on a report by the California Air Resources Board (CARB), to evaluate many of the projects submitted for consideration. However, MTC has developed several calculation methods in-house for new or nontraditional project proposals that do not clearly match the guidance outlined in those two resources.

CARB and BAAQMD staff provide additional expertise. MTC staff work very closely with BAAQMD staff to develop air quality benefit calculations for new and nontraditional projects and rely on them for expert guidance on which project proposals will have the best impacts.

MTC staff also work closely with project sponsors to estimate project benefits once specific methodologies are developed or adopted since many of the calculations are too complex for sponsors to conduct on their own. In response to recently enacted statewide climate-change legislation, MTC and other MPOs in California are developing methods to estimate the carbon dioxide (CO2) impacts of projects and will begin including those benefits calculations in project evaluations moving forward.

Reporting and Evaluation

MTC staff provide Caltrans with the necessary project information for reporting to FHWA's CMAQ database, but Caltrans retains responsibility for managing this process and inputting the final information. Staff at the State and MPO levels expressed frustration with the administrative challenge of complying with Federal reporting requirements.

MTC does not have an across-the-board policy to measure the impacts and benefits of implemented projects, but it does conduct limited post-project evaluations, particularly to ascertain and document the cost-effectiveness of various project types. An evaluation of the region's FSP/Incident Management program revealed it to be particularly cost-effective, which provided the basis for MTC's ongoing funding to support and expand the program. Now, staff are developing cost-effectiveness tools to assess the benefits of various TCMs as well as the region's Free Transit Program.

Updated: 2/24/2012
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