Guide to Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs)

Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs) contain a list of all projects (and their funding sources) taking place in the metropolitan area transportation system over the next four years.

Kristen Z, Transportation Planner

[<5 Minute Read]

What is a TIP?

One of the core planning initiatives for Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the “Transportation Improvement Program” (TIP) is an important ongoing program for MPOs.  TIPs have a lot of information, but the most popular information is usually the transportation project listings.  TIPS list all of the projects (and their funding sources) taking place in the metropolitan area transportation system for the next four years.

Projects are listed as individual projects (i.e. a modernization project to re-configure an arterial intersection) or as “bucket projects/programs” (i.e. ongoing transit operations funding program).  TIPs include projects funded with federal funding, state funding and local government funding. In fact, federal funding cannot be obligated for any particular project unless it is listed in the TIP.  TIPs project list total hundreds of millions of dollars and include hundreds of projects. These projects must be “fiscally constrained”, which means they must demonstrate that the sum total cost of all of the projects in the TIP is less than or equal to the estimated revenues over the same time period. EcoInteractive’s Project Tracker is an industry standard software MPOs use to administer their TIP programs.

Why is a TIP Developed?

TIPs are developed for several reasons.  For one, they are required.  For several decades now, federal transportation legislation has required MPOs to develop and maintain TIPs.  They also serve as a means for MPOs to be transparent about how the federal funding and state funding they administer is invested across the metropolitan area and its many modes.  Effectively, TIPs are a way for the MPO to demonstrate its priorities to the public, to the media and to regulators.  EcoInteractive’s Project Tracker software comes standard with a public facing portal to view the projects in the TIP.

Why Is the TIP Important?

As a federal requirement, the TIP is very important! Development and maintenance of a TIP is a requirement for MPOs and is often reviewed during the Certification Review.   In addition, the TIP is an important document in a MPO’s efforts to inform local governments and the general public as to how federal, state and local tax dollars are being spent on transportation in the metro area.

Who Participates in the TIP Process?

Many different people and organizations participate in the TIP process. Depending on how the MPO is organized, there could be one TIP Administrator or staff from multiple MPO departments involved in the TIP process.  Additionally, the general public has an opportunity to participate because during each update and amendment cycle, most MPOs offer opportunities for input from the general public.  After each TIP update / amendment is approved by the MPO’s governing body (i.e. its Board), the MPO staff sends the adopted TIP to the DOT for inclusion in the “Statewide Transportation Improvement program” or STIP.

Who Benefits from the TIP?

The TIP benefits the MPO by ensuring it stays compliant with federal regulations.  It also benefits the MPO by providing a means of demonstrating its investments across the state to legislators, the general public and local governments.  The general public benefits by seeing how their state and federal tax dollars are being invested.

What is the difference between the TIP and the STIP?

The TIP is produced and maintained by an MPO, and it includes projects that are taking place within the MPO area.  The STIP is produced and maintained by the State DOT and it includes projects that are taking place across the entire state.  The STIP includes (without changes) the current TIP from each MPO in the state.

Best Practice for Managing TIPs

The “Best Practices In Managing STIPS, TIPS, And Metropolitan Transportation Plans In Response To Fiscal Constraints” provides a very good summary of the best practices and examples of overall STIP management from several DOTs.  It covers TIP development and implementation practices, revenue estimating techniques, cost estimating techniques, and overall guidance on how to meet the federal “year of expenditure” requirement.   It was compiled as part of NCHRP Project 20-68A, the U.S. Domestic Scan program. This program was requested by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), with funding provided through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP).

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