Status: The contractor's final report is available HERE.
There are very few ways to compare and prioritize projects across modes. For example how does one determine if a seaport project is more important than a highway project? This is equally hard to determine when comparing projects across the other modes, i.e. rail, transit and airports. Each mode normally has attributes and indicators that are comparable and can help prioritize projects within the mode. However few of those attributes or indicators may be applicable in other modes. A cost/benefit ratio is one of several methods that can be used to compare and prioritize projects across modes.
Many state departments of transportation (DOT) are moving toward a cross-modal funding scenario for capacity projects. DOTs are challenged to assess return on investment on projects across modes whose function and scale of impact are different, or when the impact of the investment is not necessarily the same across modes. DOTs are using a variety of decision-making frameworks that rely on qualitative and quantitative methods to arrive at project prioritization decisions. These frameworks generally operate as follows:
1. Projects are prioritized within a mode, with each mode planning and prioritizing independent of other modes, with funds budgeted at the mode level.
2. Comparing individual projects from one mode to projects from other modes and analyzing and “appropriately” balancing project size, scope, impact, and/or cost.
3. Prioritizing projects within one corridor and comparing projects from various modes within that corridor.
No guidance exists for state DOTs or Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) that are wrestling with this issue. Developing a common methodology for assessing cross modal priorities is imperative when using limited revenue to fund the most strategic infrastructure improvements.
The objective of this research was to provide guidance on and examples illustrating the use of the following 5 approaches to prioritizing projects across modes, and to develop a recommended approach for prioritizing projects across modes.