What is Project Prioritization? FY22 Edition

Background

This is the 16th year for the VTrans project prioritization process – a collaborative effort between VTrans and the regional planning commissions.  VTrans was required to do this work in order to meet Vermont legislative directives and internal agency initiatives. The reality was people demanded a better understanding of how projects were prioritized, developed, and eventually constructed.  Prior to this prioritization process, it was unclear as to why and how projects could advance at greater rates of speed than other projects.  We are constantly mindful of what more needs to be done to our transportation system, but much has been completed over the last 15 years. The prioritization process works well and it has substantially improved the transparency in project selection and development. 

 Ranking Process Explained

The State’s ranking process is based on engineering factors such as sufficiency ratings, vehicle per mile impacts, cost-benefit ratios, and project development momentum.  These are the types of data specific criteria that you would expect an Agency of Transportation (AOT) to consider when developing project rankings. Their factors constitute 80% of the total ranking process.

The regional planning commission’s factors contribute 20% to this ranking process.  This was born from the idea that not all public policies and priorities could be captured by engineering factors and that there is a greater community context beyond that road, bridge, or park-and-ride.  Regions needed to use planning factors that expand what VTrans officials are not able to factor into their ranking process.

We identify relative project priority by sequence (1, 2, 3).  We are required to rank all projects as identified in Vermont’s transportation capital program.  Projects in construction or under contract are excluded. The ranking are for all projects, across all categories.  State legislation requires us to consider these criteria in project ranking: (1) Project impact on congestion and mobility conditions; (2) Availability, accessibility and usability of alternative routes; (3) Functional importance of the highway or bridge to the economy; (4) Functional importance of the highway or bridge in social and cultural life; and (5) Other criteria, as necessary.

A full project ranking process is an adequate method to extract regional priorities and to lend guidance on state-level program priorities.  But at VTrans, bridges won’t compete directly against signals or roads – bridges will be ranked against other bridges. However, because we rank all projects as one group; we are also prioritizing these transportation programs.  For example, this region has typically had bridges and road preservation projects as its highest priorities. Using our project ranking, we are making consistent statements about which programs should receive higher priority. We have consistently advanced preservation over new capacity which is consistent with the philosophies of both the State Transportation Plan and the TRORC Regional Plan. 

 Regional ranking criteria

The first project ranking process was developed 16 years ago.  It was based on the state’s legislative directives and the TRORC Regional Plan.  Every year since, the TRORC Transportation Advisory Committee has slightly modified the project ranking methodology to better fit particular regional planning and contemporary transportation planning priorities.  The ranking process sheet is on the last page of this summary. A new criteria focusing on flood vulnerability / hazard mitigation was added after T.S. Irene to reflect proposed bridge replacement projects and whether that will reduce flood vulnerability and/or provide hazard mitigation by improving the design through increasing bridge span or elevating the height of a structure.

As always, planning-level criteria involve subjective judgment. While a road’s traffic volume can be defined with numerical specificity, planning criteria are not so easily defined. What is a bridge rehab versus replacement – how much has to be replaced be it guardrail, decks, abutments, or all of the above? How is magnitude of safety improvements defined – provide signage for 15,000 motorists or improve an at-grade crossing for 4 homes? The hope is that consistent and transparent reviews, however subjective, improve our engineering-centric prioritization process.

Critical need new project requests

The State continues to discourage new projects, but after much discussion the State has acknowledged there are some transportation project needs that might compel consideration. VTrans is currently working on an updated Prioritization Process and Project Selection methodology where in the next year we hope to test alongside the current process.

Dleting projects

We still have projects that are in the capital plan that have few chances of ever being constructed. These are typically low-volume bridges that are more appropriately funded locally or through the state aid program.  Currently there is no incentive for towns or the region to delete a project.  But the status quo is no different than project deletion.  For now, if there are any communities that would consider deleting projects I can work directly with them.

Capital Program Project Status

In order for VTrans to spend funds on a project it must be listed in the Transportation Capital Program. VTrans submits a Capital Program to the Legislature each year and the Legislature must approve the list in order for projects to advance. The Capital Program categorizes projects according to the following status:

 Candidate – A project gets on the Candidate list after it has completed the planning process and has been accepted by TRORC and passed onto VTrans.

Development & Evaluation (D&E) – A project moves from the Candidate list to the Development & Evaluation list if preliminary plans are expected within 12 to 24 months.

Front-of-the-Book (FOB) – Front-of-the-Book projects are part of VTrans four-year program. A project moves from the Development & Evaluation list to Front-of-the-Book when it has completed preliminary plan development.

Town Highway Bridge Projects

An annual list of TRORC top regional Town Highway Bridge priorities are submitted to VTrans to be selected as a Candidate for that fiscal year. A project selected to be a Candidate will have a greater probability of being selected by VTrans to move forward to D&E phase. This Candidate list will be reset every year to reflect current priority projects.

Ranking sheet

The attached sheet shows a listing of all projects that need to be ranked this year: What is Project Prioritization?

 

FY2022 Project Prioritization

FY2021 Project Prioritization:

 


Staff Contact

Rita Seto, [email protected]

802-457-3188