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.
Performance Measure Diagnostic Tool
If you have a specific transportation project in mind and are unsure where to begin with performance measures, the following list of questions may help you identify measures to consider for your project. These questions are not intended to identify all of the measures relevant to your project, only to get you started. After you answer the questions you will have an opportunity to add or change the measures selected.
Please answer each of the following questions and click evaluate. You will then be taken to the measures checklist where you can refine your selections and generate a report.
Performance Measure Checklist
This Measures Checklist lists all of the factors and measures included in the webtool. Checked boxes indicate those measures and factors that you have selected for inclusion in a report. The measures you have selected on the factor pages are indicated here, and changes you make to this page will show up on other pages (i.e., if you select the mobility factor, measures included in that factor will be selected when you visit the Mobility page).
The View Report allows you to view or print a report containing your selections, when print, all the collapsed information will be shown during export.
If you select the ‘Include all Case Studies’ box, case studies for the selected measures and relevant factors will be included at the end of the report.
In evaluating major capacity expansion projects, impacts on the movement of people and goods over that system are among the most common considerations. The performance measures framework identifies four categories for evaluating the impact of capacity-adding projects on transportation system performance – Mobility, Reliability, Accessibility, and Safety. These categories correspond to common goals that transportation agencies aim to achieve through transportation investment.
refers to the ability of the transportation system to facilitate efficient movement of people and goods. Mobility typically addresses recurring congestion that results when traffic volumes approach or exceed available roadway capacity.
refers to the ability of users of the system to predict the amount of time it takes to make trips on the system. Reliability typically addresses non-recurring congestion that results from traffic incidents (crashes, breakdowns, special events, weather, and construction).
refers to the ability of the transportation system to connect people to desired destinations. Accessibility typically addresses the ability of individuals to access jobs, social services, or recreation or the ability of businesses to access labor and goods.
refers to the ability for users of the system to reach their destination safely on any given trip. Although transportation projects often focus exclusively on safety, the focus in this framework is on the safety impacts of highway capacity expansion projects.
The National Cooperative Highway Research Program has developed several guidance documents to help transportation agencies develop performance measures. Two of particular relevance for identifying transportation performance measures are Report 446: A Guidebook for Performance-Based Transportation Planning and Report 551: Performance Measures and Targets for Transportation Asset Management. Information on these reports can be found on the NCHRP website.
Environmental impacts of highway capacity projects have traditionally been addressed through the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process, parallel state processes, and related federal and state regulations. These efforts focus on minimizing the impacts of new or expanded infrastructure through modifications to specific alignments and mitigation of those impacts that cannot be avoided. These efforts have typically focused narrowly on the transportation right-of-way, but recent federal and state efforts are shifting how environmental factors are addressed by (1) considering the relationship between transportation and the natural environment more broadly, with a focus on protecting and enhancing quality environmental areas, rather than mitigating the impacts of specific projects; and (2) understanding and addressing environmental factors starting at the earliest stages of project development, especially long-range planning.
Five performance factors have been identified within the environmental area, including:
Ecosystems, habitat, and biodiversity
Highways can cause direct loss of habitat resulting from road construction; fragmentation and isolation of existing habitats; obstacles that limit migration and dispersal and create smaller, more inbred populations; and animal vehicle collisions resulting in wildlife mortality and a serious safety concern for the traveling public. Recent work in this area focuses on the way an entire ecosystem works, rather than narrowly examining impacts on individual species.
Considering the effects of highway capacity on water resources can help protect water resources and also ecosystems, biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and endangered or sensitive species that rely on healthy aquatic ecosystems. Water quality protection has historically been considered after project sites have been selected, but there is growing support for considering water quality protection much earlier in the planning process, before environmental and permitting processes are required. Recent work in this area focuses on a watershed approach that takes into considerations the functions of individual water bodies in an overall system.
Wetlands are complex ecosystems that, depending on their type and on circumstances within a watershed, can improve water quality, provide natural flood control, diminish droughts, recharge groundwater aquifers, and stabilize shorelines. They are vital to both water quality and ecosystem function. Regulated by the Clean Water Act, wetlands can be addressed by the watershed and ecosystem approaches identified under the water quality and ecosystems factors. There has been a recent move toward the consideration of wetlands quality, and not solely quantity, in project planning and programming processes.
Clean Air and transportation legislation has required the integration of the transportation and air quality planning processes since 1970. This integration is intended to ensure that transportation decisions are consistent with the air quality goals for a region. Current requirements include the transportation conformity process, which requires that projects within transportation improvement programs do not exceed air quality standards for an area.
