Effectiveness of Transportation Funding Mechanisms for Achieving National, State and Metropolitan Economic, Health and Other Livability Goals

Rob Zako, University of Oregon



The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), adopted in 2012, established national performance goals for Federal-aid highways in seven areas. (Federal Highway Administration, n.d.) MAP-21 requires states and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to establish performance-based planning processes, set targets (performance measures), and link planning and funding to these targets.

States and MPOs have different mechanisms for allocating funding from various sources to transportation projects and programs: the Federal Highway Trust Fund, state gas and sales taxes, etc. Many funding sources are dedicated to particular uses. For example, thirty states limit the use of gas and other motor vehicle taxes to just investments in roadways. (Puentes & Prince, 2003.) In some states transportation commissions allocate funding; in others the legislature or governor decides.

MAP-21 directs states and MPOs to focus on goals and performance measures. But little has been written about the link to transportation funding. This project examines how livability goals are embedded in funding processes and the opportunities and constraints for using transportation investments to advance those goals.

Researchers will select case study states and MPOs across the country. For each case study, researchers will identify major economic, health, or other livability goals and performance measures, and catalog transportation funding sources. Researchers will examine how transportation funding decisions are made in each state and MPO. Researchers will analyze how states measure the effectiveness of investments in meeting goals, both at the time of investment and later to see whether investments achieve targets. Finally, researchers will synthesize findings and develop best practice recommendations for more effectively investing in transportation to achieve national, state, and metropolitan livability goals.

The results of this research will be of national interest to anyone wanting to promote livability, health and economic competitiveness through transportation investments.


In an earlier project, “Assessing State Efforts to Integrate Transportation, Land Use and Climate Change” (NITC #789), researchers identified goals related to combatting climate change in four case study states but noted mixed successes in advancing those goals. This project heeds the mantra “follow the money.” While transportation laws, goals, policies, and plans establish economic development, public health, and other livability goals, where the “rubber meets the road” is in what is actually funded. In a world of increasingly limited transportation funding—and in a world facing problems of livability in urban and other areas—it is critical to ensure that transportation investments effectively advance livability goals. This research has a potential to shine a light on the important question of effectiveness, and to recommend best practices for federal, state, and metropolitan governments to make transportation investments that more effectively advance livability and others goals important to society. Moreover, by occupying a middle ground between academic research and real world practice, this project has the potential to inform those looking to influence transportation policy nationally in the 21st Century. Finally, this project will be a formative experience for graduate students working to become leaders in transportation policy.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
June 30,2017
UTC Grant Cycle:
Natl Round 2
UTC Funding: