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8 A Guidebook for Sustainability Performance Measurement for Transportation Agencies What About Legislative Mandates? The concept of sustainability presents a legislative and organizational challenge because its broad environmental, social, and economic reach cuts across organizational and disciplinary lines that exist within the federal, state, and local governments. These divisions of expertise exist in the private sector as well, which also responds to the legislative frameworks created by government. The authorizing environments of state DOTs and other transportation agencies are driven by their mission statements, strategic goals, and other mandates--and today these may include a focus on sustainability. For agencies to legitimately address concerns related to sustainability, their authorizing environment should enable them to do so. In the United States, there is currently no federal regulation that explicitly focuses on sustainability. However, the social and environmental regulations that do exist--such as NEPA, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU)--provide a patchwork framework for state DOTs and other transportation agencies to address components or elements of sustainability. Indeed, SAFETEA-LU and its two predecessors (ISTEA and TEA-21) called for transportation agencies to promote economic development while protecting the environment and sustaining the quality of life. Further, while there is currently no regulation on sustainable development itself, important elements of the concept are expressed in existing environmental, social, and sector-specific regulation. In effect, transportation agencies are already operating under a nonintegrated form of sustainability agenda, whether this is explicitly recognized or not. The lack of federal legislation on sustainable development or sustainable transportation provides states the opportunity to take the lead in creating an authorizing environment conducive to sustainability. Many states and state DOTs have created authorizing environments to pursue sustainability goals. While these legislative frameworks establish the motivation for change, it is important that state DOTs and other transportation agencies invest time in understanding how sustainable development manifests itself in their particular case; that is, each region is likely to face a different combination of environmental, social, and economic challenges that will shape the agency response to these challenges. USING PERFORMANCE MEASURES FOR SUSTAINABILITY Performance measures are broadly defined as quantifiable criteria that can be used to track progress toward specific goals or objectives. Ideal performance measures are easily understood, provide a clear indication of moving toward an established goal, and can be tracked using accessible and available data. Sustainability performance measures are those that have been selected or organized by a set of sustainability goals and objectives. Sustainability performance measures can be freshly created to specifically support the defined objectives. However, many conventional performance measures that DOTs use to monitor and track progress may also be useful to track sustainability. Some are likely to have stronger links to sustainability than others. Recognize that it is the application of a collective set of measures, aligned with the objectives and goals and viewed within the context of the sustainability principles, that make them relevant to a sustainability framework.

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What Does Sustainability Mean to Transportation Agencies? 9 Using Performance Measures Performance measures can be used in a variety of ways: Description They can help describe the effect of your program or policy. Evaluation They can be used to assess your progress and diagnose what problems or barriers you are encountering that need to be addressed. Accountability They can be used to set targets for specific staff or programs and can measure how well they are doing in reaching those goals. Decision-support They can help inform which approach would support the most sustainable outcomes. Communication They can be used to explain to your partners or the public what your program or policy is achieving. While most performance measures can generally be applied for the applications listed above, some types may be uniquely suited to certain applications. Knowing what you want to accomplish with the results of your performance tracking will help you define measures that best fit the purposes you have in mind. Applying Performance Measures in Different Contexts Performance measures can be applied over different time frames at different levels and types of operation within your agency. Applying measures at any of these different levels can provide useful information, but they will be used in different ways. For example, measures to assess the sustainability of your right-of-way vegetation-management program over a one-year cycle will be defined differently than measures to assess the sustainability of your agency's long-range plan. Some agencies have found it useful to start by designing measures for one component of their overall program and building from there. Others begin with an agency-wide, multiyear perspective and drill down. Performance measures should add value to your decision making. The following chapter guides you through some questions you can ask to design a successful performance measurement approach.