Semisequicentennial Transportation Conference Proceedings
May 1996, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa

Improving Transportation Resource Allocation Practices of Iowa Regional Planning Affiliations

Patrick Pittenger and T.H. Maze

P. Pittenger,
Lakes Region Planning Commission,
5 Red Gate Lane,
Meredith, New Hampshire 03253.

T.H. Maze,
Center for Transportation Research and Education,
Iowa State University,
Ames, Iowa, 50010-8615.

Regional Planning Affiliations (RPAs) were established in Iowa in 1992. The purpose of establishing regional organizations was to create forums for the involvement of all interested parties in the development of long-range transportation plans and short-term (three year) transportation improvement programs. The majority of the 18 regional planning affiliations are not currently meeting the objectives of the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT). An improved method for the allocation of resources is presented. This paper discusses the objectives of the Iowa DOT regarding RPAs, the current practices of RPAs, and a brief discussion of a methodology developed by the author that could be used by RPAs as an improved method of allocating resources. The result of this paper will be a general understanding of the current status of regional resource allocation practices and one method which represents an improved method of allocating resources.

Iowa Department of Transportation Objectives and Actual Practices

The Iowa DOT has specific objectives regarding RPAs. The Iowa DOT provided RPAs with guidelines, including those for the formation of technical and policy committees and the requirement for Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) to be consistent with established long-range plans. Beyond these guidelines, the Iowa DOT has the objective that this process will extend beyond the previous method of direct suballocation to roadway operating agencies. Resources are to be allocated based on regional considerations as stated in the long-range plans. It is also the objective of the Iowa DOT that representatives involved in the regional processes will use the regional forum to consider all transportation resources, even though only federal funds are required to be considered (1). These objectives are not currently being met by many RPAs.

An April 1995 survey conducted by one of the 18 RPAs found that the majority of RPAs have not implemented structured approaches to the allocation of resources. Practices vary from region-wide prioritization of projects to suballocating funds based on what a regional committee subjectively determines to be "fair." There are several related issues:

(1) In many regions the process is not viewed as significant because the regional processes allocate only a small portion of all transportation resources (state and local resources are also available). Decisions concerning resource allocation priorities are for federal funds, and are not used to allocate other resources distributed directly to local agencies.

(2) The long-range plans are still being developed by many RPAs, so there are no long-range plans from which the TIPs can flow.

(3) No RPAs currently use analytical tools such as pavement or bridge management systems to support the resource allocation process (2).

A comparison of current practices and Iowa DOT objectives illustrates the need for improving the practices of RPAs. RPAs have had the opportunity to develop structured, objective methods for allocating resources, but many have not. One method available to all RPAs to improve the current practices is presented below.

Proposed Methodology for Regional Transportation Resource Allocation

A case study related to the improvement of one RPA's practices was conducted. The purpose of the case study was to determine how resources are being allocated currently and to develop a more structured, objective methodology for the allocation of resources. The RPA selected for the case study, region six, has an established long-range transportation plan. The element lacking in the resource allocation process was a set of tools to assist regional committees in the development of a TIP each year, the documents that state the planned use of resources during the following three-year period. The case study sought to provide this lacking element.

The methodology developed for regional resource allocation could be applied at any RPA. The decision making was divided into two parts, the distribution of resources among types of uses and the distribution of resources for projects within each type of use. All decision making at the programming level is assumed to flow from long-range transportation plans.

The first part of the programming process, the distribution of resources among types of uses, should be determined by the regional policy committee in accordance with the regional long-range plan. The types of potential uses include bridges, roadways, transit, and others. Quantifiable comparisons among the uses is difficult, so the regional policy committee could simply determine the percentages of available resources to be allocated to each type of use. For example, a region may have established that the maintenance of bridges in the region is the first priority for funding. The policy committee could determine that funding for bridges should be 60 percent of the total available funds, pavement maintenance 30 percent, and transit 10 percent. Once these funding allocations are determined in accordance with the regional long-range plan, the regional technical committee can be primarily responsible for allocating resources within each use type.

Once a level of resources is established, quantitative tools may be utilized to allocate resources within each use type. Statewide management systems being developed in Iowa will include the collection of data that support quantitative tools at the regional level. For example, a pavement management system database is being developed that includes the collection of pavement condition data that could be used by an RPA. As pavement management activities have traditionally been the primary use of federal resources programmed through the TIP, allocation of resources for pavement management was selected as the focus of the case study.

Regions six's primary concern, as stated in the region's long-range plan, is the maintenance of existing pavements. The RPA allocates resources to the eight federal-aid-eligible roadway operating agencies in the region, which then develop specific projects within their respective jurisdictions (3). The alternative to this method is the allocation of resources directly to specific projects in the region, regardless of local jurisdiction. The methodology developed continues the allocation of resources to agencies rather than directly to projects, but similar methods may be used to allocate resources directly to projects. Software was selected to perform the allocation of resources dedicated to pavement maintenance to the concerned eight agencies in the region.

