The National Academies

NCHRP 20-24(065) [Final]

Strengthened Economic Basis for Systematic Selection of Highway and Transit Projects

  Project Data
Funds: $350,000
The funds were returned to the 20-24 panel for reassignment.
Comments: This project was removed from the NCHRP 20-24 program.

Discussions in the Congress and among other policy makers concerned with highway and transit programs suggest that a more comprehensive and generally acceptable methodology for analysis of the economic and environmental merits of alternative investment opportunities is needed.  The report of the National Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, for example, has called for a restructuring of the federal programs to be more performance-based, outcome-driven, and accountable for results.  Concerns over global climate change will likely require that an overall assessment be made of how proposed transportation system improvements will affect greenhouse gas emissions. Such developments call for more effective methods for direct comparison of highway and transit investments, calling into question whether benefit-cost analysis of projects, as currently practiced, alone provides an adequate basis for making systematic investment decisions.
Work in the United Kingdom has begun to explore a new investment-analysis framework.  The U.K. Department of Transport report Towards a Sustainable Transport System, Supporting Economic Growth in a Low Carbon World, expresses a commitment to a transportation policy that delivers economic growth and lower carbon emissions, asserting that “supporting economic growth and tackling carbon emissions … does not have to be an either or choice.”  The Eddington Transport Study and The Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change, both produced in 2006, considered the importance of the transportation system to the nation's economy, the role of the transport sector in reducing greenhouse gases, and the needs for more comprehensive perspective on benefits and costs in transportation investment decision making. A consensus has begun to emerge in Europe that if transportation policies and projects to be considered “sustainable” they must represent a careful balance of economic, environmental, and societal concerns.  
AASHTO’s 2007 report, A New Vision for the 21st Century, concurs with this principle, calling for adoption of a “triple bottom line” assessment of U. S. transportation policies, strategies and project investments to ensure that they yield robust economic growth, a healthy environment, and improved quality of life for all citizens.  While it is likely that some concerns such as reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions will most effectively be addressed at sector levels, the balance needed achieve sustainability in project selection requires new investment-analysis methods. These methods must not only support choices among alternative investment options, but also provide bases for assessing how effectively chosen options contribute to achievement of broader policy goals established, for example, in legislation or program planning. 
The objectives of the envisioned research are to devise a comprehensive framework for assessing highway and transit projects based on their improvement of transportation system performance and their sustainability and to demonstrate how the framework can be applied by state DOTs and MPOs to support project-selection decisions. The framework should consider how transportation investments may improve both mobility and access, including lower-income individuals, those with disabilities and other special need, and rural as well as urban communities. Initial work may lead to a larger research effort to develop a guidebook for transportation project analysis.
STATUS: AASHTO and the NCHRP 20-24 project panel agreed in April 2009 that initial work on this topic area should be undertaken by AASHTO staff.

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