AASHTO Says Complexity of Proposed FHWA Rule ‘Would Overwhelm’ States, MPOs

AASHTO Journal, 19 August 2016

Though supportive of some aspects, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials warned that other elements of a wide-ranging regulatory proposal from the Federal Highway Administration “would overwhelm” states and local agencies with major compliance costs by requiring them to track and report on “millions of data points.”

AASHTO filed its extensive comments Aug. 15 in response to the FHWA’s proposed “National Performance Management Measures: Assessing Performance of the National Highway System, Freight Movement on the Interstate System, and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program.”

dollarpump.jpgThe FHWA issued the lengthy rule-making notice on April 22 and set an Aug. 20 deadline for comments.

That notice stemmed from requirements Congress set in the 2012 MAP-21 surface transportation law for the FHWA to develop a number of metrics by which federal regulators, state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations could all measure the performance of the federal-aid highway system using the same criteria, and thereby help better guide investment decisions.

FHWA’s proposal comes after many years in which Congress and state lawmakers have pressed government to streamline the regulatory process and give transportation agencies more flexibility to move projects faster and at less cost from the planning stage to final construction. “The proposed rule is burdensome at a time when Congress and the public want efficiency in the delivery of projects and programs,” AASHTO said.

But after the U.S. Department of Transportation took four years to develop its own proposal, AASHTO –  which had requested a 60-day extension to the comment period in April that the FHWA turned down – said the USDOT is allowing little time for response and planning by those agencies that would have to absorb the enormous changes the massive rule would require.

For instance, it proposes that state DOTs report an initial set of two- and four-year performance targets as soon as October, even though the rule that will tell them what exactly to measure in terms of roadway miles, congestion levels, travel delay for differing time periods and vehicle emissions is yet to be decided. “AASHTO is very concerned that USDOT may be rushing to issue a final rule in this docket even though aspects of the proposal are highly problematic and require careful review of our comments and subsequent revision of the proposal,” the association said.

AASHTO developed its comments through discussions with experts at state DOTs across the nation, and after years of preparation by many of its members to enhance their own performance management and to anticipate the federal rules.

However, the association said, “the metrics and calculation methods proposed by this rule are considered to be overly complex even by those states that have been viewed as leaders in developing performance measures and related tools,” including the DOTs in Washington state, Missouri and Texas.

The result, it said, is a rule that would put considerable extra burdens on states and MPOs, and proposes highly detailed measures that “do not lead directly to better decision-making by states.”

The association recommended a number of ways the FHWA could improve the proposal, such as by giving DOTs and MPOs much more flexibility in deciding which road sections to measure and over what days. It also recommended that the FHWA develop and fund a national web-based computing tool that states and MPOs could use to calculate the numerous proposed metrics, in order “to minimize burden and ensure consistency in the process.”

In fact, AASHTO said, the FHWA “should offer to process data and calculate all metrics and measures.” State DOTs already use their own localized data and detailed analysis to make project and funding decisions, it said, so if the FHWA requires national indicators of the transportation system’s performance “those should be produced, or at least funded, at the national level by FHWA and in no way be funded by drawing on funds that are allocated to the states or MPOs.”

A national data-handling system for the regulation, AASHTO said, “would ensure consistent process and accomplish the same nationwide representation of our transportation system in a more efficient manner. Requiring State DOTs to establish segments, hourly volumes, aggregate delay, use different thresholds for each calculation, etc., introduces many places for error and inconsistencies that are difficult to track.”

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