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Chapter 7: Moving Forward

As the gap between available revenue and total transportation needs continues to widen, MnDOT will use strategies and process improvements to ensure that the state achieves the maximum positive impact from all of the investments on state highways. These strategies will help close the gap between desired outcomes and the projected outcomes in MnSHIP. Several new planning processes are also underway and will be completed between now and the next MnSHIP update, including completing phase two of the Transportation Asset Management Plan, the Freight Investment Plan, and the Statewide Pedestrian System Plan. MnDOT also plans to make process improvements that will help the agency and stakeholders make more informed decisions on projects and investments.

Key messages of Chapter 7 are:

  • MnDOT has identified several internal and external policy-oriented strategies to make the greatest impact with available revenue
  • Between now and the next MnSHIP update, MnDOT will complete several new plans for different modes and assets to help better identify conditions, needs, targets and investments in those areas
  • MnDOT will implement new process improvements to more accurately measure the impact of investment dollars to projects and maintenance costs

Strategies to Stretch Projected Revenue

MnDOT will pursue a mix of internally and externally oriented strategies that will stretch existing revenue to accomplish additional priorities beyond those identified in MnSHIP. In some cases, these strategies will require further study prior to implementation and support from MnDOT’s transportation stakeholders. Whether these strategies are internal to MnDOT or rely on external decision-making, they can be a means for achieving more desirable outcomes on the state highway system.

Internal Strategies

Adjust performance expectations, where possible, to better match customer expectations with system performance. MnDOT sets its targets, in part, based on public expectations for the state highway system. This strategy would reevaluate targets given emerging risks, aligning them with realistic expectations for system performance. Although this strategy does not address investment needs on the system directly, it would allow MnDOT to ensure its performance-based management efforts are concerted, efficient and supported by realistic public expectations.

Continue to educate and train key MnDOT staff on the total life cycle costs associated with proposed investments and the revenue forecasts. By effectively educating and training staff on the issue of a widening gap between revenues and public expectations, MnDOT will be better positioned to discuss what it can achieve with the revenues it has and what it could achieve if additional revenues become available.

Pursue research and innovation to improve efficiency and minimize impacts to the traveling public. With all the challenges facing Minnesota’s transportation system, innovation is a key strategy. Creativity and innovation need to permeate every aspect of transportation service delivery, from how revenues are generated to how projects are constructed. An example of recent MnDOT innovation was the use of a Self-Propelled Modular Transporter in 2012 to move a bridge constructed off-site into place over Interstate-35E in Saint Paul. This innovative construction method minimized roadway closures during construction.

Continue to employ high return-on-investment strategies that deliver the majority of benefits at a reduced cost. MnDOT has increased its use of performance-based designs throughout the agency. These designs help ensure MnDOT does not deliver projects beyond what is needed to meet agency performance targets or other key agency objectives. By continuing to expand the use of this design flexibility, MnDOT will increase its ability to help manage project costs and ensure that the most efficient investment is made to try to meet performance based designs.

Evaluate the capital and operations revenue split to best use revenues in keeping state highways safe and operable. If decreased investments are made in capital infrastructure, operations and maintenance costs typically increase. Determining the appropriate balance between how much is invested in capital infrastructure versus how much will be deferred and used for operations and maintenance is an important consideration moving forward.

Manage investments to achieve multiple objectives such as improving economic competitiveness, public health and energy independence. Early coordination and participation in the planning process help MnDOT combine resources and leverage investments to achieve improved outcomes. For example, in most cases, it is far more cost-effective to include a bicycle element or a freight accommodation during construction of a larger bridge or highway project than as an independent project.

Increase attention given to analyzing and accurately tracking investments and performance measures in several investment categories. In particular, there is room to improve performance tracking for Roadside Infrastructure Condition, Bicycle Infrastructure and the non-ADA components of Accessible Pedestrian Infrastructure.

External Strategies

MnDOT cannot or would not employ a strategy without significant collaboration with the Federal Highway Administration and other transportation stakeholders, such as other state agencies, local area transportation partnerships and local units of government.

Continue evaluating the jurisdictional alignment of the state highway system to ensure transportation decisions occur at the right level of government. MnDOT, in conjunction with local governments across the state, completed a study that explored potential roadways for jurisdictional transfer. An additional assessment of state law and other policy considerations are necessary to determine how this type of system refinement will increase long-term system sustainability and place transportation decisions at the right level of government.

Coordinate with local units of government and other state agencies to achieve better transportation outcomes for the public, transportation stakeholders and partners. By improving local participation, MnDOT will be better positioned to engage in collaborative planning efforts with stakeholders and to pursue outcomes that achieve multiple purposes. Successful examples of this include MnDOT’s collaboration with the Minnesota Department of Health to develop Minnesota Walks a guide to make walking safe, convenient and desirable.

Advocate for flexible design standards and specifications. Flexible design allows greater sensitivity to local needs and demands of the surrounding environment without prescribing unnecessary or burdensome improvements. By decreasing road width, for example, MnDOT also decreases the initial cost of the project and the amount of pavement that it will need to maintain.

