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U.S. Department of Transportation U.S. Department of Transportation Icon United States Department of Transportation United States Department of Transportation

Public Roads - July/August 2017

July/August 2017
Issue No:
Vol. 81 No. 1
Publication Number:
Table of Contents

Dollar for Dollar

by Francine Shaw Whitson

Transportation performance management could change how DOTs go about their business on a day-to-day basis. To find out what this new era is all about, read on.


A dollar spent does not necessarily result in a dollar's value, as evidenced in this photograph from 1911 showing a bridge that is poorly located creating short, sharp curves.


On July 11, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed the law that created the Federal-aid highway program. During a review of regulations for the new program, Secretary of Agriculture David F. Houston, whose department would administer the funds through the U.S. Office of Public Roads and Rural Engineering, told State highway officials:

“The main question that I am immediately concerned with, that the people of the Union are immediately concerned with, is whether we shall get a dollar’s result for every dollar we expend for roads. I am quite sure that if we do so and we can convince the people that we have done so, they will be willing to put much more money into good roads where they are needed.”

During the century since then, the Federal road agency and the State transportation departments have tried to measure the results of their expenditures. They have tabulated the number of Federal-aid projects, the road mileage by type of surface, and the number of vehicle miles traveled, to cite just three variables.

In 1945, the Federal road agency launched Highway Statistics, an annual compendium of data on roads, financing, and vehicles. More recently, the Federal Highway Administration has worked with States to inspect all bridges on public roads. State and local officials use that data to set priorities for bridge replacement and rehabilitation.

In the 1980s the newly introduced concept of management systems enabled highway officials to use the speed of computers to tabulate pavement and bridge management data that could be used to establish priorities for transportation spending. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) suggested additional management systems for highway safety, traffic congestion, public transportation facilities and equipment, and intermodal transportation facilities and systems. Little progress was made on those systems, however, because Congress, after concluding the systems had little support in the transportation community, canceled implementation.

In addition, every few years, FHWA works with the Federal Transit Administration to compile data for a Conditions and Performance report to Congress on the Nation’s roads, bridges, and transit systems. In these and other ways, FHWA and State transportation officials gather data for use in decisionmaking and outreach to the public.

Despite all this information gathering, the question is how can officials best use the data to measure performance to provide better transportation service to the public?

The answer: transportation performance management (TPM).


A Century of Highway Data Publications
Cover page of the bulletin Public-Road Mileage, Revenues, and Expenditures in the United States in 1904.
The cover of Highway Statistics 1945, the first issue of the annual compilation.
The cover of 2015 Status of the Nation's Highways, Bridges, and Transit: Conditions & Performance.
In 1904, the Office of Public Roads conducted the Nation's first road inventory. The results, compiled in this 1907 bulletin, showed that the country had 2,151,570 miles (3.5 million kilometers) of rural public roads, only 7.14 percent of which had been improved. In 1945, the Federal road agency began publishing Highway Statistics, an annual compilation of statistics on motor fuel consumption, motor vehicle registration, State highway user taxes, financing of State highways, and highway mileage. Today, FHWA issues periodic reports on the condition and performance of the Nation's highway and transit systems. In addition to the current state of performance, the reports provide an appraisal of the future state under alternative investment scenarios.

The Measuring Stick

In the 1910s, the measuring stick was simple. It involved how best to improve unpaved country roads and bridges built for horses and wagons. That was a challenging proposition for the designers of those early days when many road officials were not engineers and often believed in the rule of thumb, guestimates, and the old reliable, “We’ve always done it that way.”

Thomas H. MacDonald, the engineer who headed the Federal road agency from 1919 to 1953, discussed the results, merits, and limitations of the Federal-aid highway program in his first speech as agency chief to the American Association of State Highway Officials. Any discussion of these topics, he said, “rests entirely upon a careful scrutiny and analysis of the uses which we are now making, and which we will make in the future, of our highways.”

These uses could be classified as relating to the agricultural, recreational, commercial, and military sectors, ranked roughly in that order based on traffic volumes. Officials would be judged by how well they honored the “principle that the roads which we are building must serve these four classes of traffic.”

