By Megan Poinski

495 Washington beltway

Vehicles fill I-495, the DC beltway, in Montgomery County on a fall afternoon.

Maryland collects more data on various aspects of transportation than most other states, ensuring that taxpayers can get the biggest bang for their bucks, according to a new study from the Pew Center on the States and the Rockefeller Foundation.

The study looks at the information states are collecting to justify their transportation investments, which topped $131 billion nationwide in fiscal year 2010. Maryland is one of 13 states that the study found is “leading the way” in collecting information on six important indicators dealing with transportation: safety, jobs and commerce, mobility, access, environmental stewardship, and infrastructure preservation.

The Pew Center’s Director of Research Robert Zahradnik said that the initial purpose of the study was to determine if taxpayers were getting their money’s worth in transportation investments. However, so many states were not measuring everything the study was hoping to look at that the focus of the study shifted.

“We’re looking at who’s getting what they need, and who has the tools in place to make sure that happens,” Zahradnik said.

Maryland is one of 13 states that are “leading the way” with all of the data captured by the Department of Transportation. Nineteen states have “mixed results,” collecting some data, but missing out on other information. The other 18 states and Washington, D.C. are “trailing behind,” needing to make significant improvements to their data collection.

Zahradnik and Rockefeller Foundation Managing Director Nicholas Turner said that the study showed that there is no single formula for states to collect this transportation data.

The report specifically mentions Maryland as a leader in two sections. It lauds the state’s priority on transit-oriented development, which is constructing state projects supported by the local neighborhood within half a mile of transit stations. At Gov. Martin O’Malley’s request, legislation passed in 2008 made transit-oriented development projects a “transportation purpose.” It also commends the state’s strong eminent domain powers, and its $9 billion five-year capital budget for projects across transportation modes.

The study also recognizes Maryland for its vast array of data collected about transportation impact on the environment. Data collected by MDOT includes park-and-ride statistics, green transit usage, acres of wetlands or wildlife created, restored and improved, and tracking of greenhouse gas emissions from the state as a whole.
Don Halligan, director of MDOT’s Office of Planning and Capital Programming, said it was nice to get the recognition in the study.

“We collect all sorts of different data,” he said.

Much of this data is in the annual Attainment Report, which examines what the department is doing, and how it is moving in the direction of meeting its goals. Halligan said this has been collected and published online for about 10 years, after a legislative directive led them to start doing it.

But there’s also lots of other data that’s constantly collected, including data on how things are working on an operating level. Much of the data is about basic functions of the department, like if the roads have too many potholes, or if a bridge needs maintenance.

The information collected is used in both long and short-range transit planning, as well as by O’Malley in the StateStat program of performance measurement, Halligan said.