Students building windmill during elementary science class

The Minnesota Department of Transportation’s (MnDOT) Corridor Investment Management Strategy (CIMS) was created with one key objective in mind: advance multimodal solutions that ensure a high return on investment while reflecting the state’s social, economic, and environmental goals.

CIMS is a system of selecting projects to be funded based on an analysis and scoring of social, environmental, and economic benefits of each project.

The MN 23 CIMS project in Duluth widened and reconstructed sidewalks, realigned signals, closed driveway access points, added bus pullouts and improved lighting. Photo: Minnesota DOT

Challenge, Solution

“CIMS gave MnDOT the opportunity to apply a robust understanding of public return on investment to the selection of highway improvements”, said Philip Schaffner, MnDOT’s Policy Planning Director.The MN 23 CIMS project in Duluth, MN widened and reconstructed sidewalks, realigned signals, closed driveway access points, added bus pullouts and improved lighting.

CIMS came about as a result of challenging conditions. As was the case for other state transportation agencies in 2012, MnDOT officials were dealing with increasingly constrained resources alongside a transportation system that was aging. MnDOT determined that dialog and possible collaboration with other agencies whose work intersected with theirs could help strategically leverage resources and also potentially create more sustainable systems. The result was CIMS.

To familiarize other agencies and the public with the CIMS strategy, MnDOT held a series of 16 regional meetings that spring. In February of 2013, the agency issued a $30 million solicitation that invited municipalities to apply for state highway funding for projects that offered the greatest potential to help move CIMS objectives forward and also were consistent with the Minnesota GO Vision and the Statewide Multimodal Transportation Plan. The funds were from the state trunk highway account, which is funded by a combination of state gas taxes, vehicle registration fees, and sales tax on the sale of motor vehicles.

”The Minnesota GO vision calls for transportation systems that maximize the health of people, the environment and our economy, so we knew our selection process needed to reflect the triple bottom line,” Schaffner said.

MnDOT formed an advisory group of other state agencies to help develop the project evaluation criteria and evaluate project proposals. The group included Explore Minnesota Tourism and the state’s Department of Commerce, Department of Education, Department of Employment and Economic Development, Department of Health, Department of Natural Resources, Department of Public Safety, and the Pollution Control Agency.

Evaluation Criteria

Notably, the project evaluation criteria decided upon by the advisory group were broader than strictly traditional performance factors such as direct user benefits/costs and system performance.  Instead, the following criteria were applied to determine project proposal scores:

  • 60 percent: enhanced benefit-cost ratio calculation using a benefit-cost ratio analysis tool that considered the following factors:
    • social – safety, bicycle/pedestrian health effects, and noise;
    • economic – travel time, travel time reliability, vehicle operation costs, life cycle costs, and loss of agricultural land;
    • environmental – emissions (carbon dioxide plus criteria pollutants), wetland effects, and runoff.
    • 30 percent: other factors evaluated qualitatively (one example cited for each) –
      • local economic impacts –  such as improving access for tourist destinations;
      • context sensitivity – such as enhancing natural, historical, archeological, and cultural resources;
      • system considerations – such as closing a gap in a trail/bikeway;
      • community health and access – such as improving access for disadvantaged populations; and
      • multimodal impacts – such as improving access to an intermodal terminal.
      • 10 percent: financial plan match – at least 10 percent of project costs are covered by non-MnDOT funding with additional points available for applications that requested less than 90 percent of project costs.

Ten projects were selected from a total of 45 applications, with project construction scheduled for either 2014 or 2015. Selected projects tended to address three types of scenarios: a solution for a significant safety issue; a low-cost operational improvement; or a multifaceted urban main/complete streets project.  The projects all are either complete or were scheduled to be finished by early 2016.

Typical project components include activities such as the following:

  • curb, sewer, utility, and pavement upgrades/replacement;
  • improved sidewalks and ramps;
  • additional turn lanes and upgraded signals;
  • streetscaping (that in one case specifically is designed to reduce flooding);
  • improved pedestrian crossings and bicycling conditions; and
  • improved access to other modal nodes such as bus and rail transit or trails.

For one of the projects, an interchange was constructed that increases safety, reduces environmental impacts, and facilitates agricultural equipment crossings.  Another project included a four-to-three lane conversion and construction of a roundabout to support future economic vitality.

“The $30 million in CIMS funding helped the agency leverage an additional $65 million in other federal, state and local funding for a total construction program of almost $100 million,” Schaffner said.

Lessons and Reflections

The use of an enhanced benefit-cost analysis helped MnDOT translate broad goals into comparable and common metrics. The methodology allowed the review committee to compare a range of project types using one set of criteria.

“One of the benefits of the CIMS approach was that environmental impacts, particularly runoff, were elevated in importance and considered when selecting projects,” Schaffner said.

However, not all of the measures made much of a difference in project selection. For example, lack of data and forecasting methodologies meant that the health impacts of biking and walking were often missing from applications and, even when included, they usually were small relative to other factors.

“The 2013 CIMS solicitation was an incredible learning opportunity for MnDOT,” he said. “We have incorporated some of the measures into our standard guidance for benefit-cost analysis, we’re continuing to study and refine the methodology for other measures, and we’re using the solicitation as a template for other competitive grant programs.”

In terms of advice for other transportation agencies that might be interested in a similar approach, Schaffner recommended working with other agencies to develop scoring criteria “to ensure they are understandable and customized to the local context.”

For more information, contact Philip Schaffner, Policy Planning Director, Minnesota Department of Transportation at [email protected], or link to the MnDOT CIMS website.