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Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects (2019)

Chapter: Chapter 4 - Conclusions

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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 4 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25581.
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Suggested Citation:"Chapter 4 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25581.
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Page 29
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 4 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25581.
×
Page 29
Page 30
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 4 - Conclusions." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25581.
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Page 30

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27 Overview NCHRP Synthesis 20-05/Topic 49-01 produced several key findings. However, the main contribution is identifying the state of the practice of freight project prioritization and common steps across all state DOTs in the nation. State DOTs have a variety of motivations for freight project prioritization, including the FAST Act. For DOTs to receive additional federal funding, a priority list of freight projects must be produced. However, because the FAST Act regulations do not include a specific methodology to help DOTs rank their freight projects, many different processes are used by the state DOTs for ranking. This report synthesizes the available literature on the subject so that DOTs creating a prioritization process can identify successful practices in the current state of the practice. Three different study approaches were utilized in this research project in order to gain a comprehensive assessment of freight prioritization: a literature review, a survey, and case examples. The literature review was able to gain information of current practices seen in state DOT plans, relevant literature, and regional perspectives. The survey allowed the research team to dig deeper in the analysis by gaining the perspective of 40 various transportation agencies. Additionally, six case examples were conducted to fully understand how transportation agencies prioritize freight. Specifically, the literature review identified four common methodology types: tier-based methods, step-based methods, criteria- or goal-based methods, and prioritization assistance tools. Some states have multiple steps within their prioritization process, so it was not uncommon to see more than one of these methods used. Most state DOTs’ prioritization processes include both qualitative and quantitative methods, but some states use only one of these measures. Qualitative methods usually consist of a ranking assessment from local freight professionals in the form of a workshop or a scorecard. Quantitative measures weigh state goals or criteria against the identified projects, creating a prioritized ranked list. State DOTs also use methods such as economic impact analyses and performance measures as a part of their prioritization process. The performance measures, economic impact analysis, and quantitative or qualitative practices use various data sources and databases to feed prioritiza- tion methodologies. The information found in state transportation databases assists DOTs in freight prioritization. The total number of respondents to the survey was 41, but since 2 of these responses came from California DOT, the research team counted it as one response, hence the study collected responses from 40 different agencies, representing every region of the United States. Freight leads at these 52 AASHTO member departments served as the effective sampling frame. Sixty-five percent of the participants held the title of freight or planning director or manager or specialist and were considered to be specific freight planning leads within their C H A P T E R 4 Conclusions

28 Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects state DOT, while 35% were a senior- or mid-level planner in support of freight planning efforts. Approximately 95% of participants indicated that they worked for planning departments within their respective state DOTs, and 3% indicated that they worked in administration. The online survey results revealed the following findings: Approximately 64% of freight planning leads at state DOTs have independence to implement new freight project prioritization, but only half have the necessary tools. Freight goals track closely with programmatic goals, with safety at the top and economic development at the bottom. Inputs from elected officials were not ranked highly as a factor in applying freight project prioritization methods (18%), and gathering elected official inputs in freight project scoring also received lower scores (33%). Performance measure analysis (62%) and project readiness scores (62%) were identified as critical methods, and federal requirements scored highly as a factor (69%) on freight project selection. Many states found that funds provided by the FAST Act did not make a significant difference. An average of 25% of states’ assets are multimodal, while 53% of respondents indicated that they have a multimodal freight prioritization framework. Freight project prioritization methods and processes drew heavily on data associated with safety, maintenance, and roadway capacity data sets. Capacity and safety data were obtained heavily from federal and state sources. The private sector provided much of the operations data for freight project prioritization. Commodities data were supplied by both federal and private sources. Economic and commodity data came from IHS Global Insight’s TRANSEARCH Database for 45% of respondents. Approximately 98% of respondents used the National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS) for highway performance, and 85% of respondents used the FHWA Freight Analysis Framework data set for freight data. The case examples showed that even though needs of states vary throughout the United States, a set of common prioritization process steps is followed. Even after the adoption of the FAST Act and MAP-21, states did not completely modify their original process because freight was already viewed as an important topic. The Texas DOT, in particular, is the largest energy producer in the United States and second in the world, and therefore has specific interest in ensuring that its freight network is efficient. As part of its prioritization process, a list of freight projects is pulled from its unified transportation plan (UTP) and then put through a second iteration to identify the projects most critical to the efficiency of its transportation network. The Minnesota DOT conducts a formal prioritization process by issuing a solicitation of proj- ects throughout the state. One important fact learned from the case examples is that dialogue is an important component of decision making in the prioritization process. For instance, all case example states have an internal project team that weighs projects based on a list of criteria, selected by stakeholders, which align with the state goals and needs. This stakeholder group is composed of private and public individuals who help ensure that different voices are at the table. All the states see the benefit of a prioritization process and are hopeful about continuing this process. In addition, as funding and awareness of freight continue to rise, the case example states are hopeful that they can improve their processes. Additional key information identified and collected by researchers includes the following: Common barriers seen in freight planning and project prioritization include staffing or organizational capacity, lack of policy-maker support, right-of-way constraints, neighborhood