Meeting that principle, as it evolved across the decades, has been a challenge for each generation of transportation officials. Today’s generation, as in the past, must build or improve roads and bridges to the best of their engineering expertise, but in doing so must consider economic, environmental, preservation, social, and other values that were not factors in that long-ago era. How, officials must ask, will a given project affect air quality, the ozone layer, noise levels, neighboring communities, the flow of development, and the use and value of adjacent properties?

As reflected in the development of pavement and bridge management systems in the 1980s, officials were searching for ways to pull wide-ranging data together, filter it through a computer, and set priorities for public investment. Officials were hesitant to give up the human role in decisions to an impersonal matrix of facts resulting in conclusions that exclude emotions, media scrutiny, politics, and other nonquantifiable factors.


This 1908 image shows an automobile raising a dust cloud, a common problem with earth, gravel, macadam, and other surfaces during the early automobile age, until research provided solutions.


In addition, transportation officials now have to take into account all modes of transportation—not only as alternatives to roads, but also as choices that fit into a multimodal network serving more than 320 million people who live and work in a global economy made possible in part by improved transportation.

Today, the transportation community is ready to begin a new era of measuring the transportation network so that its officials can manage it better.

Transportation Performance Management

The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) of 2012, as amended by the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015, established a new approach for carrying out the Federal-aid highway program. The new method—transportation performance management—is a strategic approach that uses system information to guide investment and policy decisions to achieve national performance goals.

This new concept, MAP-21 declared, would “provide a means to the most efficient investment of Federal transportation funds by refocusing on national transportation goals, increasing the accountability and transparency of the Federal-aid highway program, and improving project decisionmaking through performance-based planning and programming.”

The legislation directed the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations to establish national performance measures and to require the State departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to establish performance targets organized under 12 national measurement areas. The new regulations also were to articulate how FHWA will assess whether DOTs have met or made significant progress toward meeting their targets.

Performance Measure Areas

  1. Fatalities per vehicle miles traveled
  2. Serious injuries per vehicle miles traveled
  3. Number of fatalities
  4. Number of serious injuries
  5. Condition of pavements on the interstate system
  6. Condition of pavements on the National Highway System
  7. Condition of bridges on the National Highway System
  8. Measures to assess traffic congestion
  9. Measures to assess onroad mobile source emissions
  10. Measures to assess freight movement on interstates
  11. Measures to assess the performance of the interstate system
  12. Measures to assess the performance of the National Highway System excluding the interstate system

The Road to Regulations

The road to promulgating these regulations has not been easy. The complexity of the 12 measure areas and the lack of national data sources increased the challenges.

After careful consideration, FHWA broke the rulemaking into three separate sets of rules, ranging from those with less complexity—safety regulations—to the most complex: performance regulations for the National Highway System, freight movement, and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.

On March 15, 2016, FHWA issued a final rule on the safety performance measures because DOTs and MPOs are already familiar with that area, given the measurement work by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. For information on the TPM safety regulations, see “What Drives Highway Safety Improvements,” in the November/December 2016 issue of Public Roads.

Infrastructure Performance

The second group of measures addressed by FHWA focuses on infrastructure performance and the condition of the National Highway System. These measures include the performance of pavements, both on interstate and noninterstate routes in the National Highway System, as well as bridge conditions on all the National Highway System roads. In 1991, ISTEA required management systems for pavements and bridges, laying the groundwork for these infrastructure performance measures.

In proposing these measures, FHWA relied on two sources of data that have been collected for many years: the National Bridge Inventory (NBI) and the Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS).

The NBI is a database of information on more than 600,000 of the Nation’s bridges on public roads, including interstates, U.S. numbered highways, and other State, county, and municipal roads, as well as publicly accessible bridges on Federal lands. The inventory presents a State-by-State summary and analysis of the number, location, and condition of highway bridges.

Congress authorized the collection of NBI data by statute (Title 23, United States Code, Section 151, National Bridge Inspection Program), which FHWA implemented by regulation (Title 23, Code of Federal Regulations, Part 650.301). With these authorities, FHWA established National Bridge Inspection Standards (NBIS) for the safety inspection and evaluation of highway bridges. Each facility owner is required to conduct periodic inspections of all bridges subject to the NBIS, prepare and maintain a current inventory of those structures, and report the data to FHWA using the procedures and format outlined in the Recording and Coding Guide for the Structure Inventory and Appraisal of the Nation’s Bridges.


