An Initiative a Day 1.2: Fix it first: continue to privilege projects that maintain the existing road network in a state of good repair

January 21, 2014 in Vision

On February 25, the NEOSCC Board will be voting on the the Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Action Products.  With just under 40 days to the vote and 41 initiatives in the vision, we thought it would be good to create a countdown to the vote.  Everyday over the next 5 weeks,  we will be sharing an “Initiative A Day” with you so you can gent a better understanding of the vision and framework!  If you would like to read all of the Initiatives, you can download them here Vibrant NEO_Recs&Init_010114.

These recommendations, initiatives, and products, are not one-size-fits all and some aspects of the initiatives won’t be applicable everywhere in the 12-county region.  The Vibrant NEO 2040 Vision, Framework and Products are intended inspire and guide decision-making at the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), Council of Government, and local levels to ensure that land use, transportation, and environmental considerations are simultaneously addressed by their processes. Ultimately, the implementation of Vibrant NEO 2040 is up to Northeast Ohio’s communities and residents. But regardless of the applicability of each initiative to any particular part of the region, the goal for each community within the Vision is the same: stability, prosperity, and a high quality of life for all of its residents.

Recommendation 1: FOCUS NEW RESIDENTIAL AND COMMERCIAL DEVELOPMENT ON SITES WITHIN ESTABLISHED COMMUNITIES

Initiative 1.2: Fix it first: continue to privilege projects that maintain the existing road network in a state of good repair, rather than building additional capacity.

WHAT THIS MEANS. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are required to develop fiscally-constrained plans identifying a series of projects and programs that enhance a region’s transportation system and can be funded through projected revenue for transportation. To accomplish their growing list of desired transportation improvements within their jurisdiction with the available funding defined by their forecast revenues, MPOs must screen proposed projects for need and responsiveness to the priorities of the metro areas they represent. Project selection criteria are created to aid this process.

Notwithstanding the pressure to meet the growing need to maintain existing infrastructure, project selection criteria may still emphasize expansion of infrastructure capacity as the best response to transportation needs. Capacity enhancement investments can reduce congestion and improve regional travel times by adding lanes to existing roads, reduce vehicle miles traveled by adding entirely new roads to the system, and promote economic development by increasing mobility in key areas and corridors. These are incontrovertible objectives and have continued to drive transportation decision-making because of the strength of their message: economic vibrancy and prosperity in a region depends on having a reliable transportation system that moves people and goods efficiently. Simply put, this approach assumes that continued investment in new system capacity is critical to regional growth.

Often overlooked in this approach is the fact that the growing legacy of infrastructure must be maintained to be functional, safe, and useful. Focusing transportation resources on adding to the infrastructure network means that the ever-greater need for maintenance may not be met with constrained levels of funding. Historically, many state transportation agency budgets reflect a preference for new construction and transportation system expansion, not assigning as high a priority to system maintenance. Until the current federal transportation bill, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), was enacted, states were able to transfer as much as half of the funding dedicated to highway and bridge maintenance to other uses (including highway capacity). MAP-21 has streamlined maintenance programs and required states to set targets for bringing their transportation systems to good states of repair. Even then, many states have outstanding maintenance obligations beyond what they can afford.

WHY THIS IS IMPORTANT. States and regions throughout the United States face a growing challenge of insufficient funding for transportation needs and, more pointedly, insufficient funding to maintain existing transportation infrastructure. Amending project selection criteria to better recognize the importance of maintenance and a state of good repair in public infrastructure is a fundamental way to change how transportation funding is applied. Taking this step at the MPO level gives the maintenance of key transportation facilities a place in regional investment discussions recognizes that many of a region’s existing centers of economic activity already depend on this infrastructure and that these needs will not be met if existing infrastructure falls into disrepair.

The Boston Region MPO, representing a large area of nearly 3 million inhabitants—similar in population to Northeast Ohio—uses a set of project selection criteria that emphasize a state of good repair (referred to as ‘System Preservation, Modernization, and Efficiency’) as the single greatest evaluation category.[1] These criteria are together given more weight in the score-based evaluation system than mobility factors. Specific criteria include how a project improves substandard pavement, improves traffic signal equipment condition, improves intermodal connections (including to transit), and implements intelligent transportation systems (ITS) strategies.

GETTING IT DONE. MPOs must lead this initiative in their role as the designated urban and regional transportation planning entities and principal conduits of federal funding for system improvements. The most direct lever for MPOs in this regard is contained in the selection criteria they employ to prioritize projects for their metropolitan area’s Transportation Improvement Program. Northeast Ohio’s MPOs have varying degrees of specificity in and attention to their project selection criteria; all MPOs should revisit their criteria and consider modifying language to support system maintenance and preservation.

TOOL: The Stark County Area Transportation Study (SCATS) develops a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) as part of a schedule of transportation improvements recommended for implementation within the next four years. The State of Ohio requires that the TIP’s be adopted every 2 years to coincide with the Ohio biennium budget. The SCATS Policy Committee has developed a project selection process which includes points for system preservation (i.e. projects that maintain rather than expand the existing system as opposed to expansion).

http://www.co.stark.oh.us/internet/HOME.DisplayPage?v_page=rpc

 

Potential Lead

Metropolitan Planning Organizations

Target Community

Strategic investment areas, asset risk areas, cost risk areas

Implementation Complexity

Low

 

[1] Boston Region MPO selection criteria, http://www.ctps.org/Drupal/data/html/plans/TIP/TIP_Evaluation_Scoring.html

1 response to An Initiative a Day 1.2: Fix it first: continue to privilege projects that maintain the existing road network in a state of good repair

  1. This completely flies in the face of the “Opportunity Corridor” project, which represents the sort of business-as-usual approach that got us into our current mess. We could fix every road in the city of Cleveland for the price of this 3-mile road.