Study shows most states do not plan transportation spending effectively

Just 13 states have goals, performance measures to help prioritize needs

News Pew Center on the States May 11, 2011
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States spent an estimated $131 billion on transportation in FY 2010, but many cannot answer critical questions about what returns this investment is generating, according to a new report by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation. The study comes at a time when some members of Congress are proposing that the next surface transportation authorization act more closely tie dollars to performance.

The report, Measuring Transportation Investments: The Road to Results, found considerable differences among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in linking transportation systems to six key goals particularly important to states' economic well-being and taxpayers’ quality of life: safety, jobs and commerce, mobility, access, environmental stewardship and infrastructure preservation.

States were assessed based on a review of more than 800 performance, planning and budget documents. They were rated on one of three levels—leading the way, having mixed results or trailing behind—for each of the six key goals. Each state also was given an overall rating.

Just 13 states—California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Washington—have goals, performance measures and data to help decision makers prioritize transportation spending. Nineteen states trail behind, lacking a full array of tools needed to account for the return on investment in their roads, highways, bridges and bus and rail systems. The remaining 18 states and Washington, D.C., fall someplace in between, with mixed results.

Most states are entering their fourth year of the ongoing budget crisis, having closed more than $400 billion in budget gaps since 2008. At the same time, policy and business leaders across the country are acknowledging that states’ transportation systems are essential to helping advance short- and long-term economic growth.

"State lawmakers must make transportation policy and spending choices based on evidence about what works and what does not," said Robert Zahradnik, director of research, Pew Center on the States. "Unless states have clear goals, performance measures and data to generate that information, it is very difficult for policy makers to prioritize transportation investments effectively, target scarce resources and help foster economic growth."

"The American public expects leaders to manage our transportation investment with an eye toward performance and results. In fact, in our recent Rockefeller Foundation Infrastructure Survey, 90% favored strengthening policies that hold government accountable for collecting data and ensuring that investments fit into an overall plan that is on time and on budget," said Nicholas Turner, Rockefeller Foundation managing director. "This report, which comes at a time when performance and outcomes are such critical pieces of the transportation policy debate, provides both examples of how a handful of states do this well and how many others still have a long road ahead of them."

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