If a city bridge is still standing and the Main Street potholes are filled, does that justify the town's transportation budget? Probably not, at least not now. As states and cities are combing through their budgets in search of extraneous fat to cut, it will become the job of the transportation departments to outline in detail how they are spending the public's money.
Some states have a long way to go, according to a new report from the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation, which found that 19 states lack a full array of tools needed to account for the return on investment in their roads, highways, bridges, and bus and rail systems. Of the six commonly accepted transportation goals identified by Pew, most states were up to speed on safety and infrastructure preservation measurements. At least a third of the states didn't have adequate measurements for access, mobility, and environmental stewardship, according to the report.
Focusing just on mass transit, a new report from the Brookings Institution found that only about one-fourth of low and middle-skill jobs and one-third of high-skill jobs are accessible via transit. The takeaway lesson from the Brookings authors is that "transportation leaders should make access to jobs an explicit priority in their spending and service decisions" and "collect and disseminate standardized transit data to enable public, private, and non-profit actors to make more informed decisions."
Is the public entitled to more detail about how transportation dollars are spent? Is it a worthwhile exercise to identify transportation goals and then measure the progress toward them? What benchmarks, if any, should transportation officials identify? Are certain transportation goals (like livability) too difficult to quantify?