Statewide Transportation Planning: Opportunities Exist to Transition to Performance-Based Planning and Federal Oversight

GAO-11-77 Published: Dec 15, 2010. Publicly Released: Dec 15, 2010.
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Highlights

 

Through the statewide transportation planning process, states decide how to spend federal transportation funds--almost $46 billion in fiscal year 2009. Draft legislation to reauthorize federal surface transportation legislation would, among other things, revise planning requirements to recognize states' use of rural planning organizations (RPO) and require performance measurement. As requested, GAO examined (1) states' planning activities and RPOs' satisfaction that rural needs are considered, (2) states' planning challenges, (3) the U.S. Department of Transportation's (USDOT) approach to overseeing statewide planning, and (4) states' use of performance measurement and opportunities to make statewide planning more performance based. GAO analyzed planning documents; surveyed departments of transportation in 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, D.C., and 569 RPOs; interviewed officials in 6 states; and held an expert panel on performance-based planning.

 

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Recommendations

Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
Congress may wish to consider transitioning statewide transportation planning and oversight toward a more performance-based approach. An action to accomplish this transition could include identifying specific transportation outcomes for states to address in statewide transportation planning and charging USDOT with assessing states' progress in achieving these outcomes through its STIP review and approval process.
Closed – Implemented
In 2010 GAO reported that the transportation planning framework required of states does not provide the federal government with sufficient information to ensure that states' planning activities are contributing to improved transportation outcomes. As a result, the federal government had limited ability to measure the results of its investments in transportation planning. Therefore, GAO recommended that Congress transition statewide transportation planning and oversight toward a more performance-based approach through activities such as identifying specific transportation outcomes for states to address in statewide transportation planning and charging the Department of Transportation with assessing states' progress in achieving these outcomes through its review and approval of state transportation improvement programs. On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law P.L. 112-141, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The Act made the statewide transportation planning framework more performance-based by: (a) establishing national performance goals for federal highway programs in several areas, including the safety and condition of the nation's highways; (b) requiring the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with states and others, to establish performance measures linked to national goals, including measures for injuries and fatalities on public roads and the condition of pavement and bridges on the national highway system; and, (c) requiring states to establish performance targets for those measures and report their progress in achieving performance targets through statewide transportation plans. Finally, the Act required that the Department of Transportation establish criteria to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of each states' planning process in achieving its performance outcomes. GAO's work encouraged the Congress to create a performance-based statewide planning process and hold states more accountable for achieving results through their transportation planning activities. As a result, the federal government will have the information it needs to measure the results of its investment in statewide planning to ensure that states' planning activities are contributing to the achievement of national goals and improved transportation outcomes.
Congress may wish to consider transitioning statewide transportation planning and oversight toward a more performance-based approach. An action to accomplish this transition could include requiring states to update their long-range statewide transportation plans on a prescribed schedule to ensure the effective use of federal planning funds and to address statewide planning outcomes.
Closed – Not Implemented
On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed MAP-21 (P.L. 112-141) into law. Although the Act made significant, performance-based revisions to the statewide transportation planning requirements, it did not require that states update their long-range statewide transportation plans on a prescribed schedule.
Congress may wish to consider transitioning statewide transportation planning and oversight toward a more performance-based approach. An action to accomplish this transition could include requiring USDOT and states to collaboratively develop appropriate performance measures to track progress in achieving planned transportation outcomes.
Closed – Implemented
In 2010 GAO reported that the transportation planning framework required of states does not provide the federal government with sufficient information to ensure that states' planning activities are contributing to improved transportation outcomes. As a result, the federal government had limited ability to measure the results of its investments in transportation planning. Therefore, GAO recommended that Congress transition statewide transportation planning and oversight toward a more performance-based approach through activities such as requiring the Department of Transportation and states to collaboratively develop appropriate performance measures to track progress in achieving planned transportation outcomes. On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law P.L. 112-141, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The Act made the statewide transportation planning framework more performance-based by: (a) establishing national performance goals for federal highway programs in several areas, including goals for the safety, condition, and level of congestion of the nation's highways; and by, (b) requiring the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with states and others, to establish performance measures linked to national goals, including measures for injuries and fatalities on public roads, the condition of pavement and bridges on the national highway system, and traffic congestion, among others. Finally, the Act required states to establish performance targets for those measures and report their progress in achieving planned outcomes through the statewide transportation plans. GAO's work encouraged the Congress to create a performance-based statewide planning process and hold states more accountable for achieving results through their transportation planning activities. As a result, the federal government, states, and local planners will have a common set of performance measures to evaluate and improve upon transportation planning programs so they may result in better transportation investments and outcomes.

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