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Concept Design for an Online Information Source for Major Surface Transportation Projects: A Discussion Paper

June 2017
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This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The U.S. Government assumes no liability for the use of the information contained in this document.
The U.S. Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trademarks or manufacturers' names appear in this report only because they are considered essential to the objective of the document.

Quality Assurance Statement

The Build America Bureau (the Bureau) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) provide high-quality information to serve Government, industry, and the public in a manner that promotes public understanding. Standards and policies are used to ensure and maximize the quality, objectivity, utility, and integrity of information. The Bureau and FHWA periodically review quality issues and adjust their programs and processes to ensure continuous quality improvement.

Technical Report Documentation Page

1. Report No.
2. Government Accession No. 3. Recipient's Catalog No.
4. Title and Subtitle
Concept Design for an Online Information Source for Major Surface Transportation Projects: A Discussion Paper
5. Report Date
June 2017
6. Performing Organization Code
7. Author(s)
Susan Binder, Benjamin Perez, Jagannath Mallela, and Suriyanarayanan Sadasivam
8. Performing Organization Report No.
Cambridge Systematics
9. Performing Organization Name And Address
Cambridge Systematics, Inc.
3 Bethesda Metro Center, Suite 1200
Bethesda, MD 20814
One Penn Plaza
New York, NY 10119
10. Work Unit No. (TRAIS)
11. Contract or Grant No.
12. Sponsoring Agency Name and Address
United States Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
Office of Innovative Program Delivery
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
13. Type of Report and Period Covered
Discussion Paper: August 2016 - June 2017
14. Sponsoring Agency Code
15. Supplementary Notes
Contracting Officer's Technical Representative: Patrick DeCorla-Souza, FHWA Office of Innovative Program Delivery
16. Abstract
This discussion paper explores the issues associated with compiling information on major surface transportation projects in a publicly accessible online information source or database to assist in establishing benchmarks on projects delivered conventionally and through Public-Private Partnerships (P3s). Information on projects delivered conventionally and through P3s for operating transportation facilities and those in various phases of development could also provide a resource for practitioners seeking to develop or implement similar projects.
17. Key Words
Public private partnerships, toll roads, concession arrangements, tax analysis, competitive neutrality adjustment, value for money
18. Distribution Statement
No restrictions
19. Security Classif. (of this report)
20. Security Classif. (of this page)
21. No. of Pages
22. Price
Form DOT F 1700.7 (8-72)
Reproduction of completed page authorized

Executive Summary

Title IX of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015 directs the National Surface Transportation and Innovative Finance Bureau (renamed the Build America Bureau by USDOT) establish procurement benchmarks to ensure accountable expenditure of federal assistance over the life cycle of projects. To the maximum extent possible, these benchmarks should:

  • Establish maximum thresholds for acceptable project cost increases and delays in project delivery
  • Establish methods for States to measure cost and delivery changes during the project lifecycle
  • Be tailored to different types of project procurements including design-bid-build, design-build and public-private partnerships (as well as other alternative contracting methods such as Construction Manager/General Contractor, a.k.a. CM/GC)

The FAST Act also calls for the Bureau to work in coordination with the modal administrations, including the Federal Highway Administration, to collect project specific information and make it available on a publicly accessible Internet website.

This discussion paper explores the issues that would need to be considered to prepare a publicly accessible online information source or database that could be used to help establish benchmarks on major surface transportation projects delivered conventionally and through Public-Private Partnerships (P3s).

The interest in establishing an on-line repository of project procurement data reflects increasing interest in using public-private partnership (P3) concessions to implement and operate large and complex surface transportation improvements. The potential benefits and limitations of using the P3 concession approach are widely cited. However, little information is available to corroborate these claims. Data on the features and outcomes of P3 and non-P3 procurements could provide the basis for analyses that could shed light on both their strengths and weaknesses. Thus, a secondary purpose of the information source might be to provide a basis for substantiated conclusions about the appropriateness of different procurement strategies in constructing and operating transportation infrastructure under different conditions. Information on projects already implemented or in various phases of development could also provide a resource for practitioners seeking to develop or implement similar projects.

Potential data and information to be included in the information source were considered in terms of two tiers. Tier 1 would provide basic descriptive and outcome-related project data and would be populated to the greatest extent possible with information that has already been captured in existing data sets assembled by FHWA and other industry stakeholders. The Tier 1 information would be of interest to the primary target audience for the information source, namely state departments of transportation (DOTs), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and local transportation agencies that use or are contemplating the use of P3 project delivery.

