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TPCB | Transportation Planning Capacity Building


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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What does the transportation planning process look like?

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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.

Survey on Equity and Public Involvement in the Transportation Planning Process (August 24 – October 3, 2022)

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) is committed to pursuing a comprehensive approach to advancing equity for all, and to expanding access and opportunity for traditionally underserved communities. The USDOT Equity Action Plan outlines goals, objectives, and key actions for the Department to advance equity in transportation. In support of the Equity Action Plan, the Federal Highway Administration Office of Planning conducted a survey of all State DOTs and MPOs to better understand how, and to what extent, equity is considered in the transportation planning process, and how transportation agencies provide opportunities for meaningful public involvement in the decision-making process. The survey was voluntary, but all agencies were encouraged to respond so that USDOT can better understand the current state of practice across ALL transportation agencies. The results of the survey will inform future research products and capacity-building activities for State DOTs and MPOs to help them improve practices related to equity and meaningful public involvement in the transportation planning process. State DOTs and MPOs received the survey link directly and were encouraged to contact their FHWA Divisions with any questions (OMB control # 2125-0665).

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Who is involved in the transportation planning process?

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

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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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How is transportation planning funded?

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How is transportation planning funded?

Funding for transportation projects and strategies comes from a variety of sources, including the Federal Government, State governments, special authorities, public or private tolls, local assessment districts, local government general fund contributions, such as local property and sales taxes, and impact fees.

Federal Funding

There are many Federal-aid transportation programs that support transportation activities in States and metropolitan areas. Each of these programs has different requirements and characteristics.

Federal funds are made available from the Federal budget through the following sequenced process:

  • Authorizing legislation
    Congress enacts legislation that establishes or continues the existing operation of a Federal program or agency, including the amount of money it anticipates will be available to spend or grant to States, MPOs, and transit operators.
  • Appropriations
    Annually, as set forth in authorizing legislation, Congress decides on the Federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The appropriation is the actual amount available to Federal agencies to spend or grant.
  • Apportionment
    Apportionment describes appropriated funds, which come from selected Federal-aid programs, that are distributed among States and metropolitan areas (for most transit funds) using a formula provided by law.
  • Determining eligibility
    Only certain projects and activities are eligible to receive Federal transportation funding. Criteria depend on the funding source. All projects must be listed in the STIP and be consistent with the MTP and the LRSTP to be eligible for Federal-aid highway and Federal transit funding.
  • Match
    Most Federal transportation programs require a non-Federal match. State or local governments must contribute some portion of the project cost at a matching level established by legislation.

Financial Planning and Programming

Governments generate transportation funds from a number of sources, including income tax, sales tax, tolls, bonds, and State, local, and Federal excise taxes on various fuels, State infrastructure banks, and credit assistance sources. Each State decides which mix of funds is best suited to carry out particular projects.

Financial Planning

Agencies use financial planning to take a long-range look at how transportation investments are funded and the possible sources of funds. State DOTs, MPOs, and public transportation operators must consider funding needs over the 20-year period of the transportation plan and the 4-year period of TIPs and STIPs. In the MTP and the LRSTP, MPOs must, and State DOTs may, develop a financial plan that identifies funding sources for needed investments. Without financial planning and fiscal constraint, the MTP could be viewed as nothing more than a “wish-list” of good ideas.

Financial Programming

Financial programming is different from financial planning. Financial programming involves identifying available or expected funds and scheduling specific projects listed in the STIP, TIP, and MTP.

At least every four years, each State must submit a STIP to FHWA and FTA for review and approval.

The FTA/FHWA Transportation Planning Process Briefing Book includes specific guidance for programming projects for the TIP and STIP as well as helpful insights about modifications, including the difference between an amendment and administrative modifications.

Project Selection vs. Project Prioritization

It is important to note how project selection differs from project prioritization. Prioritization is the cooperative process among States, MPOs, and transit agencies for identifying projects and strategies from the MTP that are of sufficiently high priority as to be included in the TIP. Project selection, on the other hand, relates to identifying projects already listed in the TIP that are next in line for grant award and funding authorization.

Flexible Funding

One important provision in Federal transportation legislation allows certain Federal-aid highway funds and limited Federal transit funds to be used for either highway or transit projects. This is referred to as flexible funding. The ability to transfer funds, with some restrictions, between highway and transit programs, as well as to spend certain categories of Federal funding directly on either highway or transit improvements, lets metropolitan areas apply Federal transportation resources to their highest-priority transportation projects regardless of mode.

Innovative Finance

With limited Federal grant-based funding available, transportation agencies and governments at all levels must increasingly think outside the box to explore other options for supplementing their budgets. Innovative finance techniques can help these entities act creatively and make the best use of the resources and financing and funding opportunities available to them.

In 2022 and 2023, FHWA hosted two roundtables focused on leveraging innovative finance techniques in the transportation planning process. A summary report of these roundtables is now available.

