Congressional efforts to set national goals for the American transportation system are stalled
for now, but the U.S. DOT said today that it is preparing for an
eventual transition to a world where performance targets are the norm
for transit, roads, bridges, and ports.
goals should be set by U.S. DOT in collaboration with states and
stakeholders," Federal Highway Administration executive director Jeffrey Paniatti
said yesterday during a session of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference
how will Washington measure progress on transportation metrics such as
safety, pollution reduction, and efficiency in states that are, as
Paniatti put it gently, "starting from different places"?
Rahn, the chief of Missouri's state DOT and past president of the
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials
(AASHTO), had a simple answer: States should be in charge of the
"We believe there should be a state-driven
performance management approach," Rahn told TRB attendees, in which
"states establish targets which they can deliver given their unique
At AASHTO, he added, "we don't envision a
process in which the Secretary of the U.S. DOT will dole out a share of
a target to each state ... U.S. DOT would establish targets and we'd
certainly hope that the total cumulative balance of state targets would
equal the national [goal]."
And if state-written targets
don't meet national performance standards? "[T]hat means the national
target is not realistic," Rahn said.
AASHTO's lack of
interest in meeting transportation goals that are not written within
their ranks could create a major headache for the Obama administration,
should it pursue broader infrastructure reform that would hold state
DOTs accountable for their spending.
Letting states craft
performance measures internally would risk rigging the system to ensure
that DOTs always meet their targets -- but if the federal government
wanted to effect broader change on a state or regional level, such as
lower emissions or fewer pedestrian deaths, where would it get leverage?
Paniatti and Rahn ruled out any attempt to threaten a loss of federal
transportation funding if goals were not met, a tactic successfully used in the 1980s to set the national speed limit at 55 miles per hour.
fact, Rahn fondly recalled his past work at a state DOT that
successfully gamed the speed-limit system. "We chose to put our speed
sensors in really sharp corners," he told the TRB audience, drawing
sporadic chuckles. "That's why [the push for national transportation
targets] has to be a project we work on together."