Project Prioritization: Case Study: North Central Pennsylvania’s Project Prioritization Process

In the 2007 – 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), North Central Pennsylvania Regional Planning and Development Commission set out to “define and develop a regional core transportation system that connects local and regional facilities with the state’s system and coordinates with other community initiatives and priorities.” (7) The regional core system is used with defined selection criteria to rigorously analyze projects for inclusion in planning documents. To create project selection criteria, North Central benchmarked other counterpart planning regions for applicable developments.

They found that a project prioritization process is especially useful when funding is limited. One of the previous limitations of the region’s LRTP, Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (or CEDS, a document required by the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration through its planning grant program) and Regional Action Strategy (developed through the state’s integrated Land Use, Transportation, and Economic Development, or LUTED, initiative) was the failure to identify spatial priorities—where in a large region a few affordable and targeted  investments should be made. The most important economic and transportation centers are identified by the core system. The core system follows the model of the Pennsylvania Mobility Plan as a tool to consider multi-modal interconnection, the flow of goods and people in the region, and integrated investments.

In December 2008, a Project Prioritization Committee was formed, bringing together a variety of regional stakeholders from the RPO and CEDS committees to develop and weight selection criteria. To assist with weighting, North Central utilized dynamic software called Decision Lens, through a statewide license purchased by the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). Developed to improve capital resource planning and decision making, Decision Lens software allowed for pairwise comparisons of each proposed criterion. Various sets of project criteria and weighting were developed for each project funding area. In a second round of review, all projects are then examined against “Overall Transportation Criteria” for a total score. These criteria include 14 elements in five basic groupings of (in order of importance): safety; job creation and community benefits; transportation planning and project support; project location factors; and transportation benefits. This process will be used beginning with the 2011 TIP.

A similar process is used for North Central’s economic and community development projects under consideration for inclusion in their region’s CEDS. The Project Prioritization Committee’s role will continue to evaluate candidate Projects of Regional Significance and forward recommendations to North Central’s executive board.

North Central’s planning process will continue to evolve through both region-specific and statewide efforts.  For example, the state’s RPOs, MPOs, and PennDOT are all working together to identify the most important indicators to track regarding preservation of the existing system, an effort that began in 2011.  Preservation has been identified as a priority in the state’s long-range plan.  These indicators will help the state to better program funds dedicated to preservation and to justify its overall investments in the transportation system.

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

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