Faced with revenue shortfalls and shrinking budgets, state transportation officials can employ a wide range of innovative transportation reforms to improve service while making the most of limited funding, according to a new policy and practice report from Smart Growth America and the State Smart Transportation Initiative.
The Innovative DOT: A handbook of policy and practice surveys best practices nationally and takes stock of the ways in which state Departments of Transportation can provide taxpayers and travelers with a better return on their investments and better accessibility to destinations.
“Fundamentally, it’s about looking at all the ways to solve a problem so you can pick the one that provides the most benefits for the least cost—which is essential with budgets so tight,” says Geoffrey Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America. “Transportation is not an end in and of itself — rather, it’s a path to our nation’s economic prosperity and to a better quality of life for all Americans. Adopting this mindset changes the focus from delivering projects to delivering outcomes.”
The Innovative DOT is broken into eight focus areas, but a number of common themes run through the report. Increasing collaboration between state agencies and local partners, breaking down government silos, “right-sizing” transportation projects, investing in multi-modal solutions and streamlining processes are some of the primary ways state DOTs are extracting more value from limited funds.
For example, the report discusses how a private-public partnership in Washington, D.C. was able to fund a new Metro station through value capture – by facilitating collaboration between the city and investors who would benefit from development around the new station.
Washington state’s DOT made a concerted effort starting in 1991 to reduce drive-alone trips, encouraging local governments and employers to work with WSDOT to reduce how much people drive. With the goals of reducing pollution and traffic congestion, Washington was able to reduce drive-alone trips by 5% in two years, saving employers and employees time and money and reducing future need for expensive capacity building projects in the future.
In Orlando, Florida, a coalition of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and state DOT officials aimed to improve the area’s freight system and helped to organize a committee of private and public interests. Working together, these stakeholders settled on the idea of “freight villages,” hubs of freight activity that would streamline processes while creating strategic locations where business could share infrastructure investments.
These suggested policies are not revolutionary, but they are simple and they illustrate the ways in which subtle changes in how DOTs think about funding and how they do projects can have profound impacts on the costs of carrying them out.
“DOTs across the country are changing the way they do business,” says Al Biehler, former Secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “Knowing that America’s transportation network is crucial to economic growth and our everyday lives, agencies are taking new approaches to transportation that fit the unique demands of their states and that provide greater benefits at less cost.”
Download the report