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Introducing 2 New Planning Tools for Economic Analysis

EconWorks and TravelWorks, new tools being implemented by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will provide new insights into the measuring of benefits and costs by complementing traditional forms of analysis.  As states around the country continue to face budgetary challenges, staff and other personnel in these state departments (DOTs) are frequently left having more tasks with fewer resources.  Those in other organizations or levels of government are either in similar situations or experience the consequences.  Despite these trends, stakeholders and public officials are still interested in large returns on investments in infrastructure- or transit-related projects.  Not only are the tools timely–they are relevant.

This past July, representatives from state DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations, and federal agencies met in Salt Lake City, Utah for a workshop entitled “The Works.”  Split over two days, the 8-hour workshop provided an in-depth look at these two products meant to assist the work done by transportation planners.

The first half-day session explored EconWorks.  The session included a presentation of background concepts on economic analysis and the kinds of other analytical programs available to planners, including TREDIS and REMI, before moving into a further examination of EconWorks.  EconWorks provides the tools and resources for estimating the impacts of transportation improvements in terms of jobs and output increases, benefits resulting from improved travel time reliability, access to labor and goods markets, and intermodal connectivity.  EconWorks consists of a case study database and a set of Wider Economic Benefits (W.E.B.) analysis tools.  These includes EconWorks’ reliability worksheet, which is one of four W.E.B. areas with corresponding tools.  (The others are accessibility, connectivity, and accounting framework.)

Participants went through three, guided small group activities to gain practical experience.  From discussion and survey feedback, respondents agreed or strongly agreed that the topics were useful in their work.  They also agreed that their understanding of economic analysis tools and concepts was better or much better after the training, and that their understanding of scenario planning was better or somewhat better.  All would recommend the training to their colleagues.  Finally, while respondents found the group exercises useful, the third activity received comments that suggested the scope be scaled back or modified.

The next morning the workshop resumed for the second half-day session, this one focusing on the Rapid Policy Analysis Tool (RPAT) within TravelWorks.  RPAT is a resource that enables transportation planners to better incorporate various aspects of their work, notably when they consider investing choices and decisions on optimizing land use.  In particular, RPAT focuses on efforts involving scenario planning, which occurs when a group of people rely on data to examine a problem and derive an agreeable solution.  RPAT integrates concepts such as travel demand management (TDM), pricing, and intelligent transportation systems (ITS) to examine scenarios involving land use (e.g. ridesharing or transit pass programs) and transportation policy (VMT charges, ITS strategies for freeways and arterials, and parking price structures) at the local, regional, or state level.  The presentation discussed topics such as scenario planning, urban form, accessibility, and performance metrics.  Small group activities instructed users to set up and run a scenario in RPAT, and on how to create a results report.  At the end of the workshop participants expressed an appreciation for the tool’s uses and encouraged its availability at future events.  In total, around 16 people were in attendance at either one or both sessions.

Versions of these workshops will be offered again in other conferences, which you can indicate an interest in by contacting AASHTO about TravelWorks and EconWorks.   More information on both tools is located at www.planningtools.transportation.org.