Federal performance measures: What are they, and why are they so important?

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its final rules for highway and interstate performance measures, which will play a role in the evaluation of and decision-making process for future federal projects. The enumeration of the measures themselves was mandated through the Move Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act of 2012, also called MAP-21. For a clear run-down of what performance measures meant for state DOTs and MPOs, see our one-page briefing.

Why performance measures?

These measures will be used to determine the performance of a number of types of highways, as well as the progress in programs addressing congestion and vehicle emissions. What kind of measures these rules collect reflects what solutions might later be funded to address congestion: metrics that incorporate delay of people and the generation of emissions will allow U.S. DOT to prioritize efforts that incorporate transit and other non-driving modes.

What kinds of metrics are collected?

States will measure the percent reliability of the person-miles traveled on interstates and non-interstate highways of the National Highway System. Counting person-miles rather than vehicle-miles moves the emphasis toward testing how well the systems move people, not just cars.

Along that same line, states and MPOs will also report the percentage of trips made up of options that are not single-occupancy vehicles. To do this, they can rely on the American Community Survey, which collects data on commute modes; local surveys, like MWCOG’s State of the Commute; or system-use measurements, such as traffic counters and transit ridership.

Importantly, emissions reductions must also be reported, including the percent change in carbon dioxide generated from vehicles against 2017 levels.

How often are measures reported?

Under the final rules, state departments of transportation must, by February 20 of next year, establish four-year targets that reflect how they anticipate their highways will perform at that time. Metropolitan planning organizations then must set targets within six months of their state’s target. Urban areas only have to set one two-year goal and one four-year goal, no matter what level agency is responsible for the highways that run through them.

For what will the U.S. DOT use them?

How states and metropolitan areas measure things impacts further investments down the line. Performance measures will ensure that federal transportation funds are spent in such a way that supports the goals of U.S. DOT. They also increase transparency and accountability of the decision-making process, since it will be clear what data is informing funding choices.

Read the one-page briefing.

Photo: Interstate traffic in Arlington (Sam Kittner for Mobility Lab, www.kittner.com).

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