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A bipartisan move to give states and metro areas access to better data to shape their transportation planning decisions

Congress took a bipartisan step today to provide states and metro areas with powerful data and accessibility tools that will help them better measure the destinations that their residents can easily reach, equipping transportation agencies to plan smarter transportation investments to address those gaps.

Congresswoman Esty (D-CT) — along with cosponsors Congresswoman Comstock (R-VA), Congressman Davis (R-IL), and Congressman Lipinski (D-IL) — introduced a bill this morning (Friday) to provide communities with valuable tools that can help them understand how well their transportation networks provide access to jobs and daily needs.

The Transportation Access & System Connection (TASC) Act would create a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) pilot program to purchase new, precise data tools for 15 states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to calculate how many jobs and services (such as schools, medical facilities, banks and groceries) are accessible by all modes of travel. The bill ensures that at least six small communities are included in this pilot via their MPO.

Connecting people to work is arguably the most important goal for our transportation system, yet we generally do a pretty poor job of measuring how successfully our local roads and transit systems performs this base function. But as important as measuring jobs access is, only 20 percent of all trips and only 30 percent of vehicle miles traveled (VMT) are to and from work. This means that 80 percent of trips (70 percent of VMT) are for our other daily essentials — going to the store, shopping, or dropping the kids off at school, etc.

Until recently, transportation agencies could only monitor incredibly blunt metrics, like overall traffic congestion and on-time performance for transit, and while important, these paint a grossly two-dimensional picture of the challenges people face while trying to reach their needs within a reasonable period of time. And these limited measures certainly don’t provide enough information to help these agencies make the hard decisions about what to build to best connect people to the places they need to go.

Too often, the use of simple metrics results in the consideration of simple “solutions,” like adding expensive additional lanes to existing highways and road networks —costly solutions that often don’t solve the problem, or make it worse.

But today, there are precise new tools available that allow communities to more accurately calculate accessibility to employment opportunities, daily errands, public services, and much more. (Similar tools were used to run this analysis of Baltimore’s new bus overhaul, for example.) They allow states and MPOs to analyze a metro area and produce detailed data to help them optimize their transportation networks and utilize all modes of transportation as well as understand the interaction between transportation investments and economic development.

States like Utah, Delaware and Virginia and the cities of Sacramento and Los Angeles are already utilizing this data and seeing results. But unfortunately, states and MPOs must pay for this more helpful accessibility data while the more limited congestion data is made readily available to them. This bill will start to change that by creating a pilot program that will 15 states and MPOs free access to the data, helping them make better use of their limited taxpayer dollars to bring the greatest benefits.

We recognize Representative Esty and her cosponsoring Reps. Barbara Comstock, Rodney Davis, and Dan Lipinski. Let your representatives know that you support this bill – urge them to cosponor the Transportation Access & System Connection (TASC) Act (HR 4241)