PLANNING ESSENTIALS

Transportation plays a role in all of our lives, but how exactly does transportation planning work?

Check out Planning Processes, Planning Stakeholders, Planning Products, and Planning Tools to get an introduction to the basics of transportation planning.

 
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PLANNING PROCESSES

What does the transportation planning process look like?

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PLANNING PROCESSES

What does the transportation planning process look like?

At its core, transportation planning is a cooperative, performance-driven process that allows States, regions, and communities to plan for the future and coordinate transportation projects that help them get there.

Transportation planning typically follows these steps:

  • ENGAGE - Engaging the public and stakeholders to establish shared goals and visions for the community.
  • MONITOR - Monitoring existing conditions and comparing them against transportation performance goals.
  • FORECAST - Forecasting future population and employment growth, including assessing projected land uses in the region and identifying major corridors of growth or redevelopment.
  • IDENTIFY - Identifying current and projected transportation needs by developing performance measures and targets.
  • ANALYZE - Analyzing various transportation improvement strategies and their related tradeoffs using detailed planning studies.
  • DEVELOP PLANS AND PROGRAMS - Developing long-range plans and short-range programs of alternative capital improvement, management, and operational strategies for moving people and goods.
  • ESTIMATE - Estimating how recommended improvements to the transportation system will impact achievement of performance goals, as well as impacts on the economy and environmental quality, including air quality.
  • DEVELOP FINANCIAL PLAN - Developing a financial plan to secure sufficient revenues that cover the costs of implementing strategies and ensure ongoing maintenance and operation.
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PLANNING STAKEHOLDERS

Who is involved in the transportation planning process?

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PLANNING STAKEHOLDERS

Who is involved in the transportation planning process?

  • Federal Government: Federal legislation provides direction to States, regions, transit agencies, and other partners in the transportation planning process to ensure they cooperate in undertaking a continuing, comprehensive, and cooperative (3C) multimodal transportation planning process. Well-organized, inclusive transportation planning can help a region meet current needs while preparing for future challenges.
    FTA and FHWA jointly administer the federally required transportation planning processes in metropolitan areas, as set forth in 49 U.S.C. 5303 and 23 U.S.C. 134. In rural areas and on a statewide basis, the statutory provisions for transportation planning are set forth in 49 U.S.C. 5304 and 23 U.S.C. 135.
  • State Departments of Transportation (State DOTs): Each State, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia has an agency or department responsible for transportation planning, programming, and project implementation, known as State DOTs.
    In addition to transportation planning responsibilities, State DOTs may be responsible for the design, construction, operation, or maintenance of State transportation facilities, including highways, transit, air, and water. State DOTs also work cooperatively with tolling authorities, ports, local agencies, and special districts that own, operate, or maintain different portions of the transportation network or individual facilities.
  • Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs): RTPOs are multijurisdictional organizations of comprised of nonmetropolitan area local officials and transportation system operators that States may assemble to assist in the Statewide and nonmetropolitan transportation planning process. RTPOs emphasize nonmetropolitan or rural areas of the State. An RTPO may have additional representatives from the State, private businesses, transportation service providers, economic development practitioners, and the public.
  • Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs): MPOs have authority and responsibility for transportation policy-making in metropolitan planning areas. Any area with a population greater than 50,000 has an MPO. MPOs ensure that existing and future expenditures for transportation projects and programs are based on a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive planning process, known as the 3-C planning process. MPOs also cooperate with State and public transportation operators to set spending levels for Federal funds that are meant for transportation projects.
    MPOs typically do not own or operate the transportation systems they serve, so they do not implement transportation projects directly. Rather, they serve an overall coordination and consensus-building role in planning and programming funds for projects and operations.
  • Indian Tribal Governments: The Federal Government has a government-to-government relationship with Indian Tribal governments that is affirmed in treaties, Supreme Court decisions, and executive orders. Federal agencies must consult with Indian Tribal governments regarding policy and regulatory matters. State DOTs consider the needs of Indian Tribal governments when carrying out transportation planning, and consult with these governments when developing Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plans and Statewide Transportation Improvement Programs. MPOs may consider the needs of and consult with Indian Tribal governments when developing Metropolitan Transportation Plans and Transportation Improvement Programs, when the metropolitan planning area includes Indian Tribal lands. Outside of the statewide, metropolitan, and nonmetropolitan planning processes, State DOTs and MPOs may consult with Indian Tribal governments on other issues—for example, when a project may affect Indian Tribal archaeological resources.
  • Public Transportation Operators: Public transportation operators are public agencies and governmentally chartered authorities that deliver transit services to the general public. As such, public transit operators cooperate with States and MPOs to carry out the Federally required transportation planning process in metropolitan areas. MPOs and States must include projects from public transit operators in MTPs and TIPs in order for those projects to receive Federal financial support.
  • The Public and Other Stakeholders: States must involve the general public and all other affected constituencies in the essential functions listed above. MPOs and States engage the public and stakeholder communities as they prepare procedures that outline how the public will be advised, engaged, and consulted throughout the planning process. MPOs prepare public participation plans (PPPs), which describe how the MPO involves the public and stakeholder communities in transportation planning. The MPO also must periodically evaluate whether its public involvement process (PIP) is still effective. Similarly, States prepare documented public involvement processes that describe the occasions, procedures, and intended outcomes of public engagement in Statewide and nonmetropolitan transportation planning.
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PLANNING PRODUCTS

What products are developed as a result of the transportation planning process?

