Skip to content
U.S. Department of Transportation

Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: An Objectives-Driven, Performance-Based Approach – A Guidebook

7. Moving Forward through Regional Coordination

7.1 The Role of Regional Coordination and Collaboration in the Approach

Implementing an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to planning for operations in the MTP requires regional collaboration among transportation planners and operators as well as non-transportation entities (e.g., public safety officials, major employers, chambers of commerce, convention and visitors' bureaus, and special interest groups) that routinely affect or depend upon transportation. The inclusion of such a diverse set of participants ensures that a regional perspective on transportation system performance informs the planning process.28

Coordination and collaboration among planners and operators is necessary across all steps in the approach, and is particularly important in defining regional operations objectives. Inclusion of both operators and planners in the MTP development process is vital to ensure that the objectives set forth in the plan are realistic and achievable. Coordination also will be important for identifying operations strategies, monitoring system performance, and evaluating the effectiveness of implemented strategies.

The MPO can play a crucial role in bringing stakeholders together in a regional forum where all agencies benefit by working together. For example, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) in conjunction with the Washington State Department of Transportation recently formed an Interagency Data Group among PSRC member agencies to broaden the region's ability to research and collect multimodal data on the transportation system. According to a PSRC program director, there is an understanding among the members that they can benefit from knowing what data others are collecting and comparing research needs and planned research across the agencies.

7.2 Who is Involved?

A first step in the process of integrating M&O in the MTP is to involve key regional transportation system operators in the metropolitan transportation planning process. This is often quite challenging, since it requires operators and planners to make a fundamental cultural shift to integrate the near-term considerations that are the focus of transportation system operators with the long-range considerations that are the focus of transportation planners. In most regions, operation of the transportation system is the responsibility of individual operating agencies (e.g., local departments of public works, transit agencies, and State departments of transportation), exacerbating the challenge of viewing the transportation system from a regional perspective. An objectives-driven, performance-based planning process will result in operators broadening their traditional perspective to one in which individual facilities are viewed as interconnected pieces of a regional system. Neighboring jurisdictions and agencies will work together as partners in providing transportation services to customers.

While the MPO serves a coordinating function in developing the MTP, the process of developing operations objectives requires involvement of a full range of agencies engaged in the operation of the transportation system. This includes:

Moreover, there is a need to reach out to broader customer stakeholders, including the freight and business communities and agencies responsible for emergency management, such as:

7.3 How to Engage Participants

Engaging stakeholders to think about M&O is a critical factor in developing regional operations objectives, and in the ultimate success of incorporating M&O strategies in the MTP. This requires piquing the interest of operations agencies currently involved in the MTP process, and engaging new stakeholders in a new manner – one that addresses M&O as well as capital projects.

Engage Existing Operations Agencies in Thinking about M&O

Operating agencies are typically already at the MPO table and involved in the transportation planning process. However, it is important to engage day to day operating agency managers from a systems operations perspective and not simply as advocates for capital projects. As they participate, operators should identify existing operational programs and strategies that they are using and others that should be considered across agency lines and jurisdictional boundaries. Currently, many operating agencies are implementing M&O strategies; the MTP should identify regionally significant activities, which may already be occurring, as well as help to identify additional areas for coordination across jurisdictions and agencies.

Spokane Regional Transportation Council Model Users Group:

The Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) is working to improve its collaboration with western Washington local jurisdictions and Washington State DOT. As a means to bolster collaboration, SRTC created the Transportation Model Users Group, which helps make future transportation decisions and investments.

The users group has championed various projects, including the SRTC Transportation Management Center, an interactive website that provides realtime updates on traffic conditions in the area and live camera photos of heavily traveled routes and intersections.


Puget Sound Freight Roundtable:

In 1993 the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), the MPO for the Seattle-Tacoma metropolitan area, with the assistance of the Economic Development Council, gathered public and private freight sector representatives to form the Puget Sound Freight Roundtable. The Roundtable was created in an effort to better involve the freight industry in the planning process. The first task of the Roundtable was to provide input on freight issues to the update of the metropolitan transportation plan. Since then, the Roundtable has influenced the transportation planning process by advising PSRC on freight needs and the potential impact of proposed projects on freight mobility. It educates policy-makers and the public on freight issues, and it helps to develop performance measures, data collection systems, and analysis techniques necessary to study freight movement.


