Spending smarter: lessons and opportunities for state DOTs

Two states that are changing how transportation investments are prioritized were featured recently on an SSTI webinar. Virginia just funded a third round of projects under its Smart Scale program, while Hawaii piloted its own SmartTRAC program with help from SSTI and Smart Growth America. SSTI will soon be launching a new project to learn from these past experiences and guide future programs, and we invite interested agencies to reach out.

Utah stepping up multimodal planning and investment under new law

Transportation decisionmaking is changing in Utah, thanks to the state’s SB136, which passed earlier this year. The bill garnered attention in part because it reforms the governance of the Utah Transit Authority, but UDOT is also moving forward on other important aspects, including adding a new deputy director, developing a strategic multimodal vision, and supporting the development of new project prioritization criteria.

Bicycle level of stress and equity as factors in project selection

A paper published in the International Journal of Sustainable Transportation suggests integrating accessibility by bicycle, equity, and project selection to tackle the isolation and segregation of low-income neighborhoods in Baltimore. Using bicycle Level of Traffic Stress (LTS) to measure both access to common non-work destinations and disparities in access across different neighborhoods, the authors suggest that projects can be prioritized to improve outcomes for residents that do not own cars and struggle to reach destinations to meet their daily needs.

Test cases sought for Cost Effectiveness Tool

Smart Growth America has developed a new tool to help agencies decide which projects are most cost effective, and they are inviting transportation agencies to share past projects to help test this important tool. The tool allows communities to have a more transparent understanding of whether the long-range costs of a transportation project will be recovered via taxes and user fees, both with and without any state or federal subsidies.

Dividing the pie: Maryland lawmakers take on transportation project selection

The Maryland legislature on April 8, 2016 overrode a gubernatorial veto in order to pass a transportation project scoring bill that will rank and ultimately help select major capital projects. The legislation and new ranking system is similar to Virginia’s Smart Scale, which ranks and prioritizes transportation projects throughout the state. Unlike Smart Scale, which was a bipartisan effort with gubernatorial support, Maryland’s effort has hit a major road block, challenged by a lack of critical gubernatorial support.

Virginia’s SMART SCALE helped Hampton Roads improve its transportation projects

The December 12 edition of the Daily Press features an editorial by Virginia DOT Secretary Aubrey Layne explaining how the state’s new project selection process, dubbed SMART SCALE, improved the way transportation projects are planned and developed. The editorial points out that regional leaders in the Hampton Roads area needed to be strategic about which projects were the most important and would score the best under SMART SCALE. This process lead to better, more thoughtful projects being submitted for the limited available state funds.

CBO report suggests changes to increase productivity of federal highway program

The Congressional Budget Office just released a new report that outlines problems with the way the federal government spends money on highways and suggests some potential fixes. The report argues that financial challenges have made it even more important that highway funding is spent in the most productive way possible, i.e., maintenance should be prioritized over expansion and spending should better correspond to highways’ use and economic value.

Growing a Culture of Transportation Sustainability in Massachusetts (McCahill, Ebeling and Codd, 2014)

MassDOT is among a growing number of state agencies tackling sustainability efforts in the transportaiton section and its approach offers valuable lessons for others. number of state agencies tackling this issue and its approach offers valuable lessons for others. This paper traces the evolution of MassDOT’s sustainability efforts, beginning with its revised Project Development and Design Guide, published in 2006, and ultimately encapsulated in its ongoing GreenDOT program, launched in 2010. These efforts represent the combined actions of state legislators, agency leaders, and personnel at all levels of MassDOT.