West Virginia Trails Behind in Measuring Performance of Transportation Dollars

May 11, 2011, 00:01 ET from Pew Center on the States

WASHINGTON, May 11, 2011 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- West Virginia spent $1.44 billion on transportation in fiscal year 2010, yet the state cannot answer critical questions about what returns this investment is generating in the areas of jobs and commerce, mobility, access and environmental stewardship, according to a report by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation. The state leads the way in measuring transportation’s impact on the key goals of safety and infrastructure preservation. But overall, it trails behind other states in having the essential tools—goals, performance measures and data—needed to help decision makers choose cost-effective transportation funding and policy options.

Most states are entering their fourth year of the ongoing budget crisis, having closed more than $400 billion in budget gaps since 2008. West Virginia, for example, faced a $224 million gap in fiscal year 2011. At the same time, policy and business leaders across the country are acknowledging that states’ transportation systems are essential to helping advance short- and long-term economic growth. Additionally, some members of Congress are proposing that the next surface transportation authorization act, the law that governs the largest federal funding streams for states’ transportation systems, more closely tie dollars to performance.

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.

West Virginia fares well in measuring its transportation system’s progress in advancing safety and infrastructure preservation. For instance, the state aims to resurface 8.3 percent of its paved highways every year so that the entire system will be revamped over a 12-year cycle. But with other goals, such as jobs and commerce, the state has room for improvement. For example, West Virginia does not have performance measures and data to assess transportation’s progress toward mobility and environmental stewardship. It has only one performance measure—transit ridership—for access. The state set a goal of boosting rural transit ridership by 1.5 percent each year, a target it met for a few years before ridership fell in 2010.

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. West Virginia 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.

“West Virginia 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 West Virginia, 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. West Virginia shows mixed results 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. West Virginia trails behind 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. West Virginia has mixed results in this area.
  • Environmental stewardship: West Virginia, 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 West Virginia, 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.

The full report and fact sheets for each state are available at: www.pewcenteronthestates.org/transportation

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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.

SOURCE Pew Center on the States