Is anyone else concerned that we’re putting billions of dollars into highway projects without any set of criteria other than “stimulate jobs ASAP”?  This is the part of running a blog where I get to layer some of my personal concerns onto existing federal actions.  It seems that our other evolving goals related to greenhouse gas reduction, cost-effective investments, and healthy communities seems to have fallen off the radar when it came to passing billions of dollars for highway capacity projects in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the subsequent Jobs for Main Street Act.  To ensure long term economic vitality while keeping our climate change and sustainable communities goals in mind, this whole notion of “performance metrics” needs to be addressed BEFORE funds are distributed to States.

Perhaps we can work with the Senate Democrats and Republicans to ensure that vital performance metrics such as cost-effectiveness, equity impacts, and greenhouse gas reduction are included in any Senate version of the latest Jobs bill.  Congress has an upcoming climate bill that includes language on GHG reduction from transportation planning, and Oberstar’s Transportation Reauthorization is touted as a “new kind” of funding bill where performance metrics are a central highlight — however, these legislative concepts don’t seem to be integrated into the stimulus packages that promote quick-jobs through any “shovel ready” transportation infrastructure project.

Here’s My Vision: A “GREAT” Plan for the Federal Climate and Transportation Bills

UC Davis, Caltrans, and SACOG are leading the nation with integrated transportation, land use, and economic planning tools (integrated modeling) designed to support the transportation efficiency goals proposed in the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act and the Transportation Reauthorization.

Integrated modeling tools are essential for cost-effective prioritization of multi-billion dollar federal transportation infrastructure investment decisions.  These integrated modeling tools have been developed in California to support Darrell Steinberg’s SB 375 (transportation and land use element of AB 32) – ensuring fiscal, environmental, and socially equitable accountability.  This state investment can be leveraged to support federal transportation efficiency goals.  This innovative approach of integrating transportation, land use, and economic modeling can be used at the local, MPO, State, and Federal level as a guidance tool for the public and policy makers to better understand the benefits from transportation efficiency – including economic development, congestion reduction, and sustainable communities.  These new approaches are being embraced by senior US DOT, HUD and EPA staff who see this as an integral aspect to support the Partnership for Sustainable Communities; however, a federal program is needed to support integrated modeling tools.

The developments that California has made with integrated modeling could be used to support the goals of transportation efficiency in both the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act and the Transportation Reauthorization. In support of this vision, UC Davis’ Urban Land Use and Transportation Center recommends a consistent framework be included in both pieces of legislation to amplify the importance and ensure implementation success of federal transportation efficiency goals.

Integrated Modeling Essential for a “GREAT” Framework

  • GHG Targets:
    • establishing greenhouse gas targets for transportation efficiency at the MPO and state level will require advanced modeling capabilities that include market dynamics
  • Regional Plans:
    • developing an ambitious and achievable vision for sustainable regional growth must be supported with models that are sensitive to economic and transportation interactions
  • Effective Use of Funds:
    • making cost-effective choices for transportation infrastructure is essential for state and local government, and requires federal support to develop tools to prioritize investments
  • Accountability:
    • state and local government review of the performance of transportation investments will be necessary for greenhouse gas reduction evaluation
    • requires federal support to develop integrated modeling tools which can create a consistent platform for measuring project performance across states and MPOs
  • Transportation Efficiency:
    • in order to ensure national objectives are met, integrated modeling tools will be necessary for each aspect of the proposed frameworks in the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act and the Transportation Reauthorization