Engage New Stakeholders in the Planning Process

New stakeholders also need to be engaged in the MTP process. One way to achieve greater stakeholder participation is to focus discussions on specific operations concerns, which makes it clear to operations practitioners and policy makers when the forum is within their area of expertise. For example, someone who manages first responders is more likely to attend a committee meeting on regional incident management than a meeting dealing with the broad topic of regional M&O coordination. A focused forum also will likely benefit from participants who have a grasp of both the technical and the institutional challenges associated with regional coordination for that specific topic.

Freight transportation planning is an area where focused forums have been successful. Engaging shippers, freight carriers, and freight terminal operators in the regional planning discussion has been challenging, in part because the long timeframe for planning is foreign to most private sector entities. Freight companies also may be mistrustful of Government planners and concerned about divulging proprietary business information. Some regions have successfully developed forums or task forces specifically to address regional freight operations planning. Such committees have succeeded at bringing freight needs and perspectives to the planning process, helping to promote a regional perspective on operations challenges.

Develop MPO Committees Focused On Operations Issues

An increasing number of MPOs support interagency committees that deal directly and regularly with regional systems management and operations. In hosting such committees, the MPO facilitates a vital forum where inter-jurisdictional coordination, funding strategies, and data sharing can be addressed. In addition, the MPO can use the committee's diverse operations expertise to inform M&O issues in the regional planning process, to identify ITS systems and data needed to support operations, and to influence the MPO's annual work program. The forum will allow operations managers to increase their awareness of broader regional trends, needs, and strategies, and can be a key mechanism for developing regional operations objectives for inclusion in the MTP.

The Genesee Transportation Council in Rochester, New York currently convenes a regional transportation management committee that includes departments of transportation, the transit authority, law enforcement agencies, and local elected officials. The group meets every two months. According to the Genesee Transportation Council Executive Director, the committee is "invaluable in continuing the dialogue on M&O and constantly informing the metropolitan planning process."

Developing an effective structure for these MPO committees can be challenging. One reason is that regional management and operations planning must often deal with narrow technical issues. For example, one committee might address topics such as how to provide back-up power at signals, use of various signalization software programs, and measures of effectiveness for signals. These types of regional forums may be invaluable as an information exchange for operations practitioners, but less useful as a forum for addressing broader coordination issues.

As a result, some MPOs have created separate subcommittees for technical and policy issues. A technical subcommittee may focus on the details of equipment coordination, while the policy committee may address regional funding strategies and prioritization of regional operations initiatives. Periodic meetings of the full committee allow exchange between technical and policy staff. MPOs should take advantage of the existing ITS architecture committees that are experienced in bringing diverse stakeholders to the planning process.

As noted above, it also may be beneficial to develop specific forums around aspects of operations, such as freight management, emergency management, and incident management.

National Capital Region's Management, Operations, and ITS Task Forces:

The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) initiated the Washington Region ITS Task Force in 1997. After the region received Federal earmark funding for ITS, the task force attracted interest from a number of agencies in the region. These agencies collaborated to develop CapWIN, a wireless integrated mobile communications network that supports coordination between public safety and transportation agencies. Later that year, the TBP divided the Task Force into a technical task force and a policy task force. This facilitated the direct involvement of policy-level officials in ITS activities while maintaining the capacity to address technical details associated with ITS integration and coordination. In 2001, the TBP changed the name of the two task forces to the Management, Operations and Intelligent Transportation Systems (MOITS) Policy Task Force and the MOITS Technical Task Forces to reflect a broader focus on management and operations from a regional perspective.


7.4 Tools to Advance the Approach

To sustain the successful integration of objectives-driven, performance-based M&O in the planning process, MPOs need to institutionalize the process of engaging operating agencies and stakeholders in developing operations objectives.

