The National Academies

NCHRP 19-15 [Active]

Guidebook for Effective Policies and Practices for Managing Surface Transportation Debt

  Project Data
Funds: $300,000
Staff Responsibility: Lawrence D. Goldstein
Research Agency: WSP USA, Inc.
Principal Investigator: Nathan M. Macek
Effective Date: 6/25/2018



State departments of transportation (DOTs) have a wide range of policies and practices in place to guide management of their surface transportation debt programs.  Despite these existing practices, agencies have to respond to a significant increase in the amount and types of financing being used to pay for transportation investments coupled with an increasingly complex regulatory environment for issuing and managing municipal debt.  As a result, state DOTs are facing a number of challenges in administering and managing their debt programs.  These challenges include the following: 

·        Implementing prudent and efficient financial management practices;

·        Determining the appropriate debt tool to use to meet financing needs;

·        Selecting the appropriate issuance method;

·        Selecting qualified advisors including bond counsel, financial advisors, investment bankers, and trustees, among others;

·        Maintaining an affordable level of debt; and

·        Complying with post issuance requirements.

To overcome such challenges, state DOTs are looking for new approaches to build on and improve debt management policies and practices.

NCHRP Synthesis 513: Evolving Debt Finance Practices for Surface Transportation revealed that, while there is significant research on general debt management policies, practices, and debt affordability measures, there is limited literature on these topics as they relate specifically to transportation debt.  State DOTs can benefit from a consolidated source of information and guidance on effective debt management policies and practices.



The objective of this study is to produce a guidebook and supporting material to help state DOTs develop and implement effective debt management policies and programs related to financing surface transportation facilities.  The guidebook will focus on methods and procedures to improve the decision-making process for issuing debt while building effective policies and practices for overall debt program management.  The primary audience for the guidebook will be state DOT financial managers, but it may also have relevance to elected officials, state DOT chief executive officers, and others providing technical assistance and oversight as it relates to state DOT financial management.


Proposers are asked to present a detailed research plan for accomplishing the project objective.  Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time, including an indication of how proposed research will make use of and build on available resources.  Proposals must demonstrate in sufficient detail an understanding of the issues and a sound approach to meeting the research objective.   

In response to the stated objective, the research plan should address a broad range of debt management issues affecting surface transportation, leading to preparation of a guidebook of creditable practices.  It will be designed to assist state DOT personnel and decision makers improve their understanding of the use and management of debt in financing surface transportation improvements. 

As a first step in developing the guidebook, the research plan should include an expanded literature review, building on work previously completed as part of the NCHRP Synthesis 513.  Based on this review, the research team should consider the following questions in structuring the guidebook:  

·         What key factors need to be considered in developing debt issuance and management policies and practices?  What parameters do the policies place on debt issuance practices and management?

·         What areas of debt issuance and debt management are covered by the policies and practices?

·         How are policies reviewed, adopted, and updated?  What agencies are involved and what procedures are required for review, adoption, and update?  How do involved agencies interact?

·         How do state DOTs measure affordability when considering issuing debt, including Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicles (GARVEEs)?  How should state DOTs measure affordability? 

·         What analytical or management tools are being used in managing debt?

·         How is compliance managed throughout the debt life cycle? 

·         Are there debt management practices that can be borrowed from other disciplines or agencies? 

·         What are the recommendations for future research related to capacity building and analytical or management tools?


The research plan should be divided into two phases, and each phase should be divided into tasks with a detailed description of the work proposed.  The research plan should build in appropriate interim deliverables that include, at a minimum, a detailed annotated outline of the resources forming the basis of the research, and an interim report at the end of Phase I that describes work done in early tasks and provides an updated work plan for the remaining tasks to be accomplished in Phase II.  Phase I should reflect no more than 50% of the overall scope of work and should address the initial and fundamental tasks contributing to the overall study outcome.  NCHRP approval of the Phase I Interim Report is required before proceeding with Phase II. 

The research plan should also build in appropriate checkpoints with the NCHRP project panel including, at a minimum, (1) a kick-off teleconference meeting to be held within 1 month of the contract’s execution date; (2) the face-to-face interim report review meeting to be held at the end of Phase I; and (3) at least two additional web-enabled teleconferences tied to NCHRP review and approval of any other interim deliverables as deemed appropriate.

Note: Travel and per diem costs for panel members attending the interim meeting will be paid by NCHRP. 

Final deliverables will include at a minimum: (1) the guidebook and supporting material specified in the research objective; (2) a final report that documents the entire research effort; (3) an executive summary as a stand-alone document that outlines the research findings and recommendations; and (4) a presentation (e.g., a Microsoft® PowerPoint, video, etc.) aimed at decision makers that simply and concisely explains why the application of the guidebook is helpful and how it will be used.  Final deliverables will also include a stand-alone technical memorandum entitled, “Implementation of Research Findings and Products.” 

Status: The Draft Final Documents have been submitted and are now under review.

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