Climate change should be addressed both in terms of transportation impacts on the climate, and the potential impacts of climate change on transportation infrastructure. A conformity process, similar to what is used for other emissions, may suggest a method to address transportation’s impacts on climate change. Research suggests that climate change will significantly impact transportation infrastructure through rising sea levels and related changes.
Although the topic of environmental health is broad, this framework focuses on the issue of mobile source air toxics, a by-product of vehicle emissions and a well-documented contributor of cancer and non-cancer human health problems. This is an emerging area of research.
There have been several efforts that capture the attempt to better link environmental and transportation planning. One of the most notable is the Eco-Logical approach, which includes both a memorandum of understanding among federal agencies with responsibilities for infrastructure development and natural resource protection, and a set of approaches to addressing these issues. http://www.environment.fhwa.dot.gov/ecological/eco_index.asp
Transportation investments can have significant benefits and impacts that are often considered in analyses of potential capacity expansion projects. Transportation infrastructure plays a vital role in the economy at local, regional, and national levels and investments in this infrastructure provide benefits through improved accessibility, reduced travel times, and similar changes. Infrastructure investments can also have short-term "dis-benefits" by restricting access to businesses during construction or taking local businesses as part of a right-of-way acquisition.
This framework considers two economic factors:
Economic Value of Benefits
These impacts include the money value of user benefits such as travel time savings, fuel and non-fuel cost savings, improvements in reliability, and safety benefits.
This encompasses long-term macroeconomic impacts such as changes in employment, income, business output and productivity, that can occur as a result of improvements in market accessibility, intermodal connectivity, scheduling, logistics and international competitiveness. They can also include short-term construction spending and dislocation effects.
The SHRP Capacity program conducted research into economic factors and potential performance measures as part of the C03 project, Interactions between Transportation Capacity and Economic Development. The updated performance measures provided here reflect findings from that study.
Highway capacity projects can have both positive and negative impacts on the physical and social characteristics of a local community. Because the valued characteristics of a community are often subjective, the impacts (both positive and negative) must be evaluated collaboratively, with input provided from residents, local business owners, and other interested stakeholders. The measurement of community impacts should be grounded in local and regional land use and transportation plans that establish a clear vision for a community.
Although there are several potential ways to classify community impacts, the following four categories are used to differentiate among the key concepts in this part of the framework:
Land use impacts include changes in land cover and vegetation, changes in the use of land from natural to human uses, and changes in the type of use (e.g., residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural). The change in land use can be reflected in the environmental quality of the land, the type of human use, and the intensity of use. Highway capacity projects can impact land use through direct physical impacts on the land, or indirect impacts resulting from new levels of mobility and accessibility.
Archeological, historical and cultural resources
Communities often have an interest in preserving their past to maintain a sense of history, offer educational opportunities, and support research. Highway capacity projects can threaten preservation efforts directly, by impacting historic, cultural and archeological sites, or indirectly, by changing the usage around these sites to impact the access and experience of a visit to the site.
Impacts on the social aspect of communities range from aesthetics and noise to displacement and fragmentation. Highway capacity projects can impact these factors through the built form of the infrastructure, the effects of construction, or operation of the facility.
In addition to evaluating overall transportation, economic, environmental and community impacts, transportation agencies must consider the differential impacts of the various factors considered in this framework on traditionally disadvantaged groups, defined by race, ethnicity, income, or mobility impairment.
Although not typically considered a performance factor, cost is a critical variable that must be considered in all phases of the highway project development process. Quality cost estimates that remain stable through the planning and programming phases of project development, and that incorporate both direct and indirect costs of a project, are crucial to making informed decisions. Two broad cost factors have been identified for this effort:
This factor addresses cost estimation management and practice. Issues addressed include the reliability of cost estimates, incorporating unforeseen costs (resulting from “off-prism” items), and improving accountability for early cost estimates. Sound cost estimation practices and successful execution of measures in this factor will support the evaluation of measures in the “Cost Effectiveness” factor.
This factor includes traditional aggregate measures of cost effectiveness such as unit construction cost; productivity or cost indices; analyses of federal/local funding matches and public-private partnerships; as well as more analytical benefit cost analyses, including techniques for monetization of non-traditional measures.
Because cost is not typically used as a separate performance measure, the information provided in this section is not as fully developed as other factors. Other SHRP projects, such as C01 A Framework for Collaborative Decision Making on Additions to Highway Capacity, are developing additional information that will be incorporated into this discussion at a later date.