The National Academies

NCHRP 19-14 [Active]

Right-Sizing Transportation Investments--Methods for Planning and Programming

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Staff Responsibility: Lawrence D. Goldstein
Research Agency: Economic Development Research Group
Principal Investigator: Chandler Duncan
Effective Date: 2/3/2017
Completion Date: 2/2/2019

Across the United States, transportation agencies share common problems: aging infrastructure, unstable funding, changing performance expectations and even missions, and outdated programs and analytical tools that ultimately hamper the ability of these agencies to expand or even sustain a viable and efficient, multimodal transportation system. Transportation agencies need practical and implementable methods to analyze investment tradeoffs based on application of “right-sizing” scenarios so that they can continue to be good stewards of a functional and accessible transportation system—all while working within limited means. This challenge is one that affects all states. With respect to planning and managing assets, many DOTs and other agencies are moving to performance-based approaches such as “Practical Design,” which emphasizes the system as a functioning whole rather than as a set of separate projects in limited locations. Performance-Based Practical Design (PBPD) is a concept that has been studied in-depth by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). It is an approach to transportation system planning and development that relies on use of appropriate performance-analysis tools, taking into consideration both short- and long-term project and system goals while addressing project purpose and need.   These performance-based approaches confront the risk of possible overdesign versus infrastructure shortcomings while emphasizing the use of clearly delineated objectives to help guide decision making. Embedded in these approaches is recognition that overinvestment in one location effectively removes resources and availability for other potential projects and reduces overall system performance. The emphasis on understanding the role of individual assets relative to the overall system is part of a much broader U.S. shift toward performance-based planning.   MAP-21 and the FAST Act require the use of performance measures within a risk-based planning framework. An important component of this new framework is to move beyond condition or state of good repair measures alone, focusing instead on maximizing the performance as part of a transportation system. That shift highlights the need for improved analysis and evaluation procedures in support of decisions, considering a wide array of non-capital solutions that meet performance objectives, moving past a simple binary decision of whether or not to maintain or replace the asset as built. Despite innovations in Practical Design, new approaches to scenario planning, and application of performance measurement, billions of dollars of investment needs are identified each year which remain unmet. The long-term costs to either preserve, replace, or maintain elements of the infrastructure increase with each year of underfunding and neglect until it becomes infeasible for some assets to perform efficiently. Contributing to this problem, agencies may not have up-to-date methods, tools, or even policies to re-evaluate and address the future of either individual assets or the performance expectations of the system as a whole. There are few practical decision guides within the planning and resource allocation process by which an agency can evaluate funding trends, identify right-sizing opportunities, and analyze tradeoffs across multiple objectives to allocate resources appropriately. Given these conditions, there is a critical research need to enhance existing decision-making processes, improve and organize available analytical tools for right-sizing and implementing sustainable levels of investment. Absent such guidance, the problem of passive “disinvestment” will continue to pose both long-term performance challenges and economic inefficiencies. 
The objective of this research is to develop guidance (tools, procedures, and policies) for identifying, evaluating, and communicating multimodal transportation investment right-sizing scenarios. Although agencies are generally equipped to assess investment strategies, sufficient guidance is not readily available on how to identify and assess right-sizing or disinvestment scenarios in ways that clearly explain decisions associated with resource tradeoffs and constraints and how these decisions impact overall system resilience and sustainability. Outcomes of this research should enable agencies to answer questions such as, “Why are we spending more or less on (or eliminating) a given asset; and why is that a good decision given the functional requirements of the broader transportation system”? In response to this objective, the product of this research should be guidance for practitioners to implement and communicate right-sizing methods, applicable to individual projects and system-wide investment strategies. This guidance should also define and identify additional components that can or should be encompassed by the concept of “right-sizing” as well as present a set of practical approaches for measuring and evaluating performance outcomes across a broad set of investment options. In addition, it should compile and include a review of existing and emerging innovative technology and policy solutions, by identifying knowledge gaps faced by practitioners as a basis for suggesting analytical and practical approaches designed to fill those gaps. These practical approaches, and their associated analytical techniques, should be readily available and transferrable to DOTs, MPOs, RPOs (Departments of Transportation, Metropolitan and Regional Planning Organizations), and other agencies, considering available and emerging models and procedures while analyzing options and outcomes likely to arise from alternative right-sizing scenarios.   