Public Private Partnerships

New Build Facilities

The Public Private Partnership (P3) delivery model considers both the development and long-term operation of new infrastructure. Public agencies use the design-build-finance-operate-maintain (DBFOM) method to bundle and award lifecycle responsibilities to a private “partner” or consortium, following an extensive procurement and negotiation process.

Existing Facilities

Some public agencies have leased existing facilities to private operators for long-term periods. Such transactions typically require the private partner to improve, operate and maintain the facility in return for the right to collect user fees. In the case of a toll road, the private partner often makes an upfront payment to the public agency.

Alternative Project Delivery

Public agencies are using a wide array of methods to deliver transportation improvements for both new and existing facilities. Although less extensive than long-term P3 concession agreements, the Alternative Project Delivery contractual arrangements also allow for greater private participation by transferring varying amounts of risk and responsibility from public project sponsors to private sector engineers, contractors and investors.

Project Finance

Over the last two decades, as revenues have lagged behind investment requirements, Congress and States have sought ways to expand the capacity of the Federal-aid program to deliver projects. Today, States and other project sponsors have available an array of project finance tools to facilitate the delivery of projects.

Tolling and Pricing

Tolling and pricing involves charging fees for the use of a roadway facility. The revenue generated may be used to pay for highway operations and maintenance and, in many cases, as the primary source of repayment for long-term debt used to finance the toll facility itself.

Value Capture

There are a variety of mechanisms that may be used to derive monetary value from transportation improvements to help defray the cost of their implementation. Value capture strategies can be used to help pay for roadway and transit improvements by leveraging localized benefits.

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

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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.


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.

Highlighted GIS Tools:

  • The FHWA Office of Planning, Environment and Realty GIS (HEPGIS) site is an interactive, web-based geographic map server that enables users to navigate, view, and print geospatial maps using only their web browser.
  • The Screening Tool for Equity Analysis of Projects (STEAP) is an extension of FHWA’s HEPGIS web application that permits rapid screening of potential project locations anywhere in the United States to support Title VI, environment justice (EJ) & other socioeconomic data analyses. The tool provides estimates of the socioeconomic characteristics of the resident population surrounding a project location.

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:

  • 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

In addition to the highlighted GIS tools above, FHWA and FTA offer various planning tools for practitioners’ use, including the following:


  • National Highway Planning Network (NHPN) is a geospatial network database of major highways in the United States. It is used for highway performance analysis and planning at a regional and national scale.
  • Highway Economic Requirements System State Version (HERS/ST) is a computer model that predicts the investment required to achieve certain highway system performance levels. HERS/ST uses engineering standards to identify highway deficiencies and applies economic criteria to select the most cost-effective mix of highway system improvements.


  • FTA’s Simplified Trips-on-Project Software (STOPS) is a simplified method to quantify the measures used by FTA to evaluate and rate transit projects. STOPS is a limited implementation of the conventional “4-step” travel model.


Environment, Energy, and Land Use-Related:

  • FHWA’s Planning & Environment Linkages (PEL) Implementation Resources provide information on how to leverage PEL, a collaborative and integrated approach to transportation decision-making that 1) considers environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process, and 2) uses the information, analysis, and products developed during planning to inform the environmental review process.
  • Tool Kit for Integrating Land Use and Transportation Decision-Making offers methods, strategies, and procedures for integrating land use and transportation planning, decision-making, and project implementation. The tool kit includes the tool kit itself, case studies, and other references and links that provide additional information for integrating transportation and land use decision-making.
  • FHWA’s Energy and Emissions Reduction Policy Analysis Tool (EERPAT) is a screening tool to compare, contrast, and analyze various greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction policy scenarios for the transportation sector at a statewide level. The tool estimates GHG emissions from surface transportation, including fuel use (and electricity use for battery charging) by autos, light trucks, transit vehicles, and heavy trucks.
  • Transportation Analysis Simulation System (TRANSIMS) is a set of transportation and air quality analysis and forecasting tools developed to create an integrated regional transportation system analysis environment.
  • The Transportation Economic Land Use System (TELUS) is a research and innovation program whose mission is to help Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and State Departments of Transportation (State DOTs) improve their transportation planning.
  • Influence of Transportation Infrastructure on Land Use describes the development decision-making process from the private sector perspective, as well as the role that local and regional government entities play in the process. It provides a framework for understanding the relative importance of transportation accessibility, describes the role of local and regional government actions and policies, and outlines the private developer’s decision-making process. (Also available in PDF format 146 KB)

Certification and Collaboration-Related:

  • The TMA Certification Primer, updated in 2018, outlines key concepts and expectations of a Transportation Management Area (TMA) Planning Certification Review, and is available as a resource for MPOs and State DOTs, public transportation operators, the general public, and other partners to prepare for their participation in a successful Certification Review.
  • PlanWorks provides transportation practitioners guidance, decision support, and resources for every part of the planning process. Decision Guides are available for Long-Range Transportation Planning, Programming, Corridor Planning, and Environmental Review. Applications for Decision Guides include a range of topics such as Capital Improvement, Freight, Performance Measures, and Safety.