Many transportation experts say federal and state transportation departments need to radically change how they fund and deliver projects, with an emphasis on performance measures, private involvement and design-build. A number of federal and state officials are calling for a “major reform” in how federally funded transportation projects are assessed and delivered and how their own departments are organized.

“The time is right to move to a performance-based program,” says Jeffrey Paniati, executive director of the Federal Highway Administration. “We need to focus less on the process and more on the outcome” of projects, he says. Paniati was part of a panel at the Transportation Research Board’s annual meeting, held Jan. 10-14 in Washington, D.C. FHWA is working on two studies, one to develop legislative language for proposing such a program and one to create solid guidelines, he adds.

Pete Rahn, head of the Missouri Dept. of Transportation, urged that earmarks be limited to 5% of any federal funding. He says the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials wants performance measures to focus on six categories: safety, congestion, freight, environment, system operations and infrastructure preservation, with three or four performance standards for each category.

Many sessions were dedicated to performance-based-standards themes, including greater use of design-build, construction manager at-risk and other delivery methods that move away from low-bid to a best-value model. Construction lawyer Kurt Lawrence Dettman noted that as of 2009, almost every state allows design-build to some extent. “Low bids still dominate even design-build jobs,” he says. “But the trend will mean best value will someday exceed low bids.”