State departments of transportation have focused on accountability and transparency — two common catch phrases in our business — for as long as there have been departments. At least a dozen years ago or more state transportation agencies began focusing on how to communicate in a way that helps the public better understand where their money was being spent.
In Washington state, the transportation agency developed the legendary “Gray Notebook” that started as just a few dozen pages in 2001, but today boasts hundreds of pages every quarter full of statistics and reports that drill down into every aspect of the agency’s activities.
The Missouri Department of Transportation “Tracker” was another model of accountability reporting featuring goals that are written in a way that makes sense for the average citizen. The Tracker is more than 200 pages long, but it is divided into easily downloadable sections titled “Keep Customers and Ourselves Safe” or “Use Resources Wisely.”
Michigan Department of Transportation features a “dashboard” style of reporting progress on maintaining infrastructure. The Idaho Transportation Department also offers an online dashboard, as does the Virginia Department of Transportation.
Each of these is helpful and each of these styles of reporting has different strengths and weaknesses. But despite all of the accountability shown by state DOTs and other transportation agencies, the public still seems to metaphorically scratch its collective head and ask, “What am I paying for?”
That might be one of the reasons why the recent MAP-21 transportation bill called for the establishment of national transportation performance measures to ensure that all states are reporting on the same measures in the same way. But even those measures, which will be helpful and revealing in their own way, will probably not get at what the individual taxpayer really wants to know. It comes down to the personal question, “how are MY dollars being used?”
And, Colorado Department of Transportation officials must have been asking those same questions because right there on the CDOT web page is a personal calculator, “Your CDOT Dollar.” Follow the link and you are asked how many miles you drive in Colorado annually and your vehicles average miles per gallon.
Let’s imagine that I drove 12,000 miles in Colorado and my car averages 24 miles per gallon. The calculator tells me that I spent $183.09 in fuel taxes, and it provides a personal report on how that $183.09 was spent. According to the report, $109 was used for “maintaining what we have.” Just $1.92 was used for “expanding the system.”
The Colorado site also features a robust reporting system that provides the larger agency performance overview. But the little things — like connecting that performance to the individual — really make a difference.