New resource offers guidance and tools for right-sizing transportation investments

By Rayla Bellis

NCHRP has released a new guidebook to help state DOTs systematically integrate a right-sizing approach into their decision-making. The practice of “right-sizing” involves modifying the size, extent, function, and composition of existing or planned infrastructure and services to better reflect current needs, goals, and economic realities. While right-sizing has gained popularity—partially in response to success stories like the removal of Rochester, NY’s heavily underutilized Inner Loop—few agencies are doing right-sizing routinely. NCHRP’s new guidebook may help bridge that gap.

Right-Sizing Transportation Investments: A Guidebook for Planning and Programming provides guidance on establishing a right-sizing policy and offers a framework for considering and screening for right-sizing opportunities as a routine part of doing business at various levels of decision-making, with case studies from successful DOTs.

In addition, the guidebook recommends a series of targeted methods and analytical tools to help integrate right-sizing efforts into DOT business processes based on outreach to DOT staff around the country. The tools and methods can be used to identify and diagnose right-sizing opportunities, evaluate options, and make a strong business case for a right-sizing project or policy.

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It also includes a companion Excel tool, the “Rightsizing Return on Investment Calculator,” designed to help DOTs and their partners (local governments, transit agencies, developers, etc.) evaluate and consider tradeoffs between different priorities for potential right-sizing projects. Users can enter multiple project scenarios and criteria for measuring success, including traditional transportation performance measures and criteria important to other partners, such as residential vacancy rates. Partners then give weightings to each measure of success according to their own priorities. The tool outputs a summary of the benefits of each project scenario for each partner’s value weighting.

Importantly, the guidebook also discusses some of the pitfalls of relying solely on a traditional value engineering approach to reduce project costs—which can lead to removal of elements deemed non-essential based on a narrow definition of the project need, such as bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The authors note that while a typical value-engineering audit may identify the most efficient way to reduce lifecycle costs, it will not consider all the sources of value in the infrastructure comprehensively from the standpoint of users, funders, owners, and decision makers. Therefore, it may miss important value the facility provides, such as its role as part of a community’s main street or its role in an urban growth management strategy.

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