Broaden the education of stakeholders and policymakers on the total life cycle costs associated with proposed investments and revenue forecasts. By effectively engaging stakeholders and policymakers on the issue of a widening gap between revenues and public expectations, MnDOT will be better positioned to discuss what it can achieve with the revenues it has and what it could achieve if additional revenues become available.

Work Plan

MnSHIP covers the 20-year period between 2018 and 2037. It is updated every four years to reflect changes in federal and state policy, system conditions and revenue projections. The current MnSHIP update refined MnDOT’s planning and programming process to address these changes. Between now and the next MnSHIP update, MnDOT will continue to update and improve this process and adjust investment priorities as conditions evolve. MnDOT has been implementing and will continue to work on the following efforts over the coming years:

New Planning Activities

  • Complete phase two of the Transportation Asset Management Plan. MnDOT completed phase one of the Transportation Asset Management Plan after being selected as one three states to participate in a pilot program by the FHWA. The second phase of the plan expands the number of assets analyzed which will help MnDOT report on life-cycle costs, condition and inform investment decisions in the next MnSHIP update.

Related Objectives: System Stewardship, Transportation Safety

  • Complete the Freight Investment Plan. Minnesota’s Freight Investment Plan, currently under development, will provide a fiscally constrained list of priority projects important to freight, and describe how federal formula funds would be invested and matched. The plan will help identify how the FAST Act freight program funds get invested on the new National Highway Freight Network created by the freight program. Developed cooperatively with private and other public entities, the plan will also provide guidelines in project development and operational decisions, all in accordance with the FAST Act.

Related Objectives: System Stewardship, Critical Connections

  • Complete the Statewide Pedestrian System Plan. The Statewide Pedestrian System Plan will identify a pedestrian priority network for pedestrian improvements. An established pedestrian priority network would help guide general pedestrian improvements and communicate opportunities for investment to MnDOT districts and local partners. The plan will be guided by Minnesota Walks, a collaborative effort between MnDOT and the Minnesota Department of Health designed to be a shared roadmap for how all Minnesotans can have safe, desirable, and convenient places to walk and roll.

Related Objectives: Critical Connections

Process Improvements

  • Improve the transparency and consistency of MnDOT’s project selection process. There are several actions MnDOT will undertake to improve transparency. These actions include implementing best practices to improve transparency of the project selection process and local agency involvement and establishing a method to track spending of local dollars on the state highway system.

Related Objectives: Open Decision Making

  • Establish criteria for prioritization of expansion projects with additional funding. The prioritization process for bridge and pavement projects is well-established but expansion projects have been funded through criteria specific to programs that have changed over the years. This effort will allow MnDOT to be prepared to prioritize and deliver new projects should additional revenue become available.

Related Objectives: Open Decision Making, Critical Connections

  • Establish mobility targets. Once the FHWA publishes final rules for system performance measures, MnDOT will have one year to establish mobility targets for the Twin Cities and the state. These measures and targets will influence future mobility investment decisions.

Related Objectives: Critical Connections

  • Improve bicycle investment reporting and project scoping. The Statewide Bicycle System Plan was completed in 2016. Accurate tracking of progress toward meeting bicycle investment objectives will require better data on the type and location of bicycle infrastructure improvements. Improving the cost estimates for different types of bicycle facilities will also help districts better account for investments made and documented through the annual 10-Year Capital Highway Improvement Plan process.

Related Objectives: Critical Connections

  • Quantify the impact capital investments have on maintenance and operations needs and expenditures. Reduced capital investment can often result in increased operations and maintenance needs. MnDOT will examine the relationship between capital investments and operations and maintenance since preventive maintenance is often seen as helping to extend the life of the facility or asset.

Related Objectives: System Stewardship, Open Decision-Making

  • Refine and expand the components that are incorporated into the bridge tracking model. Refinement of associated bridge elements (e.g. approach work, bicycle and pedestrian elements) would provide more accurate project costs. Reaching consensus with the bridge office and districts as to what should be included would help districts manage their budgets. Incorporating culverts, railroad bridges, tunnels and pedestrian bridges would allow MnDOT to better prioritize bridge needs and plan for repairs and maintenance.

Related Objectives: System Stewardship

  • Implement standard inspection protocols for pedestrian improvements. In recent years, MnDOT completed a sidewalk inventory on the state highway system. As a follow-up, MnDOT would standardize data collection of system condition and ADA compliance by establishing inspection intervals and processes.

Related Objectives: Critical Connections

  • Better inclusion of ancillary pavements into total pavement needs. These assets, such as signage and lighting at rest areas and weigh stations to be included in total roadside infrastructure needs. This effort will help to clearly communicate rest area and weigh station needs to MnDOT districts.

Related Objectives: System Stewardship

  • Continue coordination of planned projects with partners. Stakeholder engagement efforts will continue to ensure strong connections between the Minnesota GO Vision and project selection. Projects in Years 5-10 of the CHIP will be the subject of additional project development conversations between MnDOT and its partners to ensure that funds leverage the highest possible outcomes.

Related Objectives: Healthy Communities, Open Decision Making

  • Quantify the benefits of jurisdictional transfer. Outcomes include maintenance and operations benefits and long and short-term capital savings as a result of a transfer. This analysis should be expanded to specific segments.

Related Objectives: System Stewardship, Open Decision Making