Planning and development scenarios should also consider the risk of overinvestment versus underinvestment. In summary, the research should develop a business process with supporting analytical methods for identifying, evaluating, implementing, and communicating effective transportation investment right-sizing scenarios. Specifically, the product of this study should (a) guide agencies in the identification of alternative investment situations and right-sizing opportunities, and (b) clearly demonstrate how various tools and techniques can be used in an integrated fashion to compare and contrast the effects of implementing different investment and disinvestment scenarios.
In support of the objectives, the research plan should consider but not be limited to the following steps:
1.    Propose guidance to (a) identify investment trends and document examples of implicit disinvestment; (b) assess factors driving such trends and their implications; (c) offer right-sizing options to manage the anticipated change in ways that account for potential wider economic and societal impacts, considering resiliency and sustainability; and (d) offer methods for communicating potential tradeoffs. 
2.    Demonstrate how agencies can alter trends, demand, and levels of funding with effective policy and investment decision making. 
3.    Identify existing effective practices as well as gaps in current procedures used by practitioners as they apply a right-sizing approach to projects, broader asset investments, and overall agency funding priorities.
4.    Provide practical methods and business processes for determining whether investment and policy strategies across programs, asset class, or geographic area are consistent with performance outcomes and functional needs; and develop tools, guides, and suggested policies for practitioners to implement those processes.
5.    Describe effective and applicable practice(s) for developing and implementing a right-sizing program, including but not limited to the following: (a) understanding and articulating the rationale for planning, programming, and funding decisions; (b) making the most efficient use of asset management planning; (c) recognizing potential disinvestment options and implementable strategies; (d) anticipating, adapting, mitigating, and communicating the long-term consequences of a change in funding level for system users; and (e) using analytical models and technology solutions available to address this issue.
6.    Define and quantify, where possible, the potential benefits of applying the procedures and method(s) developed by this study for stakeholders, including the communities that stand to benefit from infrastructure investment strategies, and describe effective communication tools and techniques.
The research protocol will include a kick-off teleconference bringing together the research team and the NCHRP panel. This kick-off conference call should be scheduled within 1 month of the contract’s execution.  For presentation and discussion at this kick-off conference, the research team will prepare a revised scope of work in an amplified work plan (AWP) to incorporate responses to initial panel concerns expressed as an output of the contractor selection process. This AWP should be divided into two phases with tasks described in detail.  Phase 1 will consist of information gathering and initial evaluation, accomplishing sufficient tasks with defined deliverables to reach a natural decision-making point in the study. Phase 1 will conclude with submission of an interim report that describes the work completed to that point and will presents a revised scope of work for Phase 2 tasks.  It will also include an outline of the final product and the preliminary plan for disseminating and implementing the study output. Completion of Phase 1 and submission of an interim report will be followed by a face-to-face meeting with the NCHRP panel to discuss and review the report approximately 3 weeks later.  No work shall be performed on Phase 2 without NCHRP panel approval.  The Phase 1 interim report should include a description of all tasks and associated deliverables necessary to complete the analysis and development of the guidance material, with an understanding that some changes in scope may be desirable as an outcome of Phase 1.   Within this phase of the work, the proposers should offer a method to convene a diverse group of potential users, together with the NCHRP panel, to review and evaluate the draft guidance and implementation plan. This review will help finalize the proposed guidance and implementation plan, and recommend a format for delivery of the final product that is supported by practitioners.  As part of the response to this RFP, the NCHRP panel is seeking insights of proposers on how they will manage this user review process and the expected outcomes. Final deliverables will include but not be limited to the following: (1) a guidance document with supporting material that describes effective practices for right-sizing transportation system investments; (2) a contractor’s final report documenting the entire project, incorporating all other specified deliverables of the research, including recommendations on priorities for additional research; (3) electronic presentation of the guidance material that can be tailored for specific audiences; and (4) a stand-alone technical memorandum titled, “Implementation of Research Findings and Products”.  Proposers may recommend additional deliverables in support of the project objectives.
STATUS: Research is now underway.

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