Extended Comparison Tool for Major Highway Projects

Report No: 03-CR18

Published in 2003

About the report:

Under the Virginia Transportation Act signed into law in April 2000, more than $10 billion would have been invested in highway construction, public transportation, airports, and ports during the following 6 years. However, recent budgetary constraints will result in a delay in investing more than $2 billion in road projects for more than a decade. In the current study, a previously developed comparison tool was extended to bring quantitative evidence of safety and categorical evidence of broad motivations to planners, engineers, and the public in comparing the benefits of proposed transportation projects. The extended tool developed in the current study provides visual devices for presenting multifaceted information about project attributes. Policymakers and planners may find the presentation useful in assessing what types of projects are being undertaken and what projects to prefer to others. The extended tool represents project information including cost, average daily traffic, and crash rates for comparison and prioritization of the 1,500 candidate projects that constitute the development plan of Virginia highways. The extended tool is flexible to accommodate applications such as project selection (planning) and programming. Several sources of information include the crash databases of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and project plans for districts and localities. The extended tool enables planners to identify principal motivations for various projects based on categories defined by the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century. The tool introduces summary reports of criteria including project aggregate costs and counts of projects with particular motivations, facilitating system-level analyses and project ranking. The summary reports can be useful to interpret outcomes of human deliberation or multicriteria rating and ranking processes, some of which are demonstrated in this study in the body of the report and in a substantial appendix. The major innovation of the extended comparison tool is its ability to synthesize the relevant quantitative and categorical information on a large and diverse portfolio of highway investments, bringing more evidence to the table earlier in the planning process. Three case studies demonstrate the application of the extended comparison tool in short-, medium-, and long-term transportation plans. These case studies are the VDOT-Culpeper District Transportation Development Plan (a 6-year plan), long-range financially constrained plans of selected small Virginia localities, and the long-range plan of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission. The incremental data to assess over 100 projects in a VDOT District Six-Year Plan were collected in 90 minutes, providing an advantage over typical methods that can require several hours or more per project. Recommendations are given for implementation of the extended comparison tool and further development of the software prototype.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • James Hamilton Lambert, C. Ariel Pinto, Kenneth A. Peterson

Last updated: December 3, 2023

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