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Federal Rule Could Create New National Traffic Data Website

The Federal Highway Administration is calling on state and local transportation agencies to work together on a new data-reporting initiative.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) wants to make congestion and other traffic data much, much more visible — and it wants state and local agencies to work together to make it happen.

With a proposed rulemaking notice released April 18, the administration laid out a plan to require state departments of transportation and metropolitan planning organizations to crunch numbers and submit information about things like travel times and greenhouse gas emissions. While states might have that data already, the FHWA is proposing to require standardized reporting at the national level, which it would then publish on a website to tell a “national performance story” — essentially, keeping tabs on highway traffic conditions.

The administration is proposing that agencies could either mine the data from the National Performance Management Research Data Set — which collects traffic information from a network of in-vehicle devices in five-minute intervals — or from more local data sets.

That’s where the collaboration component enters in. Since there might be scores of metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in a given state that would report the same information as that state’s department of transportation, the proposal calls for those agencies to work together on reporting.

“The FHWA expects that state DOTs and MPOs will work collaboratively to come to agreement on the data sources to use to meet the requirements proposed in this rulemaking,” the notice of proposed rulemaking reads.

The motive behind the proposal is to inject more information into the transportation planning process at the state and local levels while simultaneously giving the federal government a better idea of the true impact of its funding. Since the U.S. DOT is a huge source of transportation funding — including projects it hopes will lead to some radical changes to address things like congestion and carbon emissions — it has a vested interest in demonstrating the success of those projects. The administration’s website describes the move as a “down payment” on its proposed Clean Transportation Plan, which seeks to drive down greenhouse gas emissions in conjunction with promises the country made in Paris in December to combat climate change.

“The department is taking a major step to improve accountability and address the costly congestion problem that is plaguing our nation every day. Commuters and truck drivers from every state and region will be able to learn valuable information about how transportation investments are performing in delivering reliable highway travel with minimal delays and less air pollution,” U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement. “We are also taking a hard look at how to track progress on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from transportation, and I’m looking forward to what we hear back on this important topic.”

The FHWA is tentatively considering Jan. 1, 2018 as the beginning of its first period of performance measurement.

Ben Miller is the associate editor of data and business for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.