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Base investment decisions on data and performance

Base investment decisions on data and performance

The State of Illinois and local governments have been forced to stretch their resources to meet communities' and the region's needs. Constrained public resources require state and local governments to improve their financial and budget administration practices and develop innovative approaches to investment decisions. Yet investments are often predicated on arbitrary formulas rather than measures of need or impact. Funding and programming decisions based on performance often make better use of limited resources. These approaches identify performance goals, combining data analysis and stakeholder feedback to choose projects within a limited budget. Both quantitative and qualitative data, including that obtained through extensive public outreach, are important pieces of performance-based approaches.


Performance-driven investment builds on complete, accessible, standardized, and high quality data. Data provided by the U.S. Census Bureau and other federal agencies is crucial to understanding regional and local demographic and socioeconomic conditions. The data necessary to assess transportation system needs, such as freight and goods movement data and data from other private transportation providers, is often unavailable. In addition, significant work remains to gather asset condition data across transportation, water, stormwater, and other infrastructure. Similarly, hospital systems, universities, and public health departments routinely collect health data from target areas and specific populations. These data can often be rich but are rarely standardized across place or institution, limiting the ability of health practitioners to address health inequality among various population groups.


The extent of data available to manage assets has improved, but obtaining it can be costly. Many local governments are adopting asset management systems. These systems identify a structured sequence of maintenance actions to achieve a desired condition at a minimum cost, helping communities to optimize the timing and amount of infrastructure investment.[1]  Asset management can be used to develop capital improvement plans or identify when additional revenue may be needed to maintain system condition.


While some local governments lack the capability to institute asset management, some progress has been made by roadway jurisdictions for pavement management systems.[2]  Because of the large scale of the assets and expenditures for roadways, implementing such systems is an important first step toward improving how governments manage capital assets.


State and local governments make a wide range of investments beyond physical infrastructure, many of which can benefit from transparent, data-driven programming. Such programs, including economic development incentives, should be based on outcomes and performance of the investments. Many economic development incentives, such as state and local tax abatements and credits, are provided without evaluating whether the provision of the incentive is in line with established goals. In addition, detailed information on such incentives is often unavailable, which prevents data-driven decision making.


The following describes strategies and associated actions to implement this recommendation.

Use a data-driven, performance-based approach to making public infrastructure and service investments

In an era of constrained resources, the State of Illinois and local governments need to ensure that investments in infrastructure and public services are based on their performance relative to established goals and targets, rather than on arbitrarily derived formulas. Since the passage of MAP-21, the federal government has also emphasized the importance of data-driven investment in transportation infrastructure. A performance-based approach has broader applications, such as for evaluating services to ensure that investments are in line with priorities. Yet agencies integrating performance-based processes may not always have data available to fully implement them. Specifically with regard to transportation, CMAP and the state can provide a variety of funding and technical resources to help local governments implement pavement management systems.


CMAP, in collaboration with other implementers, should continue to advance a performance-based approach to programming STP-Local, CMAQ, and TAP.


The region should explore ways to improve the uniformity of data collection and analysis as part of asset management systems and to encourage increased data sharing.


Local governments should implement asset management systems to facilitate better-informed investment choices, such as systems to manage pavement condition or water infrastructure.


CMAP, with assistance from IDOT, should help local governments create asset management systems, starting with efforts to pilot local implementation of pavement management.


The State, transit agencies, CMAP and other entities should program infrastructure funding based on performance, rather than by formula.

Support a modern census and other vital socioeconomic data collection activities

Having access to rich data about the region and its residents was a critical part of ON TO 2050 development. CMAP, its partners, and many other public and private entities use data from the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as other federal agencies that collect and analyze demographic and socioeconomic data, to analyze strategies and policies that drive planning and investment activities. The federal government should ensure that its data collecting agencies are equipped with adequate resources and administrative capacity. Those federal agencies should continue to modernize their activities to provide access that is timely, thorough, and secure.

Improve health data collection, analysis, and availability for evidence-based policies and decision making

When properly collected and analyzed, high quality health data and metrics are important for reducing health inequities. One of the most regularly collected sources of primary health information across counties is the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) survey. The Illinois Department of Public Health administers the survey every two years and data is available at county level geographies. For a fee, local health departments can contract with the Illinois Department of Public Health to conduct a local version of the BRFSS or oversample at the community level. Oversampling this data allows more specific health data tracking in an effort to highlight and address health inequity among population groups. While such primary health data is valuable, so too are broadly agreed-upon indicators. Health partners in the region currently do not have a common health equity indicator. Ideally, such an indicator would be broken down by race/ethnicity, class, gender, and disability. Finally, local governments need help understanding how their policies and practices relate back to the identified health equity data and a regional indictor and monitoring the success of changes.


County, municipal public health departments, and hospitals and health institutions, with philanthropic support, should contract for BRFSS oversampling.


CMAP and public health partners should develop a common regional health equity indicator/ index.


CMAP and public health partners should monitor the integration of health and health equity policies by local governments.

State and local governments should improve budget and financial administration practices

Improved asset condition data can aid state and local governments' long-term financial planning. Local governments have an unmet need in the region for greater familiarity with financial management policies and land use choices that take a long-term perspective for improving resilience to difficult economic periods. A broad range of actors, including CMAP and its partners, can help build local expertise on recommended measures through materials and trainings. Partnerships with civic and professional organizations could be leveraged to develop trainings that build familiarity with best practices and assist with local application.


