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Guidance on Before-and-After Studies of New Starts Projects

Purpose
Overview
Study Plans
Additional Resources

Purpose

The two purposes of Before-and-After Studies are to document the actual outcomes of major capital projects and to monitor the accuracy of predicted outcomes in order to identify methods and procedures that might merit subsequent attention to improve their reliability. Since 2005, federal transit law has required that sponsors of projects receiving funds through the FTA discretionary capital-grant program prepare a Before-and-After Study if the project is:

  • A New Starts or Small Starts project developed under SAFETEA-LU procedures; or
  • A New Starts or Core Capacity project developed under MAP-21 procedures.

While Small Starts projects developed under MAP-21 procedures are not subject to the requirement, FTA encourages sponsors of these projects to undertake and complete a study. Particularly for Bus Rapid Transit and streetcar projects, these studies will help to expand the base of knowledge of this emerging generation of projects and their development.

The significant challenge to project sponsors is that the essential tasks of these studies span many years – from planning and development of the project to several years after its opening. A general overview of these tasks helps to set the context. A well-structured plan for the study and timely attention to its tasks are crucial to an efficient and productive conclusion to the effort.

Various other materials are available to help project sponsors prepare for, undertake, and complete useful studies.

For additional information on Before-and-After Studies or to coordinate work on an individual study, contact Jim Ryan at james.ryan@dot.gov.

Overview

All Before-and-After Studies include an early plan for the study, a number of milestones at which the sponsor documents and archives key information, and a final report prepared after the project has been open to service for a time sufficient for its impacts to become clear. Over the course of the development, construction, and initial revenue operations of the project, the project sponsor will prepare:

  • An agreed-upon plan for the study that is included by reference in the grant agreement or grant that conveys FTA capital-grant funding for the project.
  • Archives and analysis of the predicted outcomes of the project as they are provided to support project ratings at FTA decision milestones.
  • Archives and analysis of data collected on actual conditions in the project corridor – first before, and then after, implementation of the project.
  • The final report, along with any supporting technical memoranda.

Completion of the work at each milestone is a requirement for advancement of the project, for a grant agreement or grant, and for eventual close-out of grants. Ongoing attention to preparations for the next milestone is therefore important to the timely advancement of projects.

Ongoing coordination with FTA staff is essential to efficient work by the project sponsor in preparation for each milestone. However, no amount of FTA involvement can substitute for good-faith efforts by project sponsors to document projects as they are completed and lessons learned from their development.

An expanded overview of Before-and-After Studies is available here.

Study Plans

Good practice calls for project sponsors to prepare a plan for the study prior to entry into engineering. While a final plan is not required until the grant agreement or grant for the project, study-related activities begin almost immediately during engineering. An early draft helps to organize these activities and assign responsibilities from the start. Project sponsors can update that plan in coordination with FTA during the subsequent development of the project. A final agreed-upon version is required for inclusion by reference in the grant agreement or grant for the project.

Most tasks in the plan are the same regardless of the nature of the project and its funding. All plans include at least one prediction milestone, a before milestone, and after milestone, and the preparation of the final report. Differences occur only in the number of prediction milestones. Under MAP-21 procedures, New Starts and Core Capacity projects have two prediction milestones: entry into engineering and the FFGA. Should project sponsors choose to undertake a study for a Small Starts project, the project has a single prediction milestone at the Expedited Grant Agreement.

A starting-point draft of a plan is available here for use by project sponsors. The draft is structured for a New Starts or Core Capacity project developed under MAP-21 procedures. A guide to variations in the structure of the plan that are needed for other types of projects is available here.

Additional Resources

Several documents are available to help project sponsors plan and undertake the various activities that are necessary over several years to complete a Before-and-After Study.

  • The commitment to complete the study is an attachment to the grant or grant agreement that makes the Before-and-After Study an element of the New Starts or Small Starts project.
  • The outline of the final report defines the standard organization of the final report from the study.
  • The example final report illustrates the contents, detail, and focus of a useful final report from an early Before-and-After Study.
Updated: Friday, June 24, 2016
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