© ginamcleanphoto, Shutterstock

During the comment period on the proposed rule on assessing performance, tens of thousands commented that the rule was too vehicle-focused. They wanted to ensure "performance" covered pedestrians, transit riders, and bicyclists, such as this rider on the streets of New York City's East Side.


For the TPM rulemaking, FHWA naturally wanted to use the NBI database because it already contains the information needed on the condition of bridges, with a mechanism for regular updates.

The HPMS is a national highway information system that includes data that the DOTs submit on the extent, condition, performance, use, and operating characteristics of the Nation’s highways. Its primary purpose is to provide data needed for FHWA to prepare the biennial Conditions and Performance report to Congress. Although it is not perfect and sometimes not complete, the HPMS provides the most up-to-date, nearly national data source on pavement condition and performance.

In its final rule, published in January 2017, FHWA provided the following measures for the performance of the Nation’s highway infrastructure, for which data from the NBI database and the HPMS will be used:

  • Percentage of interstate system pavements in “Good” and “Poor”condition
  • Percentage of noninterstate National Highway System pavements in “Good” and “Poor”condition
  • Percentage of National Highway System bridges classified as being in “Good” and “Poor” condition

Taken together, these measures will help tell the story on infrastructure condition in the United States and provide support for any additional funding that might be needed in this area.

System Performance Management Rules

The third TPM final rule, published in January 2017,* presented measures to assess performance of the National Highway System, including the interstate system; freight movement on the interstate system; and traffic congestion and onroad mobile source emissions for the purposes of carrying out the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.

For this third TPM rule, for most of the measures, FHWA required the use of the National Performance Management Research Data Set, a federally provided dataset of average travel times. It gathers information from vehicles that periodically report speed, position, and heading with GPS electronics. FHWA also allows for the use of an approved equivalent dataset. Together with NBI and HPMS, this dataset will give decisionmakers the information they need to implement a data-driven performance approach for federally funded projects.

This final proposal was the most complicated of all the performance measures, generating the most comments.

In requiring FHWA to develop performance measures to support system performance, Congress was not prescriptive and left the definition of the performance of the interstate system up to FHWA. The agency chose to define performance initially in terms of vehicle travel times and would later move toward developing a multimodal performance measure after the completion of additional research. Some members of the public did not agree with FHWA and launched several campaigns to ensure that FHWA knew this—submitting more than 8,800 comments to the public docket, comprising more than 96,000 individual comments.

The following is a summary of these comments:

  • The proposal is too vehicle focused. Many commenters were concerned that seven of the eight proposed measures were based on data on vehicle travel times.
  • FHWA should account for all people. The largest volume of comments expressed concern that the proposed measures did not appear to reflect the travel experience of all people using the system. In particular, these commenters were concerned about those using public transportation, walking, or bicycling.
  • Waiting for a future multimodal travel measure is not enough. Many commenters noted that the proposed measures would encourage highway expansion and would not recognize strategies that provide for greater transportation choices. They maintained that FHWA should use existing data sources to account for all modes of travel.
  • The calculation process is overly complex. Many DOTs and MPOs raised concerns about the complexity of the measure calculations and asked FHWA to simplify the method.
  • The level of coordination required. Many DOTs and MPOs expressed concern regarding the level of coordination required to agree on data sources, travel time expectations, and targets for urbanized areas.
  • The inclusion of greenhouse gas emissions. Comments both supported and opposed the inclusion of a greenhouse gas emissions measure in the final rule. In addition, FHWA received letters from Members of Congress both in support of and against including a greenhouse gas measure, as well as questioning the agency’s statutory authority to address greenhouse gas emissions.


© Ken Hurst, Shutterstock

Whether a light rail train in downtown Dallas, the San Francisco Muni Bus, a subway, or other variations, transit is a key to multimodal performance management in cities, not only for moving people but also improving air quality.


