Transportation Planning Process

Kristen Z, Transportation Planner

[<2 Minute Read]

At its core, the transportation planning process is a PROCESS. It is a process that strives to delicately and appropriately combine three inputs:

  1. Data
  2. Public and Stakeholder Will
  3. Political Forces

State Departments of Transportation (DOT), Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), Councils of Governments (COGs), and Regional Council (RC) planners and administrators are charged with combining these three inputs into a transportation improvement program that must be carried out. The outcomes are then presented to the decision-makers – usually their own Board of Directors.

The decision-makers care about the outcomes and need to be assured that a process is in place. Meanwhile, transportation planners must focus on the nuances and mechanics of the process. (Politically savvy planners often have the known political factions in mind when developing and executing the process). Some folks call it, “making sausage”.

While the three components are necessary for all transportation improvement programs (data, public + stakeholder will, and political forces) – finding the “right” proportions is the trick, and often varies. Some organizations manage to balance all three while some emphasize one or two components over the others. The following are questions that agencies should consider when analyzing the three components in their transportation planning process:

1. Data

  • Is summary data available about existing infrastructure, travel patterns / preferences, costs, and trade-offs?
  • Are the costs and benefits of the projects in the current transportation plan or (state) transportation improvement program (TIP) well understood?
  • Are performance measures in place and linked to the likely outcomes of potential transportation infrastructure projects, programs, and strategies?

2. Public + Stakeholder Will

  • Has there been a large show of support (or opposition) from the public over the proposed projects?
  • What mix and relative proportion of modes are valued among highways, arterials, transit, bike / ped, planning studies, and data or outreach activities?
  • What means are used to obtain regionally representative inputs?

3. Political Forces

  • How are engrained values incorporated into the process?
  • What types of projects or benefits are popular among the decision-makers?
  • Has geographic equity been incorporated into the process?
  • Have decision-makers had a chance to guide the process development and vote on key milestones along the way?

After all is said and done, what are some tangible things we can point to as evidence that we carried out a “good” transportation planning process? We asked a professional planner for her take!

Q: What do you consider evidence of a good transportation planning process?

Shelby Powell, Deputy Director – North Carolina Capital Area MPO (CAMPO)

A planning process has been successful if the result is a plan that is implementable. In order to be considered implementable, a plan must have:

  1. Broad community support (evidence of a meaningful public engagement process)
  2. Financial feasibility (the outcome is a recommendation for a specific project or a set of projects that have applicability to specific funding sources)
  3. Technical merit (recommendations are grounded in proper analysis that shows feasibility for putting the recommendations in place on the ground)

A prior supervisor once told me: ‘if you don’t have a plan to pay for it, then you don’t have a plan!’. While knowing how you will pay for implementation is important, I think the other two elements I mentioned are equally important – why would you pay to implement something that the community does not support or is not well-thought-out enough to be able to build? A planning process must consider all of these in order to be truly successful.

What do you consider evidence of a good transportation planning process? As we ring in the new year, we challenge you to consider how your organization can make its transportation improvement program even better!

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How Will Buttigieg Impact Transportation Policy?

[10 minute read]

Former South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg was nominated to be Secretary of Transportation on December 15, 2020. From recent public statements and prior policy vision expressed during his presidential campaign – there is much we can learn about Buttigieg’s expected policy directions should his confirmation be successful. 

As head of the USDOT, and Biden’s leading advocate for infrastructure spending bills on Capitol Hill – Buttigieg’s policy agenda can have a significant impact on future investment priorities for transportation improvement programs (TIP).

We conclude key takeaways for transportation planners at DOTs, MPOs and other transportation agencies on what policy changes may come under Buttigieg. 

Four Pillars of Transportation Infrastructure Policy

Since his nomination on December 15, Buttigieg has repeatedly stated four key pillars of transportation policy: jobs, climate change, equity and safety: 

  • Expand Transportation Infrastructure Spending to Support Job Creation

Buttigieg sees infrastructure spending as an economic enabler for immediate employment relief to millions of people facing distress from the pandemic. 

He has recently discussed with Senator Schumer an extensive $1 trillion transportation infrastructure proposal that includes aid for state and local governments, and federal relief to hard-hit aviation and public transit agencies. Just last year, he called for fortification of the underfunded Highway Trust Fund, which provides significant federal funding to transportation improvement programs across every state in the country. 

