Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Programming for Operations: MPO Examples of Prioritizing and Funding Transportation Systems Management & Operations Strategies

Background and Purpose

For several years, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Planning for Operations program has focused on integrating transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) into the metropolitan and Statewide transportation planning process. Planning for operations is driven by outcome–oriented objectives and performance measures. Rather than focusing on projects and investment plans, the planning for operations approach emphasizes first developing objectives for transportation system performance and then using performance measures and targets as a basis for identifying solutions and developing investment strategies. The result is increased inclusion of TSMO strategies to improve safety, mobility and efficiency at the regional and statewide scale.

While several guidebooks, primers, and case studies have been developed focusing on integrating TSMO strategies into the planning process, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have often faced challenges in advancing TSMO projects, programs, and activities for funding. This document discusses how MPOs have incorporated TSMO projects into the programming phase of transportation investment decisionmaking in metropolitan areas. Based on a sample of practices from MPOs that have emphasized operations strategies in the planning process, this document highlights findings on:

  • Sources of funding that are being used for TSMO strategies.
  • Methods for prioritizing strategies for funding.
  • Staff resources devoted to TSMO–related activities.
  • Initial lessons learned about effective practices.

This report includes case studies of practices related to programming TSMO strategies from nine MPOs around the country.

About Metropolitan Programming

Programming refers to the process of selecting projects for funding, identifying funding resources, and scheduling implementation. Programming is a distinct phase of transportation decisionmaking that occurs in conjunction with long–range planning. It focuses on the short–term planning priorities and commits funds for expenditure. Projects are selected by matching available revenue with planned projects that meet the criteria for that funding stream. Programming can be highly analytical, employing revenue models and quantitative project selection criteria; however, it is strongly influenced by decisionmaker perspective and interests. The project selection and programming process for Federal–aid projects in urban areas is the responsibility of MPOs [23USC §134(j)]. MPOs are required to develop a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) that identifies projects within their urbanized area. Projects adopted in the MPO TIP must be included in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). All projects receiving Federal funds must be included in both the TIP and STIP.

TIP projects must be consistent with the 20–year (or longer) long–range transportation plan, reflect near–term investment priorities, and indicate progress toward system performance targets. The TIP must contain a minimum of four years' worth of projects and must be updated at least every four years. According to statute, the TIP must:

  • Include projects for any mode that will be using Federal funding or Federal subsidy [23USC §134(j)(2)(A)].
  • Provide a project description and location for each project [23USC §134(j)(2)(C)]
  • Prioritize the projects [23USC §134(j)(1)(A)].
  • Indicate the sources of funding that will be used to construct the project [23USC §134(j)(2)(B)(ii)].
  • Demonstrate a contribution to achieving performance targets [23USC §134(j)(2)(D)].1
  • Include a consultation process with stakeholders prior to adoption [23USC §134(j)(4)].
  • Undergo a period of public availability and comment [23USC §134(j)(1)(B)].
  • Be adopted by the MPO governing board and submitted to the governor [23USC §134(j)(1)(D)(ii)].

These legal requirements establish consistency at the national level; however, each MPO will conduct programming to fit its regional context. For example, many MPOs update the TIP more frequently than required. Some MPOs choose to include projects that are funded by local or State funding as well as those that are Federally funded. The TIP schedule for an individual MPO will also vary to meet the State Department of Transportation (DOT) STIP schedule.

In urban areas where the population is greater than 200,000, MPOs must develop an internal Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP). This program identifies expenditures by the MPO over the next 1–2 years [23CFR §450.308].2 The UPWP is the work program for funds that will be directly expended by the MPO. This differs from the TIP, which shows projects that will be funded using other agencies' money (transit operators, State DOT, etc.). The UPWP can include staff costs, materials purchase, contracting, studies, and programs offered directly by the MPO. Some TSMO projects or studies may appear in the UPWP because they are implemented with planning funds or require MPO staff time.

TSMO activities are eligible for funding under several Federal programs. These programs are listed in Table 1.