As a result of FHWA’s review and analysis, the third final rule included the following six performance measures:

  • Two measures for system performance:
    • — A measure that will assess the percent of reliable person-miles traveled on the interstate system
    • — A measure that will assess the percent of reliable person-miles traveled on the noninterstate National Highway System
  • A measure that will evaluate truck travel time reliability on the interstate system (average truck reliability index)
  • Three measures to assess the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program:
    • — A measure that will assess modal share: specifically, the percent of non-single-occupancy vehicle travel that includes travel avoided by telecommuting
    • — A measure that will assess annual hours of peak hour excessive delay per capita
    • — A measure to assess the attainment of national air quality standards in nonattainment and maintenance areas (total emission reductions for applicable criteriapollutants)


© Vitpho, Shutterstock

One goal of performance management measures is to improve the movement of freight, like these trucks crossing Utah, as a way to strengthen the ability of rural communities to access national and international trade markets and support regional economic development.


The Use of Data in TPM

Transportation performance management is not simply about gathering data. No matter how accurate data collection is or will be, it is of little value if officials do not use the data in their decisionmaking to answer the simple question that Secretary Houston raised more than 100 years ago: Are we giving our taxpayers a dollar’s result for every dollar we expend for roads?

TPM uses existing data in new ways to ensure that the selection and development of projects actually result in improved performance. Without a way to measure it, progress can be subjective or stated in platitudes. The data collected for TPM will help officials meet performance targets, make decisions on appropriate funding levels, and, in the inevitable ups-and-downs of project development, course-correct over time when targets are not met.

That is what TPM is all about—being accountable for every dollar that is spent on improvements to the Nation’s transportation network. As FHWA Associate Administrator for Infrastructure Thomas D. Everett puts it, “TPM introduces a formal way to assess the results of transportation investments. For many years, we have looked at data globally and assumed that our investments were contributing to observed trends in conditions. Under TPM, we will be able to more conclusively determine if we are getting the results we want from the investments we make.”

Using existing data systems for the implementation of TPM instead of creating new data sources will help State DOTs and MPOs put funding where it is really needed with a minimum of disruption or delay. The DOTs, which have used the NBI and HPMS datasets for years, are fully familiar with them.

During the rulemaking process, FHWA began planning for the nextsteps.

TPM Implementation

As planning began for the TPM transition, FHWA undertook a major effort to build capacity among agency staff, DOTs, and MPOs. This capacity-building effort has resulted in the development of tools to assess gaps in knowledge. It has also included webinars and presentations to help FHWA’s partners identify noteworthy practices and resources, and to align their business practices with a performance-based approach.

The following are some of the TPM implementation tools.

Development of TPM Training Courses

FHWA is developing a suite of National Highway Institute courses to assist with implementation. Some of the courses will provide overviews, while others are more specific to the FHWA final rules.

National Highway Institute Courses on TPM

  1. NHI-138004: MAP-21 Transportation Performance Management Overview (Including FAST Act Updates)
  2. NHI-138005: MAP-21 Transportation Performance Management Overview (Including FAST Act Updates) (Web-based)
  3. NHI-138006: Transportation Performance Management for Safety
  4. NHI-138007: Performance-Based Planning and Programming
  5. NHI-138008: Transportation Performance Management for Bridges
  6. NHI-138009: Transportation Performance Management for Pavement
  7. NHI-138010: Transportation Performance Management for Congestion (Including Freight)
  8. NHI-138011: The Role of Data in MAP-21 Transportation Performance Management
  9. NHI-138012: Steps to Effective Target Setting for Transportation Performance Management

FHWA has posted descriptions of these courses at

The TPM Web site includes additional resources, such as a training video on safety performance management. This 28-minute video, produced in collaboration with NHTSA, is part of the 1-day Safety Target Setting and Coordination Workshops that FHWA is offering to DOTs, MPOs, State highway safety offices, and other safetystakeholders. The video is available at

TPM Technical Assistance Program

This program assists DOTs, MPOs, and transit agencies in a collaborative way that reflects FHWA’s approach to the implementation of performance management. The program is founded on the following key outcomes:

  • Understanding the state of the practice
  • Identifying what is needed to improve the state of the practice
  • Providing tools that fill these needs, such as a TPM guidebook, a capability maturity model that gives transportation agencies a framework for assessing strengths and weaknesses as well as ways of improving capabilities, and a TPM toolbox that integrates the model and the guidebook
  • Demonstrating progress
  • Spurring implementation of TPM principles nationwide


© View Apart, Shutterstock

The final performance measure rules include metrics to understand how people travel, including these pedestrians crossing 7th Avenue in Manhattan, and the effectiveness of transportation investments to meet those needs.