The Tier 2 data would support more advanced research and analysis and would involve the collection of data that is not captured in existing repositories. This discussion paper identifies:

  • A set of core questions, which would form the bases for such assessments and that the information source might address.
  • Clearly defined data sets that could be used to conduct such assessments of the project performance outcomes of P3 and non-P3 projects.

The paper also identifies:

  • The type of platforms and considerations for their design and management through which the information could be structured and made available
  • Potential institutional structures and funding mechanisms to establish and maintain an information source.

As part of a vetting process, the discussion paper was reviewed by technical experts in academia, government and industry. FHWA also convened a daylong round table session attended by industry P3 experts, internal staff and the consulting team that prepared the discussion paper. The round table participants focused on the importance of the tradeoffs between the scale and depth of the information source, its utility, and the level of effort needed to establish and maintain it. While the information source could provide a first step in understanding project outcomes, the participants agreed that it would be most useful in informing higher-level public policy decisions on the use of different project delivery options.

The roundtable participants suggested the information source should initially focus on compiling the Tier 1 information. Although this information largely exists, it resides in disparate locations including the FHWA Office of Infrastructure's Major Projects Database, the FHWA Center for Innovative Finance Support website, and other FHWA and industry data sets. In order to confirm the availability of the information and evaluate the level of effort to collect and verify it, it was suggested that FHWA would benefit from conducting a pilot to collect Tier 1 level information for a small number of projects. This proof of concept effort would allow a better understanding of what information is available, and the extent of data gaps and consistency issues. A key task in such a pilot data collection effort would be to review as many candidate information sources as possible. It is expected that there will be inconsistences from one data source to another. The pilot data collection effort could identify inconsistencies and develop strategies to verify information accuracy.

It was also suggested that FHWA and the Bureau could start the process by assembling information from FHWA's existing data on major projects. Once compiled, that information could be shared with state departments of transportation (DOTs) that do not have much experience with P3s. FHWA and the Bureau could then solicit their feedback on the value of the data to them. This would allow FHWA and the Bureau to gain an understanding of what such states would seek to learn when they are assessing project delivery options for major projects. While there are common issues in assessing project delivery options, there are always situations that are unique to individual state DOT policies, procedures and management direction. In many instances, procurement decisions cannot be informed fully by reviewing historical data, but also need an assessment of the specific issues involved. Working with the data already captured in the FHWA major project database would provide an opportunity to understand what type of information would be most helpful to state DOTs as they consider procurement options.

Given that roundtable participants suggested a focus on Tier 1 information as a start, Chapter 3 of the discussion paper identifies the candidate Tier 1 data metrics, together with the anticipated sources of that information. A description of the Tier 2 information has been retained in Appendix B of the discussion paper for potential use by other researchers.

Should a decision be made to begin efforts to put the information source in place, it is suggested that the efforts would benefit from oversight from a committee of thought leaders in the P3 and transportation policy arenas. It would be strategic to seek participation in such a committee from states that have recently passed P3 enabling legislation but that do not yet have hands-on P3 experience, together with representatives from larger MPOs. These organizations would benefit from the information source as they consider new funding and financing options and make policy decisions guiding their strategic transportation plans.

Acronyms and Abbreviations

AADT Annual Average Daily Traffic
ATC Alternative Technical Concepts
CM/GC Construction Manager/General Contractor
CVS Comma Separated Values
DB Design-Build
DBB Design-Bid-Build
DBE Disadvantaged Business Enterprise
DBF Design-Build-Finance
DBFOM Design-Build-Finance-Operate-Maintain
DBOM Design-Build-Operate-Maintain
DEIS Draft Environmental Impact Statement
DOT Department of Transportation
EA Environmental Assessment
EIS Environmental Impact Statement
EMMA Electronic Municipal Market Access
FAST Act Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act
FASTLANE Fostering Advancements in Shipping and Transportation for the Long-term Achievement of National Efficiencies
FEIS Final Environmental Impact Statement
FHWA Federal Highway Administration
GIS Geographic Information System
HPMS Highway Performance Monitoring System
HTML Hyper Text Markup Language
ITS Intelligent Transportation System
MP&R Maintenance Preservation and Renewal
MSRB Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board
NBI National Bridge Inventory
NCSL National Conference of State Legislatures
NHS National Highway System
O&M Operations and Maintenance
P3 Public-Private Partnership
PAB Private Activity Bond
PDF Portable Document Format
PLA Project Labor Agreement
RFI Request for Information
RFP Request for Proposals
RFQ Request for Qualifications
RRIF Railroad Rehabilitation & improvement Financing
TIFIA Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act
USDOT United States Department of Transportation
VfM Value for Money
VMT Vehicle Miles Traveled
WAI Web Accessibility Initiative

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