Planners and operators interested in adopting this approach to planning for operations can leverage an organizational framework for regional transportation operations collaboration and coordination.29 This framework identifies five elements of collaboration that participants can focus on improving as they move forward in making planning for operations a sustained and productive endeavor. By advancing each element, planners and operators can help institutionalize the concept of "working together" among transportation agencies, public safety officials, and other public and private sector interests within a metropolitan region to guide the objectives-driven, performance-based approach within the metropolitan transportation planning process. The five elements of collaboration include:

Hampton Roads ITS Architecture Leads to Inclusion of ITS and M&O in Regional Long-Range Plan:

One of the lasting benefits to developing a regional ITS architecture in 1995 for the Hampton Roads, Virginia region was the formation of an ITS committee hosted by the MPO. The collaboration started off with a simple meeting where several area traffic engineers got together and exchanged contact information so that they could communicate in the event of an accident or special event. This led to regular meetings where operators and planning staff got together to discuss technical and institutional issues, their individual needs, and how to work together better. They envisioned compatible technologies throughout the region that would allow for inter-jurisdictional cooperation.

During the 2003 update of the ITS plan and architecture, the Hampton Roads ITS champions saw the opportunity to include ITS projects in the long-range plan, which was in the process of being updated. ITS and management and operations strategies and projects were presented to the MPO's technical committee and approved for inclusion with funding in the Hampton Roads 2026 Regional Long-Range Plan.


Build on the Regional ITS Architecture

Regional ITS architectures and associated ITS committees can be significant resources for advancing the incorporation of operations into the metropolitan transportation planning process. A regional ITS architecture creates a picture of ITS deployment and use in a region as envisioned by a broad base of stakeholders. SAFETEA-LU requires that ITS projects funded through the Federal Highway Trust Fund conform to the National ITS Architecture and applicable standards. An ITS architecture defines existing or desired sensor, computer, electronics, and communications technologies, the interconnections and information exchanges between these systems, stakeholder agreements, and standards. In addition, the architecture describes the regional needs, ITS services that can address these needs, and the envisioned operational roles of agencies responsible for these systems.

A large number of regions in the United States already have developed architectures and established collaborative relationships between operating agencies and MPOs based on ITS deployment. These relationships can serve as the foundation for operator involvement in the transportation planning process. A region's ITS architecture may advance the integration of operations into the MTP through information on data sources, operations objectives, operational needs and system deficiencies, and M&O strategies.

The objectives-driven, performance-based approach for incorporating operations into the MTP requires data on the operational performance of the transportation system. The architecture may be a rich source of information on what operations data may already be collected, what data collection is being planned for the near future, and which agencies have access to the data.

As planners and operators work together to define operations objectives and M&O strategies to meet those objectives, they should consult their regional ITS architecture's list of needs and services. In the development of the architecture, the stakeholders must identify the problems with the regional transportation system and the associated needs of the operators and transportation users. This may include operational problems that need to be addressed, such as "improve management of road closures," "alleviate congestion in central business district," or "improve electronic fare coordination between agencies." The needs and services included in the ITS architecture can give regions a valuable jumpstart in developing operations objectives and identifying M&O strategies.30

Regional Concept for Transportation Operations

A regional concept for transportation operations (RCTO) is a management tool to assist in planning and implementing management and operations strategies in a collaborative and sustained manner.31 Through the development of the RCTO, transportation operators, planners, public safety agencies, and other stakeholders use an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to plan for regional transportation operations. An RCTO is a tool of particular significance for integrating operations into the metropolitan planning process.

An RCTO is developed and implemented by a group of transportation operators, planners, public safety agencies, or other stakeholders who want to improve regional transportation system performance by working together. The group often works within the context of an MPO working group or subcommittee.

One of the first steps in developing an RCTO is identifying one or more operations objectives of regional scope. The objectives may focus on a single operations area such as traveler information or traffic incident management, or they may cover multiple operations areas or performance outcomes. Operations objectives in an RCTO are similar in form and content to the regional operations objectives in the MTP. The operations objectives in an RCTO may help to further refine the operations objectives already in the MTP, or the RCTO's operations objectives may be incorporated into the MTP and used to incorporate operations into the overall metropolitan transportation planning process.

Planners and operators working to incorporate operations into the metropolitan transportation planning process may use the RCTO as a tool to translate that regional operations objective into a specific and actionable strategy for achieving the objective. The RCTO can help planners and operators develop management and operations strategies that can be included in the MTP.