For more information on available technical assistance, as well as resources under development, visit

TPM Pooled Fund for Capacity Development

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation, with support from FHWA, developed a pooled-fund project (TPF-5(326), that the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials is managing, bringing together State DOTs, MPOs, and Federal partners. Participating members will define training and technical assistance needs, make training available to pooled-fund members, and work with AASHTO’s leadership to develop a clearinghouse of TPM resources. FHWA will use input from this partnership to identify future training and assistance to be developed at the Federal level.

TPM Program Guidance

In addition, FHWA has begun developing TPM program guidance on such subjects as reporting requirements, target setting for the long term, and integrating elements of other plans (such as asset management, State freight plans, and State highway safety plans) into the planning process. FHWA is preparing three guidebooks:

Transportation Investment Strategy Analysis Guidebook. This publication will provide comprehensive guidance on how to develop and evaluate investment strategies. It will contain details on evaluating system needs using available tools while coordinating them with the priorities of leaders and stakeholders. The guidance will include a feedback process on evaluating system-level needs and identifying project-level alternatives. The guidebook also will discuss funding sources and how they can support or influence investment strategies.

TPM Target Setting Coordination Guidebook. This publication will provide details on the process of setting common targets among organizations. The focus is on establishing a process for coordinating targets and providing an overlap with existing coordination guidance.

Analytical Tools for Transportation Performance Management. This guidebook will provide details on analytical tools and how to use them in TPM. The focus will be on tools that are available free of charge. Examples include FHWA’s Tool for Operations Benefit Cost Analysis (TOPS-BC) available at, Highway Economic Requirements System–State Version (HERS-ST), and National Bridge Investment Analysis System (NBIAS); the Transportation Research Board’s Highway Capacity Manual; and AASHTO’s Highway Safety Manual. Additional discussion will cover travel demand models and financial data. Furthermore, the guidebook will provide information on how output from analytical tools such as these can support guidance found in the Transportation Investment Strategy Guidebook.


© Andrea Izzotti, Shutterstock

For motorists in urbanized areas, congestion, as shown here in Maryland, is one of the most universally despised measures of performance frustration. One goal of the performance management rulemaking is to achieve a significant reduction in congestion on the National Highway System.


For the majority of TPM program guidance, FHWA intends to provide a 30-day Federal Register notice and comment period prior to finalizing the guidance. This procedure will seek to improve guidance implementation by allowing State DOTs and MPOs, as well as others, the opportunity to preview TPM guidance before FHWA finalizes it.

TPM Program Stewardship And Oversight

Following enactment of MAP-21 in 2012, then Executive Director Jeffrey F. Paniati gave FHWA a mandate that the new TPM program would be “stewardship heavy but oversight light” to ensure the agency’s partners would embrace their TPM responsibilities without FHWA looking over their shoulders at every turn. It is from this perspective that FHWA has approached the TPM program. In Paniati’s words, “Our job is to help make the States and MPOs successful in implementing TPM.”

With that thought in mind, FHWA will continue to do all that the agency can to make implementation as easy as possible, while also ensuring that TPM achieves its goal of providing the most efficient means of investing transportation dollars.

Francine Shaw Whitson is a senior advisor in FHWA’s Office of Infrastructure and was previously a team leader of the Policy and Guidance Team in the Office of Transportation Performance Management. She has more than 31 years with FHWA after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Maryland, College Park.

For more information, contact Francine Shaw Whitson at 202–366–8028 or

*The FHWA final rulemaking on national performance measures took effect on May 20, 2017, with the exception of certain portions of the rule pertaining to the measure on the percent change in carbon dioxide emissions from 2017, generated by onroad mobile sources on the National Highway System. The effective date pertaining to that measure has been delayed indefinitely.