Conclusions 29 opposition, business or receiver opposition, opposition by truckers or delivery persons, lack of interagency coordination, lack of data or data processing ability, and environmental concerns. Seven common factors are typically used as the basis to weigh different projects for ranking: safety and security, economic competitiveness, environmental stewardship, infrastructure preservation and maintenance or asset management, congestion relief, system performance, and increased connectivity. The private sector retains the largest share of freight assets related to rail and intermodal freight facilities, averaging approximately 96% of these asset categories. Federal data were used for commodities (58%), capacity (53%), and safety (35%). The greatest use of local data was in the field of land use (53%), while private data were used in commodities (60%), capital investment (43%), capacity (33%), and operations (25%). State data used were focused on maintenance (80%), safety (80%), and capacity (73%). In terms of data sources, private sources of data with the most use were IHS Global Insight’s TRANSEARCH Database for economic and commodity data. The largest source of state-level data in use was the state DOT weigh-in-motion truck counts for the trucking/highway data, at 78% of respondents. The most heavily used federal data source was the National Performance Management Research Data Set (NPMRDS), at 93%, for highway use and the FHWA Freight Analysis Framework, at 83%, for general freight data. Survey respondents were mostly optimistic about the prospects of freight system efficiency improvements (100%) and economic development (95%) resulting from improved freight project prioritization processes. One important consideration in the research is the impact that regional governments and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) bring to statewide freight project prioritization and selection processes. MPOs provide a collaborative presence at the regional level, often contributing data, review, and, at best, regional acceptance and approval of freight project prioritization and selection inputs. MPOs and regional governments also represent poten- tial laboratories where freight project prioritization processes and methods implemented represent potential improvements to statewide planning processes. Improved collaboration with regional governments and MPOs could lead to a successful exchange across multiple urbanized regions on the selected statewide and regional freight project prioritization and selection processes. Even though different regions and states have different needs and conditions, there are common features and successful practices reported by state DOTs in the prioritization pro- cess, as identified in this study. These common features and practices could help in aligning budget allocation and project planning. Future Research Suggestions There is a further need to evaluate the impact that the use of common freight project pri- oritization methods (i.e., tier-based methods, step-based methods, criteria- or goal-based methods, and prioritization assistance tools) have on agency goals and key freight system performance indicators. The latter is important because freight is changing. The synthesis found that freight project prioritization processes often draw upon internal and external resources that apply various methods and criteria weights from a freight system perspective when ranking freight projects and their impact on the freight system. Survey results display a

30 Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects diversity of agency goals and rankings applied to the lens of freight project prioritization, and future research to distinguish how these goals match or differ from broader statewide project prioritization efforts would also be of interest. Inherent to this future research need is the clarification and definition of exactly what is considered a freight project. An additional need for research is the methods that MPOs use to differentiate freight versus passenger benefit. This is a relevant matter because it is highly related to performance measures and criteria weights. Findings from this synthesis project could be used to provide the framework for the development of this future research need.

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Freight investment project prioritization, which is used to assist in planning and programming decisions, differs widely in importance across states. One of the reasons for the difference in importance is the fact that freight projects are costly, and state departments of transportation (DOTs) face limited resources to implement them.

The National Cooperative Highway Research Program's NCHRP Synthesis 542: Prioritization of Freight Investment Projects identifies the state of the practice of freight project prioritization and common steps across all state DOTs in the nation.

State DOTs have a variety of motivations for freight project prioritization, including the FAST Act. For DOTs to receive additional federal funding, a priority list of freight projects must be produced. However, because the FAST Act regulations do not include a specific methodology to help DOTs rank their freight projects, many different processes are used by the state DOTs for ranking.

This report synthesizes the available literature on the subject so that DOTs creating a prioritization process can identify successful practices in the current state of the practice.

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