Reform STIP documents for greater transparency

By Bill Holloway
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign recently released its new report and website, Tracking State Transportation Dollars, which evaluates the Statewide Transportation Improvement Programs (STIPs) of all 50 states. Although analyses of individual state STIPs are useful in understanding state priorities and near-term transportation spending, information gleaned from STIPs alone is insufficient as a basis for comparison between states. As noted in the report, these documents vary enormously in their level of detail, the time horizon covered, accessibility, and most importantly, the portion of statewide transportation spending that they cover. While all STIPs must be updated at least every four years and are required to cover a period of at least four years, federal standards for STIP development and content leave states with considerable leeway.
To provide a better platform for state-to-state comparisons and national trends, the report provides four key recommendations for states interested in increasing the utility of their STIPs:

  1. Increase accessibility of all STIPs and create a state DOT contact for all STIP questions;
  2. Require uniform information and project categories in all STIPs;
  3. Include descriptions and costs of project components in STIPs; and
  4. Develop performance metrics for STIP projects.

In addition, the report identifies four states and one metropolitan planning organization (MPO) that lead the pack in producing particularly useful STIP documents:

  • New Hampshire provides a downloadable Microsoft Excel version of its STIP on its website;
  • Maryland and Delaware have detailed project descriptions in their STIPs;
  • Massachusetts has a searchable project database that provides project information; and
  • The Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s online database provides easy-to-understand project information for each item as well as the ability to download its Transportation Improvement Program in various formats (PDF, XLSX, CSV).

A lack of sufficient project information in many STIP documents and the inability to use STIPs to compare states to one another limit public understanding about transportation spending and reduces the accountability of transportation decision-makers. Reforming the standards for STIP documents to increase transparency and uniformity between states would be a relatively simple, low-cost change that would allow for much more thorough and useful analyses of state transportation spending.
Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.