A new report says Minnesota is among five states doing the best job at keeping track of data used to make transportation policy and funding decisions.
The study by the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation looks at whether states are setting goals and measuring results in six areas: jobs and commerce, safety, infrastructure preservation, mobility, access, and environmental stewardship. The report did not look at outcomes.
"Minnesota both has goals, performance measures and data, the essential tools across all six areas, and they have sort of a robust array of data," said Robert Zahradnik, research director at the Pew Center on the States. "It is timely and is presented in such a way to help policy makers guide transportation funding and policy decisions."
State Transportation Commissioner Tom Sorel says he's pleased Minnesota is considered one of the top states for keeping track of data on roads and transit.
Sorel said the recent announcement that MnDOT will invest nearly $400 million in four years on improving road surfaces is a good example of a decision backed by data.
"We take all that data and we run it through a pavement management model and it cranks out the levels of investments we need to make in our pavement to make them an acceptable level to the public," Sorel said.
Zahradnik said the states with the best ratings "really are a diverse mix of large and small states, rural and urban concentrations, political leadership, geographic location and economy."
"There isn't any one defining characteristic that is allowing states to do this, which also means that there isn't any characteristic that would prevent other states from improving and getting better," he said.
The report's authors say their work could be important in the national debate over whether federal transportation dollars should be distributed based on performance.
Sorel said he thinks performance measures should be used to give states additional flexibility in the way they spend federal money.
Sorel said a Minnesota program aimed at reducing traffic deaths — called Toward Zero Deaths — covers areas such as engineering, emergency medical services, enforcement and education. But the federal government has rules about how money can be spent to reduce traffic deaths.
"If we could flex that money amongst those categories then it would help us continue to push those numbers downward," Sorel said.