Through developing an RCTO, the collaborative group of planners and operators establish roles, responsibilities, and resources needed to achieve the operations objectives. In this way, the RCTO can serve as an important tool for implementing M&O strategies at a regional level.

7.5 Engage Elected Officials and the Public

Elected officials and the general public play a key role in the approach to planning for operations. The process of integrating M&O strategies into the metropolitan transportation planning process often calls for strong regional leadership. Often this comes from MPO leadership that recognizes the practicality of solutions in the near-term that may be achieved with operational solutions. This may be as simple as the mayor of the central city responding to his constituents' demands for greater travel time reliability along major routes. Leadership may come from the manager of the regional transit system recognizing the utility of a "smart card" that may be used for all transit systems in the region, or it may arise from the State DOT's need for improving the management of work zones. These concepts may arise in the context of the MPO planning process or they may surface in the arena of transportation operating agency coordination.

No matter how an issue arises, in most cases it takes a "champion" to push it and support it through the planning process (both internally to an operating agency and in the regional transportation planning process). It usually helps if the concept is pursued both at the technical level and the policy level. This can be facilitated by an MPO having a policy committee that champions operational strategies and a technical committee that develops the "nuts and bolts" of a concept. Elected officials also can play a key role in placing an emphasis in the MTP on the operational performance of the transportation system.

There are more than 100,000 State and local elected officials in the United States, ranging from governors to village selectmen. Beyond this number, there are tens of thousands of other individuals working in concert with elected officials at the following various levels:

Communicating the benefits of M&O strategies to elected officials is important since these strategies are often less tangible than infrastructure projects. Factors to consider when reaching out to elected/appointed officials include:32

Engaging the public in planning for operations and garnering public support for operations are important components of advancing regional operations and achieving operations objectives. Ultimately, M&O strategies are implemented to provide value to the public. Public support for operations objectives should be thoroughly considered when selecting objectives. The public can determine funding for operations by voting on local tax laws and influencing the selection and decisions of elected officials. To garner the public's support for operations, planners and operators need to help them understand the value of M&O strategies and the benefits they receive for their tax dollars.

Unlike road construction projects, operations projects and programs can be difficult for the public to see. Planners and operators have to rely on other ways to get the public's attention. Tracking and reporting on operations-related performance measures is one of the most common ways to gain public interest in transportation system performance. It can also be used, as in the case of the Washington State Department of Transportation,33 to create transparency and gain public trust. Advertising the success of M&O strategies and their measurable benefits to the public is another effective strategy in gaining public support.34 Additionally, operators and planners can use branding techniques for M&O programs such as traveler information or freeway/arterial service patrols so that the public can easily recognize operation efforts. Finally, planners and operators can gather support for operations by relating operations to the things that the public cares about, such as spending more time with family in their communications with the public.

28 For a more detailed discussion of collaboration and coordination, see Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination – A Primer for Working Together to Improve Transportation Safety, Reliability, and Security, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Publication Number FHWA-OP-03-008. Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

29 U.S. Department of Transportation, FHWA, Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination: A Primer for Working Together to Improve Transportation Safety, Reliability, and Security, FHWA-OP-03-008 (Washington, DC, 2003). Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

30 For more information see: U.S. Department of Transportation, FHWA, Regional ITS Architecture Guidance Developing, Using, and Maintaining an ITS Architecture for your Region, FHWA-HOP-06-112 (Washington, DC, 2006). Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

31 For more information see: U.S. Department of Transportation, FHWA, Regional Concept for Transportation Operations: The Blueprint for Action – A Primer, FHWA-HOP-07-122 (Washington, DC, 2007). Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

32 Federal Highway Administration, Office of Planning, Environment and Realty and the Office of Operations, "Understanding the Communications and Information Needs of Elected Officials for Transportation Planning and Operations," January 5, 2005. Prepared by John Mason. Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

33 Washington State Department of Transportation, "WSDOT Accountability and Performance Information," 2009. Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

34 See "Metropolitan Mobility the Smart Way" from Metro in Portland, Oregon for an example. Available at:, last accessed December 6, 2009.

previous | next