Region six currently uses a combination of outdated suballocation factors and what the region determines to be fair to allocate resources to the eight agencies that operate federal-aid-eligible roadways in the region. The software chosen, the Financial Planning Network Optimization System (FNOS), could be used to replace current methods with a structured, objective method. FNOS could be used to determine new allocation factors based on such factors as pavement type, pavement condition, the probabilities of pavement condition deterioration, costs to conduct maintenance strategies, and available local and state resources. All of these data are currently available with the exception of pavement condition data, for which collection will begin in 1996. The method for the case study is preferable to the RPA's current practices because it is objective and quantifiable.

FNOS is capable of forecasting financial needs to maintain roadways for each of the eight agencies. The target condition level used for the case study analysis was the average for the entire RPA. The needs for each agency to maintain their roadways at the standards of the RPA can be compared to available resources from state and local sources. By comparing needs as determined by using FNOS with available resources from other sources, a net need is determined. The net needs of the eight agencies can be compared to allocate resources among the agencies. One potential problem with this method is that local agencies could manipulate the amount of local resources available for pavement maintenance in an effort to receive more federal resources through the regional process. Because of this potential problem, the local representatives would need to be cognizant of other agencies' funding levels and reasons for any change that would result in increased funding through the regional process.

FNOS requires certain types of data to produce results that can be used to allocate resources. The heart of the software is a probabilistic optimization model that forecasts the deterioration of pavements that do not receive maintenance and the improvement of pavements that do receive maintenance. Matrices that contain these probabilities are based on surface types, distresses to be analyzed, and the condition states for each distress. Any pavement type may be analyzed with a maximum of four. Distresses to be analyzed for each pavement type must also be determined, such as rutting, cracking, and roughness. Condition states for each distress such as good, fair, and poor are also required. Probabilities are required for each combination of surface type and maintenance strategy and provide FNOS with the information required to select the optimal solutions for maintenance strategy selection.

Using this process in conjunction with linear programming, FNOS calculates which pavement maintenance strategies should be used for portions of the pavement network. This process does not have the ability to track specific sections, but it does produce which strategies should be used over a multiyear period to maintain the pavement network at a specified level. Probabilities for performing this analysis were provided by the local engineers of the region, as were other forms of data for the case study analysis.

Numerous additional data were required for the analysis. These data included the costs to perform maintenance strategies and extensive data concerning the pavement network. The basic unit for analysis is the pavement management section, which is a portion of pavement that has similar characteristics throughout its length. Sections were available through statewide management systems, but the condition data for local federal-aid-eligible roadways had to be provided by local representatives because automated data collection for these roadways will not begin until 1996. Local agencies also provided the amount of resources available from local and state sources to compare to needs determined using FNOS.

Several aspects of this methodology need to be understood or improved on to make it useful. One aspect is that the target conditions used in the case study were the RPA's average conditions. This results in agencies that have better than average roadway conditions receiving less funding because less funding is required to attain the average conditions, meaning deterioration would be allowed. Another important aspect is the matter of gravel roadways. These roadways are not paved, and are therefore excluded from the FNOS analysis. In the case study, 35 percent of one agency's federal-aid-eligible roadways were gravel. One solution to this exclusion from funding consideration is to allocate funds for gravel roads to each agency before allocating resources with FNOS on a per-mile basis. A final aspect of the methodology is the inclusion of the state-owned roadways in the comparison of needs and available resources. The needs can be determined using FNOS, but the Iowa DOT does not have a fixed amount of resources available for regions. The solution for the case study was to allocate the identical amount of resources to the state-owned roadways as was previously done. This allows for the state to receive funding, but it retains the practice of allocating resources to an agency based on what is believed to be fair. Despite these few areas of difficulty, the methodology represents a way to improve practices of regional agencies.


A majority of the 18 RPAs are not allocating resources in a manner desired by the Iowa DOT, nor are they using structured, objective tools that are available for tasks they perform. A method was developed that includes two levels of decision making, distribution of resources among types of uses and distribution of resources among agencies for specific uses or to specific projects. The first level could be performed by regional policy committees in accordance with established long-range plans. The second level could be performed by regional technical committees in accordance with established long-range plans using quantitative, justifiable tools such as management systems.

The pavement management system used in the case study is only one tool. Other tools can assist decision makers concerning bridges and other eligible uses of resources. The pavement management system discussed here is one that allocates resources to agencies not projects. Not only are there other similar systems to perform that task, there are also project level systems that can assist decision makers in allocating resources to specific projects without regard to jurisdiction. These tools are available, and the Iowa DOT should use its resources to make a concerted effort to support the development and implementation of such tools at the regional level.


  1. Draft Guidelines for Statewide Planning. Iowa Department of Transportation, Ames, Iowa, June 1993.
  2. Iowa Regional Transportation Alliances Transportation Programming Processes. Region Six Planning Commission, Marshalltown,Iowa, 1995.
  3. Region Six Long Range Transportation Plan. Region Six Planning Commission, Marshalltown, Iowa, 1994.

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