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U.S. Department of Transportation

The Regional Concept for Transportation Operations: A Practitioner's Guide

Appendix B: RCTO Fundamentals

B.1 Foundations in Systems Thinking

The RCTO promotes a more systemic and sustained approach to collaboration. Consistent with well established systems engineering principles, the RCTO elevates the focus from agencies' individual responsibilities to a global view of the region's transportation system. By considering the interconnections within the region's transportation system, partners develop higher level operations objectives that address those systemic issues that cut across multiple agencies and jurisdictions. The RCTO is a living guide that partners update and amend as circumstances and priorities evolve in the region and among partners. While it may require some initial investment in operations infrastructure, an RCTO is more than a "project" because it effects lasting changes in how partners work together to improve system performance.

In this sense, the RCTO encourages sustained collaboration:

B.2 RCTO Scope

The scope of an RCTO is defined in terms of three major dimensions: functional, institutional, and geographic. The functional dimension defines the operations areas addressed within the RCTO, the institutional dimension defines the partnering entities engaged in the developing and carrying out the RCTO, and the geographic dimension defines the region (i.e., political boundaries) for which the RCTO is developed. Each dimension is shaped by the collaborative activity among transportation operators from multiple jurisdictions.

Operations functions that tend to be of regional significance and could benefit from an RCTO include:

Functional Scope

An RCTO can address a single management and operations area (e.g., traffic incident management, traveler information services, or electronic fare payment), a collection of related areas (e.g., congestion management for arterials and freeways), or capabilities that cut across several functions (e.g., area-wide communications, surveillance and control, or vehicle detection and location). The functional scope of an RCTO may change over time in response to changes in the collaboration between participants. For example, an RCTO can help expand collaboration on incident management to include emergency management.

Geographic Scope

The geographic and institutional scope of the RCTO may coincide with the jurisdictions and agencies represented in an MPO. However, an RCTO may be developed for a multi-State corridor, adjoining transportation management areas, neighboring local jurisdictions within an MPO area, or any other self-defined multi-jurisdictional area. Many non-urban or rural areas may find significant benefit in creating an RCTO as they often do not have a regional planning process or metropolitan planning organization to bring focus to the region.

Institutional Scope

An RCTO's institutional scope may range from corresponding agencies in neighboring jurisdictions that collaborate around a function that falls within their individual responsibilities, to all of the transportation and public safety agencies within an MPO area that collaborate on multiple functions throughout the metropolitan region, to a collection of agencies that span several States along a major interstate corridor.

B.3 RCTO Initiatives

The idea for the RCTO evolved from a series of activities and programs involving Federal, State, regional, and local entities working together to find ways to improve transportation system performance on a regional basis. The National Dialogue on Transportation Operations, initiated in 1999, greatly accelerated the evolution of transportation agencies from that of building and maintaining roads to that of managing the transportation system. The National Dialogue, and especially the National Summit on Transportation Operations, held in Columbia, Maryland, in October 2001, made clear the need for deliberate and sustained collaboration and coordination in regional operations to achieve safe, reliable, integrated, and secure transportation. The Summit brought together over 240 professionals from academia, operating agencies, interest groups (e.g., safety and pedestrians), and elected and appointed officials from local and regional governments. A consensus on key issues to move forward an operations agenda was achieved.

In 2001, the working group, "Linking Planning and Operations," sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration identified ways in which transportation planning and transportation operations can be more effectively linked. During its December 2001 meeting, the working group developed a self-assessment tool for linking planning and operations which identified the need for a "regional concept of operations that informs a regional operations action plan," which eventually became known as the Regional Concept for Transportation Operations or RCTO.

The RCTO was described further in the FHWA publication "Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination - A Primer for Working Together to Improve Transportation Safety, Reliability and Security,"44 published in 2003, encouraging more effective collaboration and coordination of operations within a region by transportation managers and public safety officials from cities, counties, and States and was listed as a key linkage between planners and operators in the FHWA "Getting More by Working Together - Opportunities for Linking Planning Operations," published in November 2004.45

44 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 June 14, 2011. [ Return to note 43. ]

45 U.S. Department of Transportation, FHWA, Getting More by Working Together - Opportunities for Linking Planning and Operation, FHWA-HOP-05-016 (Washington, DC, 2005). Available at:, last accessed June 14, 2011. [ Return to note 45. ]

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