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PLANNING PRODUCTS

What products are developed as a result of the transportation planning process?

Federal requirements call for agencies to deliver several key groups of documents as part of the transportation planning process. The following table provides an overview of the most common planning products.

Program/Plan Who Develops? Who Approves? Time/Horizon Contents Update Requirements
UPWP MPO MPO/FHWA/FTA 1 or 2 Years Planning Studies and Tasks At Least Once Every 2 Years

Description: The Unified Planning Work Program lists the transportation studies and tasks that MPO staff and member agencies will perform to support the metropolitan transportation planning process. It must identify the funding source for each project, the schedule of activities, and the agency or agencies responsible for each task or study. UPWPs reflect issues and strategic priorities unique to each metropolitan area and will differ by MPO.

SPR Work Program State DOT FHWA 1 or 2 Years Planning Studies and Tasks At Least Once Every 2 Years

Description: The State Planning and Research (SPR) Work Program is similar to the UPWP. It lists transportation studies, research, and public engagement tasks that a State DOT, affiliated agencies, or consultants perform to support the statewide and nonmetropolitan transportation planning process.

MTP MPO MPO 20 Years Future Goals, Strategies and Projects Every 5 Years (4 years for non-attainment and maintenance areas)

Description: In metropolitan areas, the Metropolitan Transportation Plan identifies how the region intends to invest in the transportation system. Federal law requires that the plan "include both long-range and short-range strategies/actions that provide for the development of an integrated intermodal transportation system to facilitate the efficient movement of people and goods in addressing current and future transportation demand."
The MTP is prepared through active engagement with the public and stakeholders using an approach that considers how roadways, transit, nonmotorized transportation, and intermodal connections are able to improve the operational performance of the multimodal transportation system. Accordingly, the MTP must cover performance measures and targets and include a report evaluating whether the condition and performance of the transportation system is meeting those targets.

TIP MPO MPO 4 Years Transportation Investments Every 4 Years

Description: MPOs use the Transportation Improvement Program to identify transportation projects and strategies they will pursue over the next four years. These projects reflect the investment priorities detailed in the MTP. TIPs list the immediate program of investments that, once implemented, will go toward achieving the performance targets established by the MPO and documented in the MTP. In short, a TIP is a region's means of allocating its transportation resources among the various capital, management, and operating investment needs of the area, based on a clear set of short-term transportation priorities prepared through a performance-driven process. All projects receiving Federal funding must be in the TIP.

LRSTP State DOT State DOT 20 Years Future Goals, Strategies, and can include Projects Not specified

Description: State DOTs cooperate with MPOs, non-metropolitan area local officials, and others to develop a Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan using a performance-driven process based on an agreed upon set of performance measures and targets. Plans are prepared with active engagement with the public and stakeholders and will vary by State. LRSTPs may be either policy-oriented strategic plans, or project-focused investment plans that include lists of recommended projects.

STIP State DOT FHWA/FTA 4 Years Transportation Investments Every 4 Years

Description: The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program is similar to the TIP in that it identifies the immediate short-range priorities for transportation investments Statewide and must be fiscally constrained. Through an established process, State DOTs work with local officials to identify projects across rural areas, small urban areas called urban clusters – with 2,500 to 49,999 people – and urbanized areas. Projects are selected for the STIP based on adopted procedures and criteria. As noted above, TIPs developed by MPOs must be incorporated, directly or by reference and without change, into the STIP.

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PLANNING TOOLS

What tools are useful to enhance our understanding of the transportation planning process and its impacts?

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PLANNING TOOLS

What tools are useful to enhance our understanding of the transportation planning process and its impacts?

Better planning tools are increasingly available to help planners and agencies understand the potential outcomes that their decisions have on the transportation network and the natural and human environment. Planning tools are also used to explore the range of possible impacts associated with alternative land development and transportation improvement options.

Examples of planning tools include Geographic Information Systems (GIS), GIS-based decision-support tools, scenario planning models, transportation models, land use models, and remote sensing.

GIS

A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a collection of computer software, hardware, and data that is used to store, manipulate, analyze, and present geographically referenced information. GIS allows transportation agencies to visualize, analyze, plan, and manage transportation systems in an efficient manner by providing a holistic picture of multiple items of interest in a particular geographic area. Items of interest may include transportation facilities, operations, demographics, environmental and cultural resources, and public lands. GIS can also be used to identify environmentally sensitive areas.

GIS and GIS-based applications can help transportation planners analyze and manage data to provide information to decision-makers and to the public in a digestible, efficient, and timely manner. The FHWA’s GIS in Transportation program coordinates the knowledge transfer of GIS skills, best practices, and technical resources among State, regional, and local transportation organizations.

Scenario Planning

Scenario Planning is a process through which transportation professionals and citizens work together to analyze and shape the long-term future of their communities. Scenario planning allows planners and community members to understand how different policies, plans, and programs will affect a community or region. This tool can be used in the transportation planning process to assess long-term risks, financing, system management and operations, and corridor planning. Traditional scenario planning efforts assess scenarios by using measures such as vehicle miles traveled, shifts in modal split, impacts on open spaces, or contributions to air pollution.

Scenario planning is an optional process described in the transportation planning regulations. In support of scenario planning, FHWA has:

  • Encouraged the use of Federal metropolitan planning and other transportation funds
  • Identified scenario planning resources, including visualization and analysis tools
  • Facilitated peer workshops on scenario planning best practices and process steps
  • Developed a guidebook, to assist practitioners with implementing the technique
 

Other Tools and Resources