GAO Reports on Transitioning to Performance-Based Planning.

State DOTs have made progress in developing performance measures to inform their planning, but they face several challenges, including identifying indicators for qualitative concepts such as livability, according to a new U.S. Government Accountability Office report.

And while many states have established measures, only a “select few states have made significant attempts to integrate performance measures into their statewide planning process,” the report said. It did not name those states.

The report, GAO-11-77, released Dec. 15, found that nearly all states had performance measures and quantifiable targets for safety and road-surface and bridge conditions, in part due to federal requirements for data collection in these areas. A majority of states also had some kinds of project measures, such as cost or timeliness, and mobility measures, such as vehicle congestion or intermodal connectivity.

Just under half the states – 24 – had a performance measure for transportation-related energy consumption, and 20 of them had set quantifiable targets.

The GAO asked DOTs about barriers to wider use of performance measures. Most common responses were:

  • Identifying indicators for qualitative measures, such as livability (41 states cited this as a great or very great challenge).
  • Collecting data to track multimodal performance (cited by 29 states).
  • Securing resource to develop or maintain a performance management system (cited by 28 states).
  • Identifying indicators to measure planning effectiveness (cited by 25 states).
  • Applying performance terms and methods uniformly (cited by 21 states).

Indicating a general acceptance of performance-based decision-making, only six states said “overcoming institutional resistance to using performance measures” was a great or very great challenge.

GAO recommended that Congress consider three actions to advance performance-based decision-making:

  • Specify transportation outcomes for states to address in their planning, and charge U.S. DOT with assessing their progress during STIP review and approval.
  • Require states to update their long-range transportation plans on a prescribed schedule.
  • Require U.S. DOT and the states to collaboratively develop appropriate performance measures to track progress in achieving desired outcomes.