With federal highway and transit dollars facing a tight squeeze, those drafting a new surface transportation bill are seeking to produce the biggest bang for a limited number of bucks. But how to measure which projects have the best payoff?

Rating the States on Evaluating Highway, Transit Projects’ Impacts
Source: Pew Center on the States and The Rockefeller Foundation, 2011
Rating the States on Evaluating Highway, Transit Projects’ Impacts

A Pew Center on the States-Rockefeller Foundation report, released on May 11, says only 13 states get top marks for goals, performance yardsticks and data to help their transportation officials set highway and transit spending priorities.

The Federal Highway Administration is raising the profile of measuring project and program impacts, setting up a new Office of Program Performance Management. It will work with states to expand use of performance measures and increase accountability in using federal funds.

Performance-measurement provisions also are expected to be in the next highway-transit bill. “They’re going to have to be included,” says Jay Hansen, National Asphalt Pavement Association vice president for legislative and regulatory affairs. “Everybody wants them.” Brian Deery, senior director of the Associated General Contractors’ highway and transportation division, adds, “I think it makes sense to say: How are we investing the money and what is it accomplishing?”

State agencies support federal legislation that calls for measuring whether projects meet nationwide goals, says John Horsley, American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ executive director. But Hansen says, “The question is: What performance metrics are we going to use?” For example, he says, “There needs to be a pavement management system that is consistent across the board.”

The Pew-Rockefeller report covers six types of impacts. All states got high marks in the safety category and more than 75% rated well in assessing infrastructure preservation. But most trailed or had mixed results in measuring economic benefit.