We expect the transportation secretary nominee to be a strong proponent of expanding federal infrastructure spending as an investment in job growth. 

  • Demonstrate Projects’ Role in Expanding Access to Jobs 

In his presidential campaign, Buttigieg advocated for requiring states, MPOs and other federal grant recipients to demonstrate how their transportation projects improve access to jobs and services. The former South Bend mayor previously led a Complete Streets project in downtown South Bend that combined infrastructure changes with economic development by introducing new anchor office tenants who’d bring new jobs to downtown South Bend. 

Public transportation improvement projects that can connect communities to new/existing centers of employment clusters may find greater priority or opportunities for federal funding. 

Planners may see an additional category of Performance Measures on promoting job access through infrastructure improvement projects if they seek federal funding. 

  • Green Infrastructure and Social Justice

If Buttigieg’s past comments are indications of what’s to come, social and environmental justice will feature highly as priorities of federally-sponsored projects under his leadership:

Buttigieg has been critical of transportation infrastructure examples that disproportionately disempowered minority communities. He championed greater investments in alternative transportation modal options such as public transit, bike and pedestrian paths to promote more equitable access to transportation and job opportunities, as well as tools for reducing carbon emissions. During his presidential campaign, Buttigieg proposed significantly increasing funding for the Federal Transit Administration to fund public transit projects. 

He also proposed switching to vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax vs. the current gas use tax as a means to fund the perennially troubled Highway Trust Fund account. Experts believe a VMT tax would be successful in disincentivizing driving if properly priced, and steer transportation choices towards greener options such as public transit vs. driving. 

In addition to the greater importance of meeting Title VI requirements, transportation improvement plans with projects seeking federal funding may be expected to demonstrate greater social justice commitments, greater public engagement with potentially impacted communities, and greater reductions in carbon emissions. 

  • Prioritize Maintenance Over New Roads

The former South Bend mayor publicly endorsed prioritizing infrastructure maintenance in transportation improvement program funding. In his presidential campaign, Buttigieg outlined a proposed requirement for states to demonstrate planning on preventative maintenance projects – before they’re allowed to build new or wider highways with federal funding. 

Expect greater federal emphasis and scrutiny on adequate planning for preventative maintenance projects in transportation improvement plans seeking federal funding.

  • Safety and Vision Zero 

Buttigieg has repeatedly stated a need to eliminate traffic deaths and pedestrian fatalities in the country. During the pandemic, rates of car crashes have unfortunately increased due to higher driving speeds on emptier roads. 

Buttigieg proposed a policy goal of Vision Zero during his presidential campaign – setting a goal of zero traffic fatalities. Currently, states are able to set fatality goals at a target that demonstrates progress – but not necessarily at zero. 

Through his ability to control allocations of discretionary grant funding as head of USDOT – Buttigieg may seek to implement more strict requirements on demonstrating progress on safety records or safer project designs in order to receive federal funding for certain federal programs. 

Safety is one of the federal Performance Measures that transportation planners are required to incorporate in transportation improvement plans. It is possible for FHWA to accelerate the timeline states have to achieve zero traffic deaths under Buttigieg. It is also possible that additional discretionary federal funding will be made available to specifically support projects prioritizing aggressive safety targets. 

Looking Ahead

While Buttigieg’s policy agenda will be shaped by viewpoints from the Biden-Harris administration – it is clear from his nomination illustrates that he shares similar beliefs with Biden in the role and direction of federal policy in advancing our critical infrastructure. 

Transportation planners would benefit from taking early notes on potential changes to future federal policies when evaluating how best to maximize federal funding for transportation improvement programs.

Transportation Planning for MPOS

[<1 Minute Read]

EcoInteractive is happy to introduce a new blog series we are calling: “Back to Basics” for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and other planning organizations like Regional Councils and Councils of Governments. These organizations plan and manage regional transportation improvement programs. Pretty important stuff, especially since it involves local, state, and federal tax dollars!

In this series, we will address five basic principles that successful MPOs keep front and center. We are especially excited to have guest transportation planners and administrators from MPOs, Regional Councils, Councils of Governments, and State DOTs share their unique perspectives.

What will Back to Basics Blog Series Cover?

