GAO releases report on reforming statewide transportation planning

In “Statewide Transportation Planning: Opportunities Exist to Transition to Performance-Based Planning and Federal Oversight,” (report highlights available here) the GAO surveys the long-range plans and STIPs of all 50 state Departments of Transportation. The report finds:

  • Long range transportation plans generally include some performance elements, such as goals, but most do not include performance targets.
  • In selecting projects for the State transportation improvement programs (STIP), states assigned greater importance to factors such as political and public support than to economic analysis of project benefits and costs.
  • States commonly cited insufficient or uncertain funding to implement transportation projects among the primary challenges to long- and short-range planning.
  • 10 states reported not updating their long range transportation plans since the most recent surface transportation authorization in 2005. Limited USDOT oversight and infrequent updates present risks, including the ineffective use of federal planning funds.
  • While states are not required to set performance outcomes in planning, most states reported using performance measurement in the areas of safety and asset condition. Several challenges limit broader use of performance measures, including identifying indicators for qualitative measures such as livability and collecting data across transportation modes.
  • GAO recommends including national goals, federal and state collaboration on developing performance measures, appropriate targets, and revised federal oversight focusing on monitoring states’ progress in meeting outcomes to achieve performance. To make statewide planning more performance based, Congress should consider requiring states to update their long-range plans on a prescribed schedule, identifying outcomes for statewide planning and directing USDOT to assess states’ progress in achieving them, and requiring USDOT and states to collaboratively develop performance measures.