Frequently Asked Questions

Introductory Information
New MPOs
Established MPOs
UZAs and MPAs
Geography: Boundaries and Maps
Census 2000 Effects
FHWA/FTA Collaboration

What is transportation planning and why does it exist?

The transportation planning process exists to provide the information needed for decisionmakers to choose among alternative strategies for improving transportation system performance. Transportation planning is the process of:
  • Establishing a community/regional vision and identifying how transportation fits into this vision.
  • Developing/utilizing a cooperative and inclusive transportation vision and operations concept for the region.
  • Understanding the types of decisions needed to achieve this vision.
  • Assessing the opportunities and limitations of the future in relation to goals and desired system performance measures.
  • Identifying near- and long-term consequences of alternative choices.
  • Relating alternative decisions to goals, objectives, and system performance measures. Presenting this information to decisionmakers.
  • Helping decisionmakers establish priorities and develop an investment program.

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What is the importance of transportation planning in my metropolitan area or state?

The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 emphasized transportation planning with a focus on intermodal transportation. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) of 1998 continues the vision of ISTEA with seven planning factors that directly relate to quality of life in states and metropolitan areas. Transportation planning is the process used to identify priorities and determine how transportation funds are allocated to different projects and areas.

In developing transportation plans, planners should seek transportation solutions that:
  • Support economic vitality.
  • Increase safety and security.
  • Increase accessibility and mobility options.
  • Protect the environment and improve quality of life.
  • Enhance system integration and connectivity.
  • Promote efficient system management and operation.
  • Emphasize system preservation.

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What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and what is its role in the planning process?

The MPO is the forum for cooperative transportation decisionmaking for the metropolitan planning area. The MPO members are representatives of the local units of government. An MPO is required in each urbanized area having a population of over 50,000. There are currently 340 MPOs in the United States. These MPOs, in cooperation with states, transit operators, local municipalities, counties, and other key transportation entities in the metropolitan area carry out the planning process. These same agencies, under the coordination of the MPO, also cooperatively develop the annual Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) and the 3-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
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Where do MPOs and states get the money for long-range transportation planning?

The TEA-21 legislation guarantees $198 billion in surface transportation investment. Surface transportation funds have been reauthorized every 6 years, in the past, and should be reauthorized again in 2003. These funds are allocated through programs like the National Highway System (NHS), the Surface Transportation Program (STP), and the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program (CMAQ), before being redirected to states. TEA-21 also provides planning funds for states and MPOs, called State Planning and Research Funds and Planning Funds respectively. The actual money for Federal transportation funding comes from the Federal excise tax on gasoline, which is collected by each State government and turned over to the Federal Highway Trust Fund, the primary source of Federal transportation funds. States also generate their own funds for transportation projects through a variety of means.

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What is meant by attainment, nonattainment, and maintenance?

Attainment, nonattainment, and maintenance are classifications of regional air quality based on the 1990 amendment of the Clean Air Act legislation enforced through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA uses six "criteria pollutants" as indicators of air quality, and has established for each of them a maximum concentration above which adverse effects on human health may occur. The six "criteria pollutants" are:
  • Ozone.
  • Carbon monoxide.
  • Nitrogen dioxide.
  • Sulfur dioxide.
  • Particulate matter (including dust, dirt, soot, smoke, and liquid).
  • Lead.
These threshold concentrations are called National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). When an area does not meet the air quality standard for one of the criteria pollutants, it generally is subject to the formal rule making designating it as nonattainment. Nonattainment classifications may be used to specify what air pollution reduction measures an area must adopt as well as when the area must reach attainment. Areas that were previously designated as nonattainment become maintenance areas when they achieve attainment status.

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What topics must a long range transportation plan include?

A long-range transportation plan:
  • Documents conclusions and decisions of the planning process.
  • Includes long-term and short-term policies, strategies, and actions.
  • Covers both capital projects and operation strategies.
  • Includes preservation of the existing system, system expansion and operation.
  • Addresses the movement of both people and goods.
Common issues addressed in long-range transportation plans may include air quality, asset management, conformity (integrating transportation and air quality planning into areas designated by the EPA), economic development, environmental justice, financial planning and programming, freight movement, Intelligent Transportation Systems, performance measures, safety, smart growth, and system management (to name a few).

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What is public involvement and why is it important to long-range transportation planning?

People want to have a voice in transportation decisionmaking for their communities. Agencies must have public involvement to create a successful planning or project development process. A public involvement program:
  • Informs people through outreach and participation (including people who are underserved by transportation).
  • Involves people "face to face" through meetings.
  • Gets feedback from participants.
  • Uses special techniques to enhance participation.
For long-range transportation planning, public involvement is important to help articulate the community’s/state’s vision and goals, provide the public with the opportunity to champion a variety of transportation interests, and receive valuable input into the planning process. For transportation planning, public involvement can include regional agencies, local government, user/special interest groups, tribal governments, and states, as well as the private sector, legal system, and Federal government.

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Works Cited

The Environmental Protection Agency Homepage: The EPA Greenbook.

Metropolitan Transportation Planning: Lecture Series. The National Transit Institute, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ. April 2001.

Overview of the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process and Summary of Key Issues - A Briefing Notebook for Local Officials Participating in the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process. FHWA/FTA. Draft, March 2001.

Public Involvement Techniques for Transportation decisionmaking. FHWA/FTA. Publication No: FHWA-PD-96-031. September 1996.

TEA-21: Moving Americans Into the 21st Century. TEA-21 Fact Sheets.

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