State and local governments should continue to improve budgeting practices to ensure they are transparent, data-driven, and fiscally sound.


State and local governments should implement practices such as short- and long-range financial forecasting to improve policies and decisions.


CMAP and partners should develop materials and trainings to help municipalities and counties understand how their land use choices affect local revenues.


Civic and professional organizations should provide expert guidance on best practices in budgeting and financial planning for government units to incorporate long-term perspectives and communicate effectively with stakeholders.

Promulgate stronger standards for transparency and accountability of economic development incentives

Proper evaluation of any program relies on two essential components: clear, relevant, ascertainable data, and internal procedures to assess outcomes and make decisions. The transparency of data and information on economic development incentives varies across metropolitan Chicago. Public agencies collect and publish a significant amount of non-proprietary information regarding incentives, but these data systems are often inadequate to determine an investment's effectiveness. In particular, disclosure standards can differ by the unit of government and the type of incentive, leaving information too fragmented or inconsistent to determine the total incentives going to a project. Regularly evaluating and publishing incentive data allows communities to make prioritized investments in their economic growth and long-term sustainability. Rather than extending incentives into perpetuity, the State of Illinois and local governments should pursue performance-based approaches to make decisions that extend, improve, or terminate incentives based on rigorous analysis. Such analysis should account for the incentive’s full costs and benefits, progress in achieving its public purpose, and trade-offs relative to other government activities.


The State of Illinois and local governments should require a regular audit of all tax abatements, diversions, and credits for economic development.

The State of Illinois and local governments should implement and maintain sunset provisions on all tax abatements, diversions, and credits for economic development, allowing periodic reevaluation. 

The State of Illinois and local governments should make comprehensive data on incentives for economic development available and ensure that relevant, accurate, non-proprietary data can be reliably located, integrated, and analyzed.


Make the collection, sharing, and analysis of public and private sector transportation data a regional priority

To make sound decisions, the region’s transportation agencies require data from all elements of the network, whether public or private. This is especially important to better understand non-motorized, freight, and transit network companies (TNC) travel, each of which has been difficult to measure and analyze due to inadequate data. More frequent and detailed data on pedestrian and cyclist behavior could become available as sensing technology is increasingly deployed in public rights of way, and as private and public agencies analyze aggregated data from mobile devices and activity tracking apps. This might enable more efficient and accurate counts of cyclists and pedestrians as well as more complete inventories of the infrastructure they use. The region has greatly advanced its understanding of truck travel through the use of new data sources and monitoring systems, but similar information on rail movements – particularly private systems -- is limited.


To understand rail performance, CMAP has made progress in collecting new data in recent years, but this data is aggregated to a high level that does not allow evaluation of potential rail projects. For tax dollars to be invested in private projects, private rail operators must demonstrate sufficient public benefits. Only with appropriate data from the freight rail industry -- including speeds, volumes, and reliability of freight trains along specific corridors and at key rail-rail crossings -- can this all-important analysis be conducted. Existing and emerging private providers have broad impacts on the transportation network, impacts that need to be part of investment decisions. Local governments and transit agencies should work with TNCs and other private transportation providers to obtain the data necessary to make sound decisions. With full respect for the right of private companies for their sensitive data to be kept secure, public decision makers have the obligation to assess whether limited taxpayer dollars are being invested wisely and to examine the public benefits and costs of these services’ use of the public right of way. With a long record of safeguarding similarly sensitive data, CMAP will continue to play a major role in aggregating, normalizing, and sharing data as appropriate with regional stakeholders.


Public agencies also need to invest in their own data analysis, storage, and sharing capabilities. Such agencies, particularly lower capacity ones, might have difficulty collecting and managing transportation data as it increases in volume and complexity. Commercial services are increasingly essential for data collection, analysis, and visualization, reducing public agencies' dependence on in-house expertise and potentially reducing costs, yet increasing their dependency on third-party tools and data providers. Public agencies should have the right to use, retain-- and when appropriate, share -- data collected by private sector sources on the behalf of public agencies or as a result of a public-private partnership. In turn, the public sector has its own valuable datasets, including system performance, conditions, and incidents. The public sector must carefully navigate competing mandates to provide open access to government data and protect the privacy of residents. This strategy also appears in the Mobility chapter under the recommendation to Harness technology to improve travel and anticipate future impacts.


CMAP should continue to play a leadership role in promoting responsible and regionally consistent data stewardship collection, analysis, and sharing among public sector partners including the City of Chicago, RTA, transit agencies, counties, and municipalities.


The public sector should identify ways to leverage provision of more detailed data and analysis to private companies while carefully protecting riders’ privacy.


Private sector partners should share data that aids planning for transit, the road network and emerging mobility services.


Municipalities and transportation agencies should contractually require data sharing as a condition for private companies' access to public infrastructure (roadways, loading areas, etc.) or to subsidies.


CMAP and partners should improve region-wide data on bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and travel patterns.


Private rail partners should provide substantive documentation of any data supporting the public benefits of CREATE projects and allowing assessment of potential rail improvements that could benefit passenger movements.


[2]Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning, “Transportation Asset Management Recommendations Memo,” January 2017,

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