Right-Sizing Infrastructure and Reconnecting Communities

  • August 25, 2022
  • Mary-Katherine Duncan

Right-Sizing: Investment Strategies for Uncertain Times

With rising costs of construction and labor and potential economic slowdown affecting transportation agency revenues, the idea of Right-Sizing transportation assets is essential to wise investments.  Right-Sizing is a process of updating the portfolio of transportation infrastructure to either (1) eliminate the preservation and life-cycle costs of designs or features that are no longer of value and (2) change or modify existing facilities to create new value for changing social and economic needs.  Right-Sizing strategies can save public agencies billions of dollars in preservation costs and enable billions further in enhanced development with infrastructure assets that are aligned with real-world conditions.

National Guidance on Right-Sizing Transportation Investments

In 2019, the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) published its first guide to right-sizing infrastructure investment, NCHRP 917: Right-Sizing Transportation Investments.  The guide includes practical methods for diagnosing situations where the current asset portfolio may be overbuilt or out of alignment with current social and economic needs.    In 2021 an Implementation Playbook was published demonstrating how cities and states in different parts of the US were implementing these methods.

Examples and Payoffs of Right-Sizing

The national right-sizing guidance offers practical methods to (1) diagnose where trip patterns and destinations suggest a facility is not being used as intended (such as a freeway carrying too much commuting traffic, or a local street carrying trips that could be carried by transit or bike-pedestrian facilities) and (2) evaluate alternative uses of facilities.  For example, by implementing an initiative to strategically relax design standards where feasible, the Tennessee Department of Transportation saved more than $170 million on the first 10 projects under the policy. Rochester, New York, was able to transform an underutilized sunken section of an expressway into an at-grade “complete street,” stimulating private development creating more than $250 million of value in the local economy in addition to millions more in lifecycle cost savings. 

Identifying Right-Sizing Opportunities

Methods now exist for pinpointing situations where this type of value can be realized in communities throughout the nation.  Some examples of ways to diagnose right-sizing opportunities include:

  • Matching Trip Destination Value to infrastructure Costs:  Mapping trip purposes and trip costs to different facilities to identify potentially better mode or route options.  This type of analysis answers the question: How much is it costing to serve different areas and activities?  Is it possible to invest in a different route or mode to support the activity at less cost?
  • Compare Utilization to Life Cycle Costs:  Assessing the utilization of a facility (in terms of trips or destinations served) relative to the cost of preserving the facility
  • Identify Value from Diverse Perspectives:  Engaging stakeholders in a Stratified Return on Investment exercise can pinpoint how different sources of value accrue to different stakeholders in an area.

A Well Designed Process

A well-designed right-sizing process can bring a community together to re-think the use of existing facilities, identify new sources of value and remove impediments to economic and social progress.  A right-sizing plan can be developed for a neighborhood, a corridor, an entire city, or even a state.

Funding a Right-Sizing Study

There are a number of programs currently available that can fund right-sizing plans for corridors, cities, and regions.  The FHWA is currently taking grant applications for the Reconnecting Communities program through October 13th, 2022.  There is $50 Million available for planning projects and $145 Million available for capital infrastructure projects to address facilities creating barriers to community connectivity, including barriers to mobility, access, or economic development, due to high speeds, grade separations, or other design factors.  A right-sizing study surrounding a corridor, rail line, or other facility widely understood in a community to pose such a barrier is an ideal candidate for a Reconnecting Communities planning grant.  Furthermore, the

USDOT Rebuilding Americas Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) program also offers planning grants (advertised annually and sometimes multiple times per year).  As the authors of national right-sizing guidance and with a significant track record in successful grant applications, the members of Metro Analytics are interested in helping cities, counties, regions, and states make the benefits of right-sizing a reality with federal funding.   To continue the conversation reach out to: info@metroanalytics.com

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