US Department of Transportation
FHWA Planworks: Better Planning, Better Projects
Performance Measures and the Decision Guide
Performance measures are a valuable tool for building consistency, transparency, and accountability into transportation decision making. Performance measures can be used as an evaluation criterion within a process. After the completion of a plan or project, performance measures also provide a way to monitor the effectiveness of implemented solutions.
Transportation Performance Management is a new way of conducting the planning and programming process under MAP-21 and the FAST Act. There are many resources to help practitioners understand how to incorporate this approach. See the Reference Links for more information.
The goal of PlanWorks is to integrate collaborative practices into ongoing transportation decision making as structured by federal statutes and regulations. This Application will assist transportation practitioners in determining how and when to use performance measures at individual Key decisions using the Decision Guide.
There are several Key Decisions in each of the four main decision-making phases that involve either the selection of these measures or use the results as input for decision making. The highlighted Key decisions in the graphic below include information on how performance measures are used in that decision and the linkages between Key decisions.
Hover over the highlighted Key Decisions to understand the specific relationship of performance measures to the decision. Click on any highlighted Key Decision for more information about questions, data, and relationships that support this interface. Key Decisions that are greyed-out have no specific relevance to the individual application or topic area but are still accessible from this graphic.
Performance Measures across Decision Making Phases
Performance measures can be applied to several phases of the planning and project development process including: long-range planning, corridor or area studies, programming (the selection of projects into a TIP or STIP), environmental review, and project design. The following descriptions provide general ideas for applying performance measures at these phases.
The National Goals provide the initial context for developing performance measures during transportation planning. These are referenced in the relevant factors.
This section provides an overview of how performance measures support capacity-related elements of a long-range plan. The long-range plan is customarily a strategic document that defines and builds support for a broad vision that responds to high priority transportation needs.
As a "map" for policy makers and their stakeholders, the long-range plan is made more effective by inclusion of performance measures that translate an agency’s vision into measurable metrics that help decision makers gauge and guide progress towards important goals and hold them accountable to stakeholders. The hallmarks of good capacity-related long-range plan level performance measures include several defining characteristics that together distinguish them from other areas where performance measures are used:
- High-Level Perspective – Measure(s) offer insights on trends and issues at statewide or regional levels that are relevant to decision makers, legislators and the general public;
- Handful of Measures – A small, but carefully chosen set of measures helps distill complex data into broad insights that are relevant to policy measures;
- Reflective of Strategic Goals – Measure(s) in the long-range plan relate to appropriate strategic goals such as congestion relief, safety, or environmental quality;
- Accountable Implementation Focus – Measures in the long-range plan provide targets from which the success of the long-range plan can be gauged over its lifespan.
Long-range plans should always feature a handful of transportation factor-related performance measures that address issues such as congestion and safety. A good long-range plan-level congestion performance measure provides information about trends in congestion across the highway system. Typical measures are based on peak hour volume to capacity data, level of service ratings, throughput efficiency, or travel time information that can be displayed for multiples key corridors. Performance is often shown in terms of past, current and forecasted congestion levels, but measures are primarily used to establish and track desired outcomes.
In the long-range plan, safety is usually considered in terms of developing a safer transportation system through continuous reduction in motor vehicle and pedestrian crash deaths and injuries. A good long-range plan-level safety performance measure provides information about trends in important safety outcomes, such as fatalities or injuries. The long-range plan is also a place where aggressive performance goals for safety may be established.
The National Goals related to transportation factors are:
- Safety - To achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.
- Infrastructure Condition - To maintain the highway infrastructure asset system in a state of good repair
- Congestion Reduction - To achieve a significant reduction in congestion on the National Highway System
- System Reliability - To improve the efficiency of the surface transportation system
Consideration of the environment is often identified among the vital priorities that make up a long-range plan, alongside transportation issues like mobility or preservation. Performance measures in this area can help to communicate agency priorities and to provide accountability for environmental outcomes. Environmental quality, however, is a multifaceted topic that is not easily characterized by a single indicator measure. Care should be taken when selecting one or two relevant measures from among the universe of environmental performance yardsticks that target specific environmental issues of greatest importance, such as air quality for nonattainment areas for transportation-related pollutants.
The National Goal related to Environment Factors is:
- Environmental Sustainability - To enhance the performance of the transportation system while protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
Long-range plans often include economic development as one of several critical priorities alongside transportation issues like congestion relief. Economic impacts are usually assessed in the long-range plan in terms of how transportation investments can help maintain or improve a state or region’s national or international economic competitiveness. Specific project-level investments are often seen as a driver of long-range plan performance in this area, so measures tend to aggregate the results of multiple projects to give a statewide or regional perspective on issues such as jobs sustained through transportation improvements.
