The Chamber of Commerce released its annual Transportation Performance Index (TPI) last week [PDF], and you can tell it’s due for a total overhaul, because according to the Index, recession-battered 2009 was a banner year for transportation performance.
Using 2009 data, the Chamber, a powerful lobbying group that represents millions of American businesses, determined that the performance of the nation’s transportation infrastructure is improving. However, even the Chamber dismisses the significance of its own results, saying the “improvement” is illusory — due to the decline in driving, and thus congestion, during the recession. But there’s another good reason to dismiss the results: The Chamber is measuring the wrong things.
The Chamber uses the TPI “to track the performance of transportation infrastructure over time… and demonstrate the connection between infrastructure performance, rather than spending, and the economy.” It claims to be the first organization to ever measure the correlation between the quality of transportation systems and economic growth.
But the Chamber’s metrics produce some truly baffling results. During the economic torpor of 2009, the index experienced its greatest improvement in a single year since 1990. Despite the nonsensical figures, the Chamber uses the report release as an opportunity to call for renewed infrastructure investment.
“By all accounts, the nation’s transportation networks continue to languish.” said Janet Kavinoky, head lobbyist for the Chamber’s infrastructure program. “The improvement of the TPI is not sustainable and does not represent a long-term trend… It is due to the economic downturn, rather than strategic policy and regulatory reforms or new investment.”
That’s all true, but that’s not the only reason to question the results of the TPI.
Of the 21 indicators the Chamber uses in its complex formulas, none deal with emissions. Of all of the ways the Chamber chooses to evaluate the U.S. transportation system, none investigates the effect on air and water quality. They certainly don’t take public health into account, ignoring the effect of our transportation choices on our waistlines or our lungs. In fact, the Chamber completely glosses over non-motorized transportation. Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure doesn’t count as one of the “fixed facilities” the Chamber examines.
Here’s all you need to know to be convinced that the Chamber’s measurements of transportation performance don’t add up: Though it didn’t name the top states for transportation performance this year (that listing only comes out every other year), these were the top winners last year:
Maybe that’s what you get when you evaluate performance on congestion based on “route-miles per 10,000 population” — the higher the better. That’s right. The Chamber judges congestion using a simple formula: asphalt divided by people.