The National Academies

NCHRP 19-14 [Completed]

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

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
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share common problems: aging infrastructure, unstable funding, changing performance expectations and even missions, and outdated programs and analytical tools that ultimately hamper the ability of these agencies to expand or even sustain a viable and efficient, multimodal transportation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 was 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 also defines and identifies 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 compiles and includes 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, are 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 also consider the risk of overinvestment versus underinvestment. In summary, the research develops 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 includes (a) guide agencies in the identification of alternative investment situations and right-sizing opportunities, and (b) demonstration of 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.
STATUS: The final report has been released as NCHRP Report 917.  Also associated with this report is an executive summary as well as several supplementary materials, including:

To create a link to this page, use this URL: http://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=4205