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MAP-21 Changes How the U.S. Invests in Transportation by Requiring Performance Measures

For the first time ever, Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), the current federal transportation authorization, requires the establishment of national goals and performance measures in planning for transportation investments. It’s the first step toward creating a truly performance based budgeting process for prioritizing how the U.S. invests in transportation. This approach will provide taxpayers with the best return on their investment, improve national global competitiveness, and communities livability.

National goals

MAP-21 requires the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to determine performance measures that advance seven national goals:

  1. Safety
  1. Infrastructure condition
  2. Congestion reduction
  3. System reliability
  4. Freight movement and economic vitality
  5. Environmental sustainability
  6. Reduced project delivery delays

Implementation of national goals

 National Highway Performance Program

MAP-21 requires a new system for states to measure performance and accountability on the National Highway System (NHS.) The NHS is composed of approximately 160,000 miles of rural and urban roads nationwide including the interstate system and all principal arterials. States are required to develop an asset management plan for their part of the National Highway System (NHS) that will maintain and improve its condition and prioritize repairs. After U.S. DOT develops performance measures for the entire NHS, states must set quantifiable targets and measure performance over time, with the first report due in four years and every two years thereafter. If a state has not developed and implemented this plan the federal share for its National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) will be reduced to 65 percent. Further, If states fail to meet their performance targets, U.S. DOT can require the state spend at least the amount apportioned in FY 2009 under the Interstate Maintenance program to address poor road condition. Further, if more than ten percent of a state’s total bridges on the NSH are structurally deficient, it must allocate at least 50 percent of the funds apportioned in FY 2009 to improve bridge conditions.  States are also encouraged to develop a freight plans.


MPOs that include transportation management areas of more than 1 million residents that are in non-attainment or maintenance of federal air quality regulations must develop a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ) Performance Plan with a baseline level for traffic congestion and vehicle emissions. The plan must describe progress in achieving targets and how CMAQ funded projects will reduce emission and congestion. CMAP already does this process for the Chicago region.

Reporting on progress

Within four years of its effective date MAP-21 (and every two years thereafter), states and MPOs must report to U.S. DOT on progress and take corrective actions if progress is not met. However MAP-21 does not reduce funding allocations to states or MPOs that fail to make progress toward goals. The law does allow the Secretary to impose financial penalties on states that fail to meet NHPP and highway safety performance targets, requiring them to spend a portion of funds to improve highway or bridge conditions. Further, U.S. DOT “must establish criteria to evaluate the effectiveness of the performance-based planning processes of States and MPOs” and after five years is required to report to Congress “the overall effectiveness or performance-based planning as a tool for guiding transportation investments” and “the effectiveness of the performance based planning process of each State.”

Stronger criteria in next federal bill

MAP-21 takes a big step toward creating a U.S. transportation system focused on targeted investments instead of spending.  While the law outlines a national vision for our transportation system, it falls short of the MPC proposal to use performance based budgeting to prioritize projects, include more robust economic and congestion relief performance metrics, and tie federal funding allocations to performance outcomes.

However, because the Highway Trust Fund that funds the U.S. transportation system is bankrupt and has required $50 billion in bailouts from the General Fund over the past five years, many in Congress are calling for even stronger criteria in the next federal authorization.  MPC will continue to work with Congress and our regional and national partners, such as Transportation for America, to embed stronger criteria for budgeting in the next transportation bill. Precisely because there is a limited supply of federal dollars, we must evaluate potential investments based on their ability to reduce hours spent in traffic, curb emissions, and connect affordable homes and jobs.  The U.S. simply cannot afford to fund projects that do little to relieve congestion, spur economic development, or improve safety on the roads and rails. Strategically investing precious tax dollars rather than spending them will improve quality of life, clean the air, and generate economic returns.