The National Academies

NCHRP 20-83(07) [Final]

Sustainability as an Organizing Principle for Transportation Agencies
[ NCHRP 20-83 (Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $1,000,000
Research Agency: Booz Allen Hamilton
Principal Investigator: John Wiegmann
Effective Date: 4/22/2010
Completion Date: 7/15/2013

Long-Range Strategic Issues

For fiscal years 2009 and 2010, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) allocated $7,000,000 of the available NCHRP budget to examine long-range strategic issues, both global and domestic, that will likely affect state departments of transportation (DOTs) and directed $1,000,000 to each of seven projects. These projects were selected based on the 2008 report, Long-Range Strategic Issues Facing the Transportation Industry, funded by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). This request for proposals is for one of those projects.
Major trends affecting the future of our nation and the world will dramatically reshape transportation priorities and needs. The transportation industry must be ready for the challenges or benefits created by these trends and resulting scenarios. AASHTO recognizes that research can help and wants to ensure that transportation practitioners are equipped to deal with possible futures that may emerge 30 to 50 years out.
The objective of this series is to provide guidance to state DOTs that will prepare them for possible futures so DOTs can act, rather than react. This is in contrast to current research in similar subject areas that focuses primarily on improving and building on existing conditions to make advances. Each project panel will be looking for that long-range vision in evaluating the submitted proposals. In addition, these requests for proposals have been prepared as more outcome-oriented, allowing proposers flexibility in the design of a research plan.

Increasing awareness of the environmental, economic, and social effects of the transportation system has already led to new demands on transportation agencies to be more responsive in providing transportation services. Transportation agencies are challenged to build consensus around balancing short-term cost effectiveness and long-term sustainability.  While the roles and responsibilities of transportation agencies differ from state to state, there are common organizational attributes and characteristics that transportation agencies need in order for their transportation systems to support the environment, the economy, and social equity.
Against this backdrop, the traditional functions of many transportation agencies are changing.  As they evolve, transportation agencies will have to be resilient in the face of continuing and new demands by society, and they may need to fundamentally rethink the mission(s) and organizing principle(s) that drive them today.
To assist transportation agencies in evaluating their current and future capacity to support sustainability while delivering transportation solutions in a rapidly changing social, economic, and environmental context, an analytical framework and supporting tools are needed.
The objective of this research is to provide a framework for transportation agencies to use to identify and understand the future trends and external forces that will increasingly put pressure on their ability to carry out their responsibilities to (1) meet society’s evolving demand for transportation services and (2) meet society’s emerging need to operate on a more sustainable basis. The framework will also provide a means for agencies to assess their future capacity to meet society’s demands, and provide or identify tools and approaches that agencies may use to assist them in making changes they deem appropriate and necessary to meet rapidly changing needs and conditions.
The thrust of this research is to make sense, from the perspective of a transportation agency, of the considerable amount of information that portends various future social, economic, and environmental demands from its transportation system. This research will (1) identify likely alternative future scenarios in which transportation agencies will be asked to achieve sustainability goals in providing for economic vitality, social equity, and environmental integrity that reflect conditions 30 to 50 years in the future; (2) analyze how transportation agencies’ existing fiscal, legal, and institutional structure(s) and decision-making processes encourage or inhibit them from optimizing their contribution to a sustainable society; (3) examine the variety of roles, and the nature of their related primary activities, that transportation agencies may be expected to play in the future; (4) explore linkages, and expectations, between transportation agencies and stakeholders, and the need to form new alliances and partnerships with other transportation providers and system users; and (5) provide or identify tools that individual agencies can use in designing their particular approach(es) to adapting to the demands and opportunities of the future and in describing, in broad terms, how “sustainable” transportation agencies might be organized.
STATUS:  The final report was published as NCHRP Report 750, Volume 4 and is available HERE.

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