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Publication Number:      Date:  Summer 1995
Issue No: Vol. 59 No. 1
Date: Summer 1995


Fifteen Years of HPMS Partnership: Accomplishments and Future Directions

by Norman C. Mueller


The Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) has been a highly successful federal-state partnership for 15 years. This program helps measure the investment accountability of vast amounts of public funds; provides a wide variety of information to Congress for formulating federal-aid highway programs and making decisions on program funding; and serves the highway data and analytical needs of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the transportation community, business, industry, and the general public.

HPMS was created to solve a problem. In 1965, Congress directed FHWA to report biennially on the conditions, performance, and future highway investment needs of the nation's street and highway systems. This mandate was really a challenge since most available statistical data at that time were fragmented, archaic, and incomplete. As a result, several unique national studies were developed and implemented over a 10-year period beginning in 1968. Because each study required the states to assemble a significant staff to meet FHWA's study objectives and data reporting requirements, this approach to fulfilling the congressional mandate was not a practicable solution. Therefore, HPMS was created in 1978 as a continuing, sample-based monitoring program that requires annual data reporting instead of biennial special studies.

Initial HPMS Objectives

FHWA initially intended for HPMS to be:

HPMS was designed in a top-down manner through interviews and extensive coordination with the various potential data users within FHWA and with FHWA's top policy decision-makers. This first requirement was to identify the minimum core data set (i.e., the initial integrated HPMS data base) needed to address key and emerging issues and questions. A special effort was made to ensure that the minimum, necessary data collection effort was being passed on to the states.

HPMS Accomplishments

During its first 15 years, HPMS has successfully fulfilled many important functions and has played a vital role in numerous critical highway transportation-related events. The following is a brief summary of the key roles played by HPMS data and analytical products:

Additionally, a number of states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have used HPMS data and the system's associated AP for a variety of purposes. For example, Idaho, Kentucky, Oregon, Texas, and Washington are among the several states that use HPMS to develop reports for their state legislatures. California, Georgia, Kansas, New Jersey, and North Carolina have found other internal uses for HPMS. Similarly, the Southern California Association of Governments, the East/West Gateway Coordinating Council of Governments, and the city of Indianapolis use HPMS for city and MPO purposes. Other HPMS users include the University of South Florida's Center for Urban Transportation Research; the Texas Transportation Institute; the Province of Quebec, Canada; the University of Waterloo (Waterloo, Canada); and other universities and private consultants.

HPMS Enhancements

As HPMS has matured over the years, so has its supporting federal-state partnership, which is now expanding to include MPOs and local governments. As a dynamic system, HPMS must be flexible -- and reassessed periodically -- to ensure that it appropriately addresses key highway transportation issues of the present and future.

As the interstate system nears completion, the highway program has shifted from constructing new highways to preserving existing street and highway systems. Crucial to this shift in program priorities is an emphasis on the preservation and enhancement of pavements. HPMS is responding to this paradigm shift by focusing on pavements and the need for high-quality, consistent pavement condition data on a nationwide basis in the form of the International Roughness Index.

The growing congestion on our nation's urban highway systems during the past decade has served as another HPMS focal point, leading to still other HPMS data enhancements.

The 1990 Clean Air Act Amendments and the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) both had significant impacts on HPMS data requirements. The system responded; it now provides the travel data needed by EPA to track air quality nonattainment areas, measurements of physical dimensions, NHS use and pavement roughness characteristics, geographic information system (GIS) linear reference data for the nation's principal arteries, etc.

Since 1980, the mandated biennial report to Congress has made extensive use of state-furnished HPMS data and the products of the companion AP. The next biennial report to Congress will introduce the results of the new HPMS Highway Economic Requirements System (HERS) model (now in the final testing stage).

Recognition of HPMS Data Quality

After testifying before a congressional committee, former FHWA executive director R.D. Morgan said, "Data is a very powerful tool. ... When you advise Congress that (my) testimony was based on data collected and furnished to FHWA by our state HPMS partners, it adds credibility and influence to our testimony." High-quality data cannot be overemphasized or taken for granted.

The U.S. General Accounting Office noted, "The HPMS model uses accepted engineering standards and practices." ... "The Highway Needs report, which is based primarily on the (HPMS), is an important tool used by the Congress and others in developing and analyzing national policy and programs relating to highways." Both the Transportation Research Board and the U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations SR-16 noted the significance of HPMS data to "one of the few existing performance efforts in the federal government," FHWA's biennial C&P Report to Congress. The Commission pointed out, "Although each infrastructure program has its own unique needs, other departments and agencies should consider adopting analytic and reporting systems similar to (FHWA)."

The Future of HPMS

HPMS will continue to serve FHWA's data and analytical needs well into the next century. As a dynamic data system, HPMS will be reassessed periodically to determine whether some fine tuning is required.

Technological advancements in terms of data base management and related software, electronic data retrieval by all potential data users, and dissemination of data via various methods, including CD-ROM, are near-term features that can be expected. Also, HPMS GIS-related products will be available by the end of 1995.

The past and future successes of HPMS are the results of the contributions of numerous program participants. In particular, they are a tribute to the cooperative efforts of FHWA's state and local government partners.


  1. Highway Needs: An Evaluation of DOT's Process for Assessing the Nation's Highway Needs, U.S. General Accounting Office, Washington, D.C., August 1987.
  2. Data for Decisions: Requirements for National Transportation Policy Making, Transportation Research Board Special Report 234, National Research Council, Washington, D.C., 1992.
  3. High Performance Public Works: A New Federal Infrastructure Investment Strategy for America, U.S. Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations SR-16, Washington, D.C., November 1993.

Norman Mueller is the chief of the Highway Systems Performance Division of FHWA's Office of Highway Information Management.




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