Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Leading Edge State DOTs at TRB

One more posting from me on TRB – this time some brief notes on what some leading edge state DOTs are doing to move forward into the 21st century – advancing performance management, aligning with a broader vision of transportation, and advancing targeted programs linked to more financial resources.

(For new readers, TRB is shorthand for the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board, a transportationpalooza held every January when 13,000 transportation professionals from academia, government, and the consulting world congregate in Washington, DC to share the latest research findings and best practices in the field. There are more than 3,000 sessions and presentations, and more than 2,750 papers, so any reporting has to be based on a very limited sample.)

In alphabetical order:

California – Steve Cliff described Caltrans’ commitment to incorporating sustainability principles into the organization’s work.  They have adopted a formal sustainability policy, promoting the “3 Ps” of people, planet, and prosperity and using a Sustainability Maturity model as the intellectual framework.  It isn’t just a matter of drafting policy papers, however.  They are building sustainability principles into their performance management system (targets, measures, and actions) and into their project ranking system.

Colorado – Shailen Bhatt is taking CDOT down an aggressive high-tech path as a way of confronting the “intractable” problems of growing congestion within severe financial, environmental, and geographical constraints.  They are developing everything from smart guide rail to smart ramp meters to support for connected vehicles as part of the branded “RoadX” initiative: “Colorado’s bold commitment to our customers to be a national leader in using innovative technology to improve our transportation system.”

Connecticut – Jim Redeker is leading a comprehensive strategy for upgrading the state’s transportation system, led by a new plan – “Let’s Go Connecticut” – and fueled by new revenue.  ConnDOT is using the current tranche of funding to implement a five-year “ramp-up” plan, which will hopefully be followed by a long-term sustainably funded program at a significantly higher level.  Areas of focus include rebuilding the transit system and promoting transit-oriented development.

Massachusetts – Stephanie Pollack is challenging transportation professionals at MassDOT and elsewhere to rethink their business, with less focus on mobility and more on accessibility.  Rather than think of mode share, we should think of market share – a more customer-oriented approach.  An example of using a market analysis: in one low-income neighborhood taxicabs are a main source of transportation to supermarkets, while “someone else’s borrowed car” is a frequently used mode.  One of her rules: never show an image of transportation without people in it! 

Pennsylvania – Jim Ritzman described PennDOT’s commitment to a “decade of investment,” combining a vigorous modernization effort (“PennDOT 2020”) with new revenues to rebuild the state’s aging infrastructure.  First up: a full-scale attack on the huge backlog of structurally deficient bridges, where Pennsylvania has the unhappy distinction of leading the nation.

Virginia – VDOT is in the final stages of implementing what is probably the most technically sophisticated project prioritization system that I have seen.  According to Robert Cary, the agency is aiming to create a process that is transparent, repeatable, and data driven, that will implement the long-range plan while engendering increased confidence from stakeholders.

Washington – WSDOT continues to be the gold standard for state DOT performance management and reporting, with the “Grey Notebook” and spinoff reports now more than a decade old.  Daniela Bremmer reported that the agency continues to pursue improvement, with standards of credibility, candor, and transparency.  In 2015, WSDOT’s credibility helped secure an 11.9 cent gas tax increase.

Beth Osborne of T4America, which has worked with many state DOTs, presented some findings and practical suggestions for state DOTs pursuing change:
·      Although Congress anticipated that following enactment of MAP-21 the states would lead development of performance management systems, some states have not thought it through at all.
·      The public may support transportation but may not support the transportation agency.
·      A successful project prioritization system will be transparent, consistent, and predictable.
·      Be careful with the use of buzzwords and technical terms.  Even “congestion” means different things to different people.
·      No matter how good your project selection process is, it is seen as a political process until the public understands it.

·      Even agencies that do a good job of planning often do a poor job of oversight and before-and-after reviews.

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