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Least Cost Planning: ODOT's next generation planning tool

In 2009’s Jobs and Transportation Act (JTA), the Oregon Legislature directed ODOT to develop Least cost planning (LCP) for transportation decision-making. The ultimate goal of LCP is to help provide a more accurate and thorough assessment of potential benefits of possible investments and actions relative to costs and impacts — and point the way to the right balance.   
ODOT’s STIP Stakeholder Committee (SSC) serves as the LCP Steering Committee. This group of 20 transportation partners is helping make sure the methodology does not require a lot of new data collection and that it makes sense to stakeholders. The SSC started out by helping determine the general framework for LCP and decide what it should consider, such as what kind of impacts should be considered.
“Least cost planning is a tool initially designed to assist planning processes, but it can be adjusted to different settings and respect the different needs and data capabilities of different areas of the state,” said Lucia Ramirez, a planner in ODOT’s Transportation Development Division who is working on LCP.
The SSC helped make the decision to focus first on planning-level decisions. This represents a broad look and many possible investments or actions may assist in solving problems identified. However, case study research done before the methodology project really took off indicates that least cost planning is a robust decision-making method that could also be applied to project development or local planning efforts.
In the current stage of LCP development, stakeholders from ODOT, Metropolitan Planning Organizations, and other agencies are serving on technical teams to help identify indicators and measures for the categories identified by the SSC as part of the first stage of this work. The categories should look familiar, as most correspond to goals or major policies of the Oregon Transportation Plan. The categories include:
  • economic vitality
  • mobility
  • equity
  • land use and growth management
  • environmental stewardship
  • safety and security
  • accessibility
  • funding the transportation system/finance
  • quality of life and livability
LCP will better evaluate impacts of possible planning decisions on all the categories by incorporating indicators reflecting each category in the evaluation. Project teams are using core principles to select the indicators including ensuring the focus is on evaluating outcomes, the information provided is useful to decision makers and in language and terms that are easy to understand, and that we are able to forecast how the indicator will change in the future.
Late this year, the LCP project products will be ready to test out on a transportation planning project.  Products will include a beta version of an LCP analysis tool and guidance for using the tool and the LCP methodology overall.   The LCP methodology and measures employed in the tool will move indirect impacts onto the same page as traditional costs and benefits and provide a thorough, documented analysis to help decisions.
Staff and others working on the project have found that the terminology of Least Cost Planning does not resonate because it does not really reflect the goals of the project.  During the current phase of work, a new name is being tested.  The proposal is: “Mosaic: Oregon’s value and cost informed transportation planning tool.”
This proposed name conveys the unique nature of the end result. The name implies the need for human involvement, choice making, and use of different approaches/materials to create the product and represents the concept “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
To keep up to date on this initiative, visit www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/TP/LCP.shtml.