The report, Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results, found considerable differences among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in linking transportation systems to six key goals particularly important to states' economic well-being and taxpayers' quality of life: safety, jobs and commerce, mobility, access, environmental stewardship and infrastructure preservation.
Tennessee fares well in measuring its transportation system's progress in advancing safety and infrastructure preservation. But with the other four goals, including jobs and commerce, the state has room for improvement. It aims to "make transportation investments to support economic growth, economic competitiveness and tourism," but does not track performance measures or collect data to assess whether it is meeting that goal. Tennessee has core performance measures in the areas of access, mobility and environmental stewardship, but it does not present timely data on their progress. The state has a long-range transportation master plan, now six years old, which contains specific performance measures, but it does not have much data to track those measures. The plan is currently being updated.
Just 13 states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington— have goals, performance measures and data for their transportation systems that policy makers can use to advance economic competitiveness, improve access to jobs, help residents and tourists move about more efficiently and mitigate the effects transportation has on the environment. Tennessee and 18 other states trail behind, lacking a full array of tools needed to account for the return on investment in their roads, highways, bridges and bus and rail systems. The remaining 18 states and Washington, DC, fall someplace in between, with mixed results.
"Tennessee lawmakers should make transportation policy and spending choices based on evidence about what works and what does not," said Robert Zahradnik, director of research, Pew Center on the States. "Unless states have clear goals, performance measures and data to generate that information, it is very difficult for policy makers to prioritize transportation investments effectively, target scare resources and help foster economic growth."
"The American public expects leaders to manage our transportation investment with an eye toward performance and results. In fact, in our recent Rockefeller Foundation Infrastructure Survey, 90 percent favored strengthening policies that hold government accountable for collecting data and ensuring that investments fit into an overall plan that is on time and on budget," said Nicholas Turner, Rockefeller Foundation managing director. "This report, which comes at a time when performance and outcomes are such critical pieces of the transportation policy debate, provides both examples of how a handful of states do this well and how many others still have a long road ahead of them."
States were assessed based on a review of more than 800 performance, planning and budget documents. They were rated on one of three levels—leading the way, having mixed results or trailing behind—for each of the six key goals. Each state also was given an overall rating.
The six key goals are:
Safety: This is the area in which states are doing the best job of measuring performance and responding to results. Every state, including Tennessee, and Washington, DC, has goals and compiles data on indicators such as fatalities and crashes.
Jobs and commerce: Conversely, only 16 states earn top marks for progress in measuring their transportation systems' impact on jobs and commerce. Some have begun to develop methods to connect transportation dollars more closely to this important goal. Tennessee trails behind in this area.
Mobility: Twenty-eight states and Washington, DC, are leading the way in measuring how well they connect people to their destinations—using the information to combat congestion and manage accidents and other incidents that affect traffic flow. Tennessee has mixed results in this area.
Access: Half the states and Washington, DC, are leading the way in collecting and tracking information about the availability and use of transportation options such as public transit, including those that link workers and employers. Tennessee has mixed results in this area.
Environmental stewardship: Tennessee, 33 other states and Washington, DC, show mixed results or are trailing behind in having the goals, performance measures or data in place to assess how their transportation systems affect the environment.
Infrastructure preservation: More than three-quarters of states, including Tennessee, earn top marks for having needed information to assess their progress and make smart decisions in this area.
The report describes policies and practices lawmakers can adopt to collect and use information that can improve taxpayers' return on investment in states' transportation systems, even in difficult fiscal times. Among them:
Enact or improve performance measurement legislation. At both the federal and state levels, legislation can seek to mandate or incentivize states to go beyond simply collecting information and actually use it to make important transportation policy and funding choices. For instance, in some cases, budget requests are tied to submission of performance data.
Develop an appropriations process that makes better use of data. States need to develop more comprehensive systems to ensure that policy makers are asking for and using solid information in their deliberations about transportation spending. Some Connecticut legislators, for example, use data from agencies' past performance, including demonstrated accomplishments, before they make new funding choices.
Increase the use of cost-benefit and other types of economic analysis in making transportation decisions. Economic analysis can be valuable in assessing the cost effectiveness or economic impact of a proposed transportation project. Missouri, for example, estimates the number of jobs that may be created by proposed transportation projects. The state also estimates job creation by specific industry. This method can help inform decisions about transportation investments.
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Pew Center on the States The Pew Center on the States is a division of The Pew Charitable Trusts that identifies and advances effective solutions to critical issues facing states. Pew is a nonprofit organization that applies a rigorous, analytical approach to improve public policy, inform the public and stimulate civic life. www.pewcenteronthestates.org.
The Rockefeller Foundation The Rockefeller Foundation fosters innovative solutions to many of the world's most pressing challenges, affirming its mission, since 1913, to "promote the well-being" of humanity. Today, the Foundation works to ensure that more people can tap into the benefits of globalization while strengthening resilience to its risks. www.rockefellerfoundation.org.