Blog Hero Roads & Highways - Copperleaf Decision Analytics

Written by: Connor Cox

The Road Ahead: Balancing Decisions to Meet Competing Needs 

Copperleaf®  provides enterprise decision analytics software solutions to organizations investing in and managing critical infrastructure. In the first article of this series, Connor Cox, Global Industry Lead for Transportation at Copperleaf, explored the challenges associated with short- and long-term transportation planning. In this piece, he discusses the importance of tying condition, capacity, safety, environmental, and equity objectives to investment decisions. 

In the US, Departments of Transportation (DOTs) are required to produce a four-year Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), detailing the hundreds to thousands of projects to be considered for state funding. These projects are requested from a variety of sources, and those selected must contribute to the many objectives and performance targets established by statutes and long-range plans.

Deciding when and where to spend to improve roadway condition, capacity, and safety, while addressing environmental and equity concerns—and justifying those decisions, particularly for projects that span decades—is the challenge roadway agencies are facing across the country.

Deteriorating Condition, Increasing Need

In its most recent Infrastructure Report Card, The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) cites widespread roadway deterioration and steep increases in congestion, and the resulting costs to the average commuter and the US economy: 

Source: 2017 data from ASCE Infrastructure Report Card 2021 

Statistics like these, along with the infrastructure spending earmarked in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act in 2021, leave no doubt about the immediate and urgent need to address capacity and condition issues across America’s roadways.  

But these aren’t the only urgent issues DOTs are grappling with. 

Seeking Sustainable Solutions

While adding routes and lanes to expand the roadway network has been the traditional response to capacity and congestion issues, it’s no longer the default. Beyond being an expensive proposition, additional lanes come at a cost to the environment, creating induced demand and boosting vehicle emissions.

Sources: Florida Department of Transportation, 2017 and ASCE Infrastructure Report Card 2021 

Across the US, policies and funding guidelines are changing. Transportation agencies are being mandated and incentivized to find new ways to tackle these challenges and transform an industry and system ranked as the #1 single contributor to greenhouse gases.  

In 2021, Colorado adopted a first-of-its-kind climate change policy that will favor funding for projects targeting vehicle pollution over highway expansions. Virginia allocated $3.7B to double passenger rail service instead of a $12.5B expansion of the I-95. California’s Climate Action Plan for Transportation Infrastructure (CAPTI) prioritizes repairing existing roadways over building new ones. 

Tackling a Safety Crisis

In 2020, American roadway deaths began to trend upward for the first time in 30 years. In 2021 alone, an estimated 42,915 lives were lost on US roads. The US DOT ranks safety first in its strategic priorities: 

…every penny [of state transportation funding] could and should do something about transportation safety.

Pete Buttigieg
United States Secretary of Transportation
AASHTO 2022 Annual Meeting

Lawmakers and the public expect state and city transportation agencies to implement improvements to address this growing crisis and improve roadway safety, such as: 

  • Preservation projects that improve condition and extend the usable lifespan of roadways 
  • Operational changes that reduce the likelihood of crashes, including better monitoring and response systems to clear debris or react to sudden environmental changes 
  • Physical interventions to increase capacity and reduce congestion-related crashes 

But how can DOTs determine the optimal combination of projects that will meet all these consequential and competing needs? 

Maximizing Value Through Informed Decisions

To make the best use of every dollar and make progress towards long-term objectives, transportation agencies must clearly assess and demonstrate the value of each project they fund: why one project is greenlit while another is not, why one project is prioritized while another is deferred, and how the total combination of projects in a plan moves the needle on congestion, condition, environment, and safety. 

While departments within transportation agencies are adept at determining the effectiveness of interventions at an asset level (for example, why it makes more sense to repair than replace a stretch of pavement, or whether widening a bridge lane will enable greater freight movement), determining the right level of funding across all assets and projects is much more complex. Finding the optimal solution is impossible using traditional methods like rudimentary weighted scoring tools and expert opinions. 

Agencies need a rigorous and objective decision-making framework to “level the playing field” so that the relative costs and impacts of competing—and often dissimilar—investment options can be compared on a common scale. 

How Copperleaf Can Help

The Copperleaf Decision Analytics Solution makes it easy to compare the different costs and benefits of all projects on equal footing—and understand how projects will contribute to long-term objectives and KPIs. This approach allows transportation agencies to select the optimal combination and timing of projects that delivers the most value for every dollar—and create plans that are transparent, defensible, and aligned with strategic goals. 

Learn More

In the next articles in this series, I’ll explore how Copperleaf’s solutions are helping transportation agencies: 

  • Incorporate risk and resilience into portfolio planning 
  • Adapt plans to pivot quickly when circumstances change
  • Bundle asset interventions into corridor projects, reducing the need for lengthy road closures 
  • Make data-driven decisions across multimodal operations 

In the meantime, to learn how your organization can benefit from Copperleaf’s Decision Analytics Solutions, reach out to me directly or read our white paper: Driving Towards Better Decision Making in the Roadways Industry.