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Going deep with regional leaders on using performance measurement

We wrapped up an in-person workshop today with seven local groups of metropolitan leaders, learning how performance measures and a data-driven approach to assessing the costs and benefits of transportation spending can lead to better decisions and a smarter transportation network.

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Throughout yesterday and today in Boston, MA, a team of T4America staff have been joined by some notable experts with on-the-ground experience to dive deep into the topic of performance measures with metropolitan leaders from seven regions across the country. It’s part of our yearlong Transportation Leadership Academy focused on performance measures.

What’s performance measurement? More carefully measuring and quantifying the multiple benefits of transportation spending decisions to ensure that every dollar is aligned with the public’s goals and brings the greatest return possible for citizens.

If you’ve been following along, we’ve been writing regularly about how the transportation law that Congress passed in 2012 (MAP-21) created a new system for states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to measure the performance of their investments against federally-required measures.

This year’s iteration of our Transportation Leadership Academy is focused on providing these local leaders with tools and support to incorporate this new system into their processes of creating plans, selecting projects, and measuring the effectiveness of each transportation dollar that gets spent. This program, created in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is educating these seven teams made up of local business, civic, elected leaders, and transportation professionals.

Though the academy is focused on working with regional leaders, a few states also have experience with performance measures. In Massachusetts, as part of a 2013 deal to raise new revenue for transportation, the legislature required the DOT to develop and use performance-based criteria in the state’s transportation investment decisions. Stephanie Pollack, the head of MassDOT, shared her experience with this week’s attendees and why it makes sense to assess transportation projects together and against one another, rather than just sone-by-one.

“Transportation works as a network and fails as a network,” she said. “So why do people think we can fix the network project by project by project? I’m most interested in what is the best suite of projects.” She went on to describe why data matters, but only if you measure the right things. “You should be asking people what matters to them and measure that. If you don’t, you are telling your customers that what matters to them is unimportant. …Data is only useful if it helps you tell a story or make better decisions.”

There are other metro areas that have been using performance measures for years and have valuable experience to share.

The MPO for the Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), has done more than most metro areas when it comes to using data and sophisticated modeling to aid and assess their decision-making. Participants got to hear the Hon. Steve Kinsey discuss MTC’s deep experience using cost-benefit analysis and their quantitative approach to performance measures.

And Robin Rather, a strategic communications veteran who has done deep research into the topic, explained how the messages and language matter, i.e., making the case for performance measures in economic terms is one of the most effective ways to get skeptical MPO board members or the public to buy-in to the idea.

This second academy workshop wraps up early this afternoon, marking the end of the academy’s in-person gatherings. Training will continue via other forms through the rest of the year, and we’ll be following up with some thoughts on the academy and sharing the perspectives of some of the participants. Stay tuned.