One or two economic performance measures should highlight the economic focus of the plan. The measures used in individual plans vary widely because plans cover economic topics that vary from job creation through construction spending and strategies for stimulating development of new business through improved access to broad policies for managing freight flows or land use to ensure the transportation system can handle travel growth generated by economic prosperity
The National Goal related to Economic Factors is:
- Freight Movement and Economic Vitality - To improve the national freight network, strengthen the ability of rural communities to access national and international trade markets, and support regional economic development.
Long-range plans sometimes address community factors, such as land use, historic and archeological preservation, or social concerns such as environmental justice or community aesthetics. Planners should identify and use community factor-related performance measures with care in their long-range plans.
This section provides an overview of how performance measures support capacity-related corridor and regional studies. A corridor study is customarily used by transportation agencies and their partners to engage in broad brush thinking about alternative solutions to complex, corridor-level transportation problems. It often includes strategies for addressing capacity needs. As the foundation for subsequent project-level NEPA and design work, a well executed pre-program study expedites delivery of project solutions that meet all stakeholders' needs.
- Corridor-Level Perspective - Measure(s) should offer insights on trends and issues at a regional or corridor level that is relevant to DOT managers, local officials, and stakeholders in the project;
- Applicability to Conceptual Level Project Solutions – Measures must be capable of distinguishing among project concepts for which footprint details are vague;
- Address a Broad Range of Issues – To help distinguish among project concepts, measures should cover a wide range of metrics – from environmental impacts to economic development potential – that are tailored to specific corridor-level issues;
- Focus on Supporting Integrated Analysis of Needs and Challenges - Performance data establishes integrated understanding of both transportation needs and potential impediments to alternative solutions;
- Data Can be Used to Support NEPA Review - Performance data and conclusions based on it should be usable in subsequent NEPA studies.
Corridor and regional studies almost always feature a handful of transportation factor-related performance measures because these are likely to be core goals in any corridor study. In a corridor or regional study, congestion is usually considered in terms of desired outcomes along a corridor. A good corridor study-level congestion performance measure provides a customized picture of trends in congestion specific to the corridor, particularly via identification of bottlenecks where improvements may be needed. Performance data is typically depicted via corridor-specific peak hour volume to capacity data, level of service ratings, or travel time information. Performance is often shown in terms of past, current and forecasted congestion levels. Data may provide detailed breakdowns of congestion patterns over time and by location. The performance measures help to identify and prioritize critical investment needs.
In the pre-program study, safety is usually considered in terms of developing a safer corridor through continuous reduction in motor vehicle and pedestrian crash deaths and injuries. A good set of pre-program study-level safety performance measures provides not only a clear picture of trends in important safety outcomes, such as fatalities or injuries, but also in-depth information about factors such as specific high crash locations and frequency of crash types that can help determine appropriate transportation solutions.
Natural environment-related factors are often a major issue in designing complex transportation projects. Transportation planners are finding that expanded use of environmental performance data during corridor and regional studies provides a way to identify and begin responding to environmental challenges early in project development so that project delivery occurs more quickly.
At the corridor study stage, some transportation agencies are using information in state-level environmental resource databases to enhance understanding of natural and human environmental constraints on a corridor scale and particularly to consider ways to optimize outcomes across multiple environmental sub-disciplines. Potential transportation solutions can then be considered and compared in the context of a full array of environmental challenges.
Corridor and regional studies sometimes include economic impacts among the criteria on which alternative solutions are compared. If sufficient information is available, economic impacts may be assessed in the corridor study stage via cost benefit analysis that compares the costs and benefits of potential alternative transportation solutions.
Community-related factors are often of similar importance to natural environment-related factors in designing complex transportation projects. Some transportation agencies are expanding the use of community factors-related performance data during corridor and regional studies as a way to identify and begin responding to community factors-related challenges early in project development.
This section provides an overview of how performance measures support transportation agency's capacity-related programming activities. Programming describes the process by which agencies select and invest limited transportation funds in a list of projects that will be built in a set timeframe, usually three to five years, and that is intended to ensure resources go where they are needed most, including capacity needs. The mix of projects included in a state or MPO transportation improvement program determines how well it is able to address priorities established in the long-range plan or other strategic document.
Performance measures can improve an agency's ability to make programming decisions that support achievement of strategic goals. The hallmarks of a good set of programming-level performance measures include several defining characteristics that together distinguish them from other areas where performance measures are used:
- Provide Insights on How to "Close the Gap" - The program is a transportation agency's tool to address gaps between current performance and desired targets. Measures should inform decisions on where to apply more resources.
