The National Academies

NCHRP 23-07 [Active]

Effective Methods for Setting Transportation Performance Targets

  Project Data
Funds: $500,000
Staff Responsibility: Ann M. Hartell
Research Agency: ICF Incorporated, LLC
Principal Investigator: Michael Grant
Effective Date: 6/12/2020
Completion Date: 9/11/2022

In 2012, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) established national performance management requirements for state departments of transportation (DOTs). Successive legislation, regulation, and guidance have reinforced these requirements in the Transportation Performance Management (TPM) framework, with its seven national performance goals and related performance measures within three measure areas: safety (PM1); pavement and bridge condition (PM2); and travel time reliability, congestion, and emissions (PM3).  State DOTs are required to establish performance targets for each performance measure and to regularly report on progress towards meeting those targets. In addition, some states have developed additional, non-TPM measures and targets to manage their safety, asset management, system performance, and other program areas.
Performance targets can be established using quantitative or qualitative methods, or some combination of both methods. For example, a quantitative method could use historical data to project a trend line. A qualitative method may establish a target based on factors such as agency leadership priorities. An example of a combined approach is adjusting trend data for fatalities and serious injuries with stakeholder perspectives to establish a Vision Zero safety target. Combined approaches can also be risk-based; a state DOT may adjust projections to account for funding scenarios or uncertainty in the capacity of the state DOT and/or partner agencies to deliver the planned program. Additionally, some targets may be defined by state statute. Any of these methods can result in a target that reflects a desired outcome and allows for ongoing evaluation of progress towards attaining the target using performance-based decision making and performance reporting.
However, establishing targets presents a number of challenges. Reliance on historical trend data can result in a target that cannot account for unforeseen events, such as severe weather that significantly increases winter maintenance costs or macroeconomic factors that affect transportation funding. These events require a state DOT to adjust their program, reallocating resources in ways that can affect progress towards a target. Some challenges are more technical in nature. For example, state DOT understanding and interpretation of federal guidance on calculation procedures has periodically changed, such as how to round calculated values or how to handle overlapping Traffic Management Channel (TMC) segments or segments that are only partly on the National Highway System (NHS). These changes in calculation methods can shift trends or targets that were established using prior calculation methods.
In 2010, NCHRP Report 666: Target-Setting Methods and Data Management to Support Performance-Based Resource Allocation by Transportation Agencies (available at http://www.trb.org/Publications/Blurbs/164178.aspx) describes steps for state DOTs to establish performance targets and documented quantitative and qualitative approaches used by state DOTs to establish targets. Since that publication, state DOTs, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and local governments have gained experience in target setting in connection with the first round of TPM requirements. As part of the ongoing evolution of transportation performance management, state DOTs are required to re-evaluate performance targets and provide a Mid Performance Period Progress Report to FHWA in October 2020 that documents performance towards targets and any revisions to targets.
Research is needed to improve the practice of target setting by developing more effective yet practical methods for state DOTs to establish and/or re-evaluate performance targets, strengthening state DOT capacity to use performance management to make better decisions in transportation planning and programming.   
The objective of this research is to develop and disseminate a practitioner-ready guidebook for state DOTs that is focused on methods for the target-setting component of transportation performance management. The guidebook will provide information on selecting effective methods that use both qualitative and quantitative sources to establish performance targets. The guidebook will also address how to re-evaluate targets, taking into account unforeseen changes impacting the transportation system, performance data, and performance reporting requirements.

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