Posted on February 20, 2013 2:59 PM
New Legislative Initiative on Performance-Based Funding for State Transportation Investments
Since the passage of GO TO 2040, CMAP has advocated that the State of Illinois and regional stakeholders should implement performance-based funding to prioritize transportation projects -- a transparent process that relies on data-driven metrics and the professional judgment of transportation stakeholders, often including input by the general public. This Policy Update summarizes the current state of programming for transportation funding at state and national levels, as well as recently introduced legislation that would expand the use of performance-based funding by the State of Illinois.
Current Transportation Funding Programming at State, National Levels
Today, much of the State’s transportation capital investments are driven by formula rather than performance. For instance, the State allocates 45 percent of federal and state highway funding to northeastern Illinois. Similarly, metropolitan Chicago’s transit dollars are disbursed to the three service boards using capital formulas that have remained the same for decades. While engineering expertise typically drives decision making for maintenance projects, performance evaluation occurs less frequently for modernization and expansion projects, which are typically more expensive and competitive given limited resources. Oftentimes these projects emerge on an ad-hoc basis rather than through a transparent process that uses evaluation criteria to gauge the return on taxpayer investment.
The recently-passed federal transportation reauthorization bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), signals a new federal emphasis on performance measurement. States across the country are working to develop these broad measures. To fulfill these requirements, the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT) has recently begun a statewide effort to identify and define performance measures across all modes. IDOT currently uses some performance measures to prioritize maintenance projects like resurfacing and bridge reconstruction. However, CMAP’s position is that MAP-21 and the IDOT programming process do not go far enough to link performance measures to actual investment decisions.
CMAP’s Board and Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Policy Committee have been strongly supportive of performance-based funding. In October 2012, the CMAP Board and MPO Policy Committee approved a proposal to implement performance-based funding for IDOT’s highway improvement program. This proposal requests that IDOT establish a technical advisory group to develop an inclusive and performance-based process for making capital investment decisions.
House Bill 1549
Recently filed House Bill 1549 would compel IDOT to implement an expanded approach to performance-based programming. On February 13, the CMAP Board voted to support the general contours of this bill. The core elements of HB 1549 -- the establishment of a Technical Advisory Group, the timeline for a report in FY 2014 and implementation beginning in FY 2015, and the ongoing reporting requirements as part of IDOT’s Highway Improvement Program -- all mirror CMAP’s recommended next steps.
Similar to the CMAP proposal, the State Technical Advisory Group under HB 1549 would be charged with determining the details of performance-based programming: defining project types, identifying clear performance measures, developing methodologies to tie performance measures to programming decisions, and developing methodologies to incorporate qualitative input from the state’s MPOs into the evaluation process. Further, the bill includes language that would formalize the participation of MPOs in the state programming process.
The bill is fairly prescriptive in defining the topic areas for which the Technical Advisory Group and IDOT would be responsible for developing performance measures. The bill lists 12 broad criteria:
- Improving access and mobility for users.
- Preserving and managing the existing transportation system.
- Supporting multimodal choices.
- Maximizing social equity benefits of transportation investments.
- Fostering safety.
- Coordination of current long-range plans.
- Improving the environment.
- Reducing congestion by improving the movement of people.
- Fostering economic development.
- Improving quality of life.
- Moving a growing, diverse, and active population.
- Ensuring transparency and accountability.
While the above criteria align with GO TO 2040’s approach for considering transportation impacts across a comprehensive array of factors, CMAP believes more must be done to identify the actual criteria for prioritizing different “buckets” of projects in the state’s programming process. For instance, an expansion project might be evaluated by its impact on reducing congestion, but routine maintenance work would require an alternative set of metrics.
Furthermore, criteria such as “improving quality of life” and “maximizing social equity benefits” serve as important overall goals, but will require more clarity if they are to be utilized as measures for prioritizing specific projects. CMAP’s overarching principle is that a performance-based process should be well-communicated and the data should be transparent -- all stakeholders should know the rules of the game and understand why some projects are programmed and others are not. CMAP understands that HB 1549 serves as only a starting point, and that more details on these metrics would be worked out via the Technical Advisory Group.
The bill also defines that the affected transportation infrastructure projects “shall include, without limitation, projects for highways [sic] maintenance, highway modernization, highway expansion, transit, and high-speed rail”-- in other words, almost the entirety of surface transportation delivered and managed by the public sector (the sole exception being non-high speed intercity passenger rail). CMAP is concerned that this casts the net too wide in defining transportation infrastructure projects. Another principle of CMAP’s is that performance-based funding should start small on a subset of project types, chiefly capacity expansion and modernization projects, that will benefit from more evaluation and regional buy-in. Other project types, such as maintenance work, require engineering expertise and considerably less formal involvement from other entities or the public.
Lastly, the bill focuses on IDOT as the sole implementing agency, which has little direct relevance to the selection of transit projects. The bill should either focus on the State’s highway program or alternatively include the Regional Transportation Authority and Service Boards as additional agencies required to implement performance-based funding.
CMAP will be closely monitoring the status of HB 1549 in the upcoming weeks and months. Overall, the bill represents a step forward for the region and state to ensure that projects are selected based on transparent performance measures. At the same time, it is important that performance-based funding start small by defining a core selection of measures and project types and clearly communicate the data and process to all involved.