  • Keeper of the Process
    Effectively combining the three core components of a good MPO planning process – data, stakeholder will, and local politics – is a tricky and delicate matter. What’s the secret and what do you consider evidence of a good planning process?
  • Changing a Tire While Driving 80 MPH
    Every planning organization must balance tackling new priorities while maintaining routine work on schedule and budget, and effectively respond to daily “fires”. What are some best practices you find effective?
  • Who Knew Goldilocks was so Elusive?
    It’s easy to lose sight of why we started collecting, analyzing, and reporting data in the first place. What is the “right” amount of transportation data? Does it even exist?
  • When is a Local Transportation Priority a Regional Transportation Priority?
    At its heart, transportation planning is assessing needs and prioritizing responses to those needs. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) grapple with defining “regional significance” to determine both needs and transportation infrastructure projects to respond to those needs. How does your planning organization help local communities determine which projects on the local system rise to priorities at the regional scale?
  • Staying in the Black
    Labor and consulting costs continue to rise while federal revenues are staying essentially static. How do regional planning organizations ensure their bottom line is in the black, while still providing high quality services and retaining talented employees?

Excited yet? Our upcoming (and first) contributor will be Shelby Powell, AICP – Shelby is Deputy Director at Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. We can’t wait for her to kick-off the new year with some thoughts on the topics above. So stay tuned!

In the meantime, we wish you all a Happy New Year – 2021 couldn’t come fast enough!

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The 4 Steps of Good Transportation Planning

[<2 Minute Read]

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) in collaboration with their member jurisdictions make decisions on how to best invest federal, state, and local taxes into the regional transportation system.  They strive to make improvements in safety, modernize the system, enable accessibility to more people, contribute to larger societal goals, and expand the system strategically.  MPOs plan, program, and fund all sorts of projects, from reconstructing highway interchanges and arterial corridors, to replacing public transit buses and building new bike/ped facilities, all for the sake of progressing towards the MPO’s established transportation goals.

As part of this overall decision-making process, MPOs strive to ensure that the concerns and issues of all those with a stake in transportation decision-making are identified and addressed.  MPOs engage the general public and stakeholders under the broad heading of “Public Engagement”. 

So, how do we measure success? How do we know when we’ve done a “good job” engaging the public?

It depends. It depends on what our goals are. Here are some goals for your consideration. 


Inform the public to the maximum extent possible of available resources as well as opportunities to participate in the transportation decision-making process and planning initiatives. Some useful questions to ask:

  • Do we regularly share relevant information with committee members, member jurisdictions, and the public?
  • Is our website up to date?
  • Do we have a relationship with the local media?
  • Do we have a Citizens’ Academy (or equivalent) to provide opportunities for the public to learn about the transportation planning process?


Involve the public early and often in the transportation planning process by asking:

  • Do we offer opportunities for diverse representation on committees?
  • Do we offer regular, on-site updates with the governing bodies of member jurisdictions?
  • Did we consider public input as a project selection criterion?


Proactively develop relationships with other organizations within the planning area to increase the opportunity for their participation in transportation planning. This could mean answering the following:

  • Do we share documents and involvement opportunities with local and regional planning departments and community organizations?
  • Do we participate in other regional initiatives?


Continually identify and implement ways to improve the public participation processes, and honestly ask:

  • Do we set aside time to catch up on the best practices?
  • Do we de-brief with our team after public engagement campaigns to discuss lessons learned?
  • Do we ask our stakeholders to share their experiences (good and bad) with our organization?
  • Do we set aside a budget for cost effective tools that can help us accomplish our public engagement goals?

Earning, respecting, and maintaining the public’s trust is perhaps the most important jobs MPOs do.  We take that job seriously and are working to improve how our ProjectTracker tool can help you achieve your public engagement goals.  We’d love to hear from you on how we can best do that.  You can reach us at info@ecointeractive.com.

Loved this post and want to learn more? Check out what our customers have to say here!

Do You Suffer From TIP Amendment Anxiety?

[2 Minute Read]

HI, I’m Kristen Z., and I have TIP Amendment Anxiety.  Yep, you read that right, I have (self-diagnosed) TIP Amendment Anxiety.

Is There a Better TIP Amendment Process?

Can I get an AMEN here?? If I’ve gauged my audience right, you too are a professional Transportation Planner at an MPO and you may be thinking,

“Geez, Kristen, one of your responsibilities is to administer the TIP.  What’s your problem?  What’s the big deal?”

I know, I know…you may also be thinking that even though TIP Amendments are super tedious and time-consuming, the importance of doing them right ensures that programmed projects stay on schedule. Greater good…I get it.  

