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Transportation Planning Economics

The TREDIS® Suite provides Benefit-Cost Analysis, Economic Impact Analysis, and Financial Impact Analysis to support transportation planning and project prioritization. Arrow Right

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Predictive Analytics

TREDPLANTM provides insight into the economic position of ports and regions, and how future changes in technology, climate, the economy, freight and trade policies will change this position in the future.  Arrow Right



January 26, 2011 (TRB Conference)


Theme: How States and MPOs are Evaluating Economic Benefits of Projects and Proposals
Held: January 26, 2011, at the TRB Conference, Washington, DC
An open dialogue among TREDIS users about the use of economic impact analysis and benefit/cost studies as they relate to transportation planning and project prioritization.
Attendees The luncheon was attended by a range of representatives from state DOTs, metropolitan planning organizations, rural regional agencies, universities and consulting firms.

Discussion Topic 1: 
Uses of Economic Impact Analysis: Attendees reported on their uses of economic impact analysis, which spanned

  1. project prioritization,
  2. transit alternatives assessment,
  3. port and freight studies,
  4. intermodal metropolitan plans,
  5. statewide travel modeling integration,
  6. program evaluation,
  7. corridor studies, and
  8. classroom teaching.

Discussion Topic 2:  Challenges faced in making use of economic impact analysis results. The group had a widespread sharing of frustrations and successes regarding use of economic impact analysis in project selection and prioritization processes. There was a shared concern about appropriately communicating findings to DOT and MPO staff, legislators, policy-makers, and the general public. The general consensus was that certain decision makers often do not fully understand concepts of economic impacts such as value added, GDP and present value. Frequently, project selection decisions are sometimes made contrary to what the analysis results support. Other challenges are how to provide continual education for a revolving set of legislators and staffers, and ability to communicate urban vs. rural needs to decision makers and stakeholders.With regard to communicating economic impact results, the group felt that the public does understand job impacts, especially in today's challenging economic conditions. However, agencies have difficulty communicating the impacts of benefit/cost ratings or project rankings when it is not transparent how those ratings or rankings were developed.

Discussion Topic 3: 
Educational Training. Various attendees suggest that TREDIS could play a role in addressing the previously-cited challenges in education of both agency staff and the public. It was noted that the TREDIS university program is intended to educate students, and various national organizations have established more general training initiatives for the public (via website) and legislators (via workshop). It was suggested that future TREDIS training should include the basic concepts of economic impacts and the many ways that transportation can affect economic impacts. Alternative avenues for in-person training workshops, webinars, and online video training were discussed as options, which will be considered for the future.

Discussion Topic 4: 
Use of Travel Demand Models. There was a discussion on the wide variation in availability and functionality of travel demand and network models that would drive TREDIS. It was acknowledged that tools such as TREDIS can work with either sketch planning methods or formal travel demand models to represent travel impacts. However, the parameters of data that are fed into travel models do need to reflect local conditions as much as possible. Thus, even when travel model results are available, it can be useful to derive additional local and regional inputs from local engineer knowledge.

Education was deemed as a pre-requisite to modeling properly and understanding the interaction of travel model and economic model results, and the sometimes counter-intuitive nature of some of those results. Equally important is the education of agency staff about
macroeconomic concepts that provide context to TREDIS results.

Discussion Topic 5:  Understanding Economic Impact Results. It was agreed that the results should "tell the story" of the project being modeled. TREDIS users conversed on the best way to accomplish that, and whether graphical interpretations of the results would enable a better understanding of the development of the "story" over time - across impacts, freight, revenues, etc. Tying in with the education theme, graphical interpretations may enable a more consumer-friendly way to educate one's audience.

The group discussed whether or not there was a need to enhance TREDIS-generated graphics. The consensus was that users would prefer to export TREDIS results into Excel and create graphics to suit their custom reports.
A related discussion concerned the clarity of the presentation of TREDIS output tables, and whether it would help to eliminate or bury the intermediate calculations. The consensus was that the high level concepts should be reported and highlighted, but that transparency is of utmost importance so intermediate and supporting data should not be eliminated or buried. Also discussed were the impacts of the scale and scope of the results on the overall perception of the project. There is a need to present results in the context of the scale that they actually occur. It was noted that when economic impacts are small, costs are frequently small, so benefit/cost ratio can be used to check whether project impacts are at the appropriate scale. More generally, impacts can be shown as levels, changes, and percent changes.

Next Steps:  The next user group meeting is planned to be held at the ITED (International Transportation & Economic Development) conference, May 1-4, 2011 in Charleston, WV.  (

The members of this user group meeting were very interested in pursuing the dialog of lessons learned in applying TREDIS, and ways that transportation professionals can best enhance the use of economic analysis to address transportation planning needs.



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