- Measures are Used as Predictive Tools – Many of the measures used in conjunction with programming are intended to provide perspective on anticipated future performance as determined by specific investment strategies; and
- Measures Bridge the Gap Between Project and Strategic Levels – Measures used in programming are based on the expected outcomes of individual projects, but they also address the impacts of a set of transportation investments on the overall system
Transportation-factors are the most common area where programming processes feature performance measures. Measures are typically used to assist in selecting projects for inclusion in the program and to demonstrate the cumulative impact of investments in a set of specific projects on mobility, safety, or accessibility goals. For example, the impact of alternative program configurations on congestion growth or highway fatalities might be measured.
Project-level natural environment-related factors are most thoroughly addressed in the NEPA phase of project delivery. As a result, environment-related performance measures are not typically applied during programming. Emerging interest in ecosystem-wide impacts of transportation and cumulative or secondary impacts suggests that more performance measures might be useful in this area. One exception is the air quality conformity process, which is designed to measure the regional or statewide air quality impacts of a transportation program.
Programming performance measures sometimes include assessment of the economic impacts of total spending levels. More sophisticated economic evaluation via cost benefit analysis is also possible.
Community-related factors are most frequently addressed in the NEPA phase of project delivery. As a result, community-related performance measures are not typically applied during programming. Growing interest in system-wide management of land use issues, however, suggests that more performance measures might be useful in this area.
This section provides an overview of how performance measures support transportation agency’s capacity-related environmental review activities. Environmental review is the collection of processes that address federal and state requirements for analysis of a program or project’s impacts to the natural and social environments. Although the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) sets the broad federal guidelines, it is supplemented by a variety of environmental laws, such as the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and Historic Preservation Act, Executive Orders, such as Environmental Justice, and USDOT implementing guidelines, such as Section 4(f) for Parklands and others. In addition, many states have equivalent legislation that augments federal environmental reporting requirements.
Transportation projects vary in size, complexity, and potential to affect the environment, and thus three basic “classes of action” are allowed, depending upon the anticipated magnitude of a project’s impacts:
- An Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) is prepared for projects where it is known that the action will have a significant effect on the environment.
- An Environmental Assessment (EA) is prepared for actions in which the significance of the environmental impact is not clearly established.
- Categorical Exclusions (CE) are issued for actions that do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the environment.
The performance measures framework established during planning offers a bridge between planning and environmental review. Though the scale of environmental review is much broader at the planning stage, a preliminary analysis can serve as a starting point for the environmental review process. In addition, it can be applied during any of these three levels of environmental review to jump start the development of a strong Purpose and Need Statement and to help quantify impacts, costs, and benefits in terms that both satisfy required analyses and which relate to program goals and objectives for transportation benefits. The alternatives analysis process by nature is enhanced by application of clearly articulated performance metrics. Performance measures are used to define the need for the project, to describe the existing environment, and to measure potential project impacts of all the alternatives, as well as to determine the significance of those impacts. The scale of performance measures can be adjusted to help zero in on localized project impacts, and to differentiate between project-specific impacts and those impacts which are likely to occur systemwide. Finally, performance measures can be developed to bridge the goals of collaborating resource agencies with the mitigation commitments of the transportation agency.
The National Goal related to Environmental Review is:
- Reduced Project Delivery Delays - To reduce project costs, promote jobs and the economy, and expedite the movement of people and goods by accelerating project completion through eliminating delays in the project development and delivery process, including reducing regulatory burdens and improving agencies' work practices
Transportation-factors remain important during environmental review and become one of several factors to address alternatives for a specific project. Measures are typically used to determine which alternatives best meet the transportation goals of the project.
Project-level natural environment-related factors are thoroughly addressed in the environmental review phase of project development. Measures within the environmental factor can be used to evaluate direct and cumulative impacts on all natural resources potentially impacted by a project. Use of performance measures in planning and pre-program studies should provide a base of information to draw on for likely impacts or resources of concern.
Environmental review performance measures can include an assessment of economic evaluation via cost benefit analysis is possible.
Community-related factors are thoroughly addressed in the environmental review phase of project delivery. Measures within the community factor can be used to evaluate direct and cumulative impacts on community resources. Use of performance measures in planning and pre-program studies should provide a base of knowledge that helps define the important issues for a community to be addressed during environmental review.
At the design stage, performance measures are used infrequently. Those that are used tend to focus on project and program delivery rather than the direct impacts of individual projects or alternatives. For example, measures can track the delivery status of specific components of a project or the status and function of programmatic permitting efforts.
There are exceptions to this general rule and they usually include measures that can help in the selection of specific design features, including those that help mitigate environmental impacts. For example, the climate change factor includes a measure that address the need for infrastructure design to accommodate severe weather events.