But…I know you can feel my pain and dread as my phone rings with another call from a “Last Minute Larry” because he can’t get the MS Access database to open.  (Do you blame me for considering the roll to voicemail option as I wonder why the process cannot be more efficient?)

Ok, ok, you’re right, I know. It’s just that my TIP Amendment to-do list is so tedious:

  • Update the information in the last amendment MS Access database
  • Revise last amendment communications to reflect current information and files
  • Release targeted communications and instructions
  • Merge all new information back into master database
  • Run internal QA/QC macros
  • Run the final reports
  • Update the map in ArcGIS, and write the staff reports

This process works, it does.  The TIP is amended regularly with public comment periods alongside Board and committee consideration and action.  And with a sigh of relief, I wait for the next one.

Can you relate?

Would you like to find a way to streamline the TIP Amendment process so that your time (or your staff’s time) can be more effectively spent on other MPO responsibilities?

Would you like to find a tool to make the TIP Amendment process easier, more efficient, more accurate, and super user friendly for lead agencies, the public, and DOT and FHWA/FTA partners to access the project info in the TIP?

Do you have a hard time finding staff with advanced database skills to administer TIP Amendments?

I did! At the time, I found myself promoted to Planning Manager and did not have time to devote to the time-consuming TIP Amendment process anymore.  We decided to replace the tedious MS Access process with a TIP management software solution because it would free up my time to focus on other responsibilities and, frankly, it was a cheaper option than spending my time or a co-worker’s time on the tedious TIP Adoption and Amendment process with MS Access.  

After a competitive RFP process, we chose EcoInteractive’s ProjectTracker SaaS tool for several reasons.

  • They specialized in this type of work, they weren’t just a database company trying to make a standard relational database “fit” the TIP process
  • They offered several bonus features we hadn’t even anticipated – a public on-line portal, mapping features, automatic emails to lead agency contacts, automated routine reports like Fiscal Constraint and Summary of Changes.
  • The public portal was an easy way for us to show TIP project information to our Board members and other stakeholders.
  • They were clearly experts in the overall TIP process, how it relates to the MTP and to the STIP

This last item was the biggest selling point for us. We had a small staff composed of several “new to MPOs” planners. We wanted to spend our time as efficiently as possible, focusing our time on the assignments that were most important to our Board.  EcoInteractive’s ProjectTracker SaaS tool allowed us to do just that because it allowed me to process TIP Amendments with ease and confidence.

See for yourself.  Request a 10-minute demo today at www.ecointeractive.com. No strings attached.

Now, if there was something EcoInteractive could do about that pesky federal regulator.  😊

Loved this post and want to learn more? Reach out at info@ecointeractive.com or check out what our customers have to say here!

The Evolution of Running an Errand – and Its Impact on the Future of Transportation

[5 Minute Read]

We have all participated in some form of buying groceries, grabbing lunch, picking up a birthday gift and/or making a Costco run. In recent years, we have witnessed the disruption of these traditional everyday activities. Our ability to purchase items online and receive them within hours rather than days has redefined our definition of running an errand. 

The resulting shift in consumer behavior has continued to impact the demand on express delivery options. The coronavirus pandemic has only increased this demand according to research from Edison Trends, which studies anonymized and aggregated e-receipts from millions of U.S. consumers.

This increased consumer demand for speed and convenience has required various industries including e-commerce, retail, pharma, food and grocery to be more agile and evolve their supply chain operations. The adoption of the Hub and Spoke Distribution Model, and the use of independent contractors as last mile carriers, who use personal vehicles to transport goods are examples of this evolution.

Our transportation system can be directly impacted by these changing trends. A number of challenges come to the forefront for policy makers, responsible agencies and transportation planning in general For example, Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) will need to consider the increased daily truck traffic generated from these distribution centers being located in urban locations and the corresponding employee commuter impact on congestion. In addition, the increased consumer adoption of express delivery options coupled with strategically located package delivery lockers could result in the reduction of consumer shopping trips. Noncommercial vehicles being used for commercial delivery will impact trip generation, distribution and assignment. As a result, travel demand models will need to account for these shifts in behavior.

Transportation planners designing a vision that supports the future of life for the next 20, 30 years will need to create a system supporting the changing distribution of vehicle types and density from the proliferation of e-commerce delivery. 

Have a question or comment? We’d love to hear from you. You can reach us at info@ecointeractive.com.

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