Table 1. Description of Federal Funding Programs that may Support TSMO Activities.

Federal Funding Program Purpose Sample of Eligible Activities Related to TSMO
CMAQ Provides a flexible funding source to State and local governments for transportation projects and programs to help meet the requirements of the Clean Air Act. Funding is available to reduce congestion and improve air quality for areas that do not meet the National Ambient Air Quality Standards for ozone, carbon monoxide, or particulate matter (nonattainment areas) as well as former nonattainment areas that are now in compliance (maintenance areas).3
  • Projects that improve traffic flow, including projects to improve signalization, construct high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, improve intersections, add turning lanes, improve TSMO strategies that mitigate congestion and improve air quality, and implement ITS and other CMAQ–eligible projects, including projects to improve incident and emergency response or improve mobility, such as real–time traffic, transit, and multimodal traveler information.4
Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) To achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads, including non–State–owned public roads and roads on tribal lands. A highway safety improvement project is any strategy, activity or project on a public road that is consistent with the data–driven State Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP) and corrects or improves a hazardous road location or feature or addresses a highway safety problem.6
  • Installation of a priority control system for emergency vehicles at signalized intersections.
  • Collection, analysis, and improvement of safety data.
  • Planning integrated, interoperable emergency communications equipment, operational activities, or traffic enforcement activities (including police assistance) relating to work zone safety.6
National Highway Performance Program (NHPP) To support the condition and performance of the National Highway System (NHS), for the construction of new facilities on the NHS, and to ensure that investments of Federal–aid funds in highway construction are directed to support progress toward the achievement of performance targets established in an asset management plan of a State for the NHS.7
  • Operational improvements of NHS segments, which include capital improvements for installation of traffic surveillance and control equipment, computerized signal systems, motorist information systems, integrated traffic control systems, incident management programs, and transportation demand management facilities, strategies, and programs.8
  • Capital and operating costs for traffic and traveler information, monitoring, management, and control facilities and programs.
  • Infrastructure–based ITS capital improvements.9
Surface Transportation Program (STP) Provides flexible funding that may be used by States and localities for projects to preserve and improve the conditions and performance on any Federal–aid highway, bridge and tunnel projects on any public road, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and transit capital projects, including intercity bus terminals.10 MPOs are given full project selection authority over portions of STP funding (called Urban Allocation).
  • Operational improvements for highways.
  • Capital and operating costs for traffic monitoring, management and control facilities and programs, including advanced truck stop electrification.
  • Infrastructure–based ITS capital improvements.11
Metropolitan Planning Establishes a cooperative, continuous, and comprehensive framework for making transportation investment decisions in metropolitan areas.12 Planning funds may provide for MPO staff support for regional transportation operations coordination, regional operations guideline development, minor studies, and other staff activities to support regional TSMO programs.

1 This requirement was instituted as a part of MAP–21 in 2012. Most MPO TIPs may not yet contain performance achievement information. Return to note 1.

2 MPOs that are not within a Transportation Management Area (generally under 200,000 people) can adopt a "simplified work program." This document is largely the same as a UPWP. Return to note 2.

3 FHWA, MAP–21 Fact Sheets – Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement Program. Available at: Return to note 3.

4 Ibid. Return to note 4.

5 FHWA MAP–21 Fact Sheets – Highway Safety Improvement Program. Available at: to note 5.

6 USC, Title 23 Section 148. Highway safety improvement program. Available at: Return to note 6.

7 FHWA, MAP–21 Fact Sheets – National Highway Performance Program. Available at: Return to note 7.

8 USC, Title 23 Section 101. Definitions and declaration of policy. Available at: to note 8.

9 FHWA, MAP–21 Fact Sheets – National Highway Performance Program. Available at: Return to note 9.

10 FHWA, MAP–21 Fact Sheets –Surface Transportation Program. Available at: Return to note 10.

11 Ibid. Return to note 11.

12 FHWA, MAP–21 Fact Sheets – Metropolitan Planning. Available at: Return to note 12.