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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

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

Cross-Cutting Findings

The following sections provide a summary of observations regarding TSMO programming practices gathered from our brief case research of nine MPOs.

Foundations for Advancing TSMO in Programming

Emphasizing TSMO in the long–range transportation plan (LRTP) and related planning documents or processes creates a strong foundation for including TSMO projects and programs in the TIP.

The LRTP should guide the selection of projects that are funded in the TIP. As such, regions that place importance on TSMO in the LRTP have a strong basis for devoting funding to these strategies. The process of developing agreement on regional goals and objectives that includes system operations can help to support dedication of funding to TSMO strategies or development of project prioritization processes in programming that enable TSMO strategies to effectively compete for funding.

The Genesee Transportation Council (GTC) has included "promote efficient system management and operations" as one of seven key transportation goals in the region's LRTP, adopted in 2011. The plan places a priority on TSMO strategies, which are viewed as key opportunities to maximize the effectiveness of the transportation system at the lowest cost, while also improving safety. Consequently, the project prioritization process used for the TIP builds off of the goals and performance measures in the TIP, and scoring of projects includes points for safety, mobility, system continuity and optimization, and other goal areas.

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) Congestion Management Process (CMP) includes congestion mitigation strategies that incorporate a range of TSMO strategies. These projects are advanced to programming following a detailed prioritization process.

MPOs use Regional Concept for Transportation Operations (RCTO) or operations plans as a basis for prioritizing and selecting TSMO activities for funding.

In addition to the LRTP and CMP, some regions have developed specific operations–focused plans, which also can provide a solid foundation for identifying TSMO priorities for funding. Examples of documents that can guide a TSMO program include a regional operations strategy, a Regional Concept for Transportation Operations (RCTO), or an intelligent transportation systems (ITS) strategic plan.

The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) developed an RCTO as a management tool to promote long–range plan goals related to safe and reliable operations. Activities identified by the RCTO include managing traffic conditions, improving incident response, and increasing non–single occupant vehicle travel. The DRCOG Transportation Operations Working Group uses the operations investment priorities specified in the RCTO and the Denver Regional ITS Strategic Plan in making their decisions about funding priorities.

MAG's approach to funding TSMO is also supported by a regional ITS strategic plan, which identifies targeted areas for future investment, and an RCTO that provides a plan for utilizing investments in operations.

Funding Sources Used for TSMO Activities

MPOs use several Federal funding programs to support TSMO.

While the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program is a primary source of funding for TSMO in several regions, STP is also frequently used. Other Federal funding sources used in the case study regions include HSIP and NHPP.

In some air quality nonattainment or maintenance regions, CMAQ is a primary source of funding for TSMO projects and programs. In these areas, CMAQ Program funds are being used for strategies that meet both air quality and congestion relief objectives, such as traffic signal coordination and transportation demand management (TDM) programs. For instance, PPACG typically allocates 70 to 80 percent of its CMAQ funds to TSMO projects, including signal synchronization.

However, even in regions without CMAQ, other Federal funding programs are being used to support TSMO activities. The Orlando metro area is in attainment and does not receive CMAQ funds. MetroPlan Orlando sets aside money for TSMO strategies through the STP Urban Allocation, including direct funding for the Road Rangers Program, which provides incident management services on major roadways in the region. While the GTC in Rochester, New York has used CMAQ funding in the past for non–motorized transportation projects and traffic signal optimization projects, the GTC will no longer receive CMAQ funds after FY2014. The MPO has transitioned to using the NHPP and STP (both Urban and Flex) as the primary sources for funding TSMO strategies, including implementation of its Highway Emergency Local Patrol (HELP) Program and staffing for the Regional Traffic Operations Center (RTOC).

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) in the Seattle region uses a variety of funding sources for operations projects, including STP, CMAQ, and HSIP. HSIP funds are used for TSMO projects that meet both safety and operations goals, and are often used for signal improvements. Project sponsors for ITS projects have found it somewhat difficult to compete for CMAQ funding against transit projects, but have found more success applying for STP funds given different project scoring criteria that are used by PSRC for those funding programs. Large–scale operations projects, such as HOV or high occupancy toll (HOT) lanes, often are funded through a combination of STP, CMAQ, Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER), and/or State funds.

Local and State funds can be an important source of funding for TSMO projects.

Some local jurisdictions within the case study regions chose to raise transportation funds through local taxes and have additional funding to devote to TSMO strategies. In some cases, local taxes are instituted with a commitment to spend a certain share on TSMO projects.

The San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) benefits from a major local funding source. TransNet is a half–cent countywide sales tax for local transportation projects which uses 70 percent of revenues for congestion reduction, including operations projects. TransNet has funded the traveler information network, the construction of HOV or managed lanes, and traffic signal optimization, along with other operational solutions. MAG also relies upon a local sales tax to fund transportation projects. The Highway User Revenue Fund and other local sources such as bonds and the general fund support TSMO projects.

North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) projects are supported by the Regional Toll Revenue (RTR) Program created through an inter–local agreement with NCTCOG, Texas DOT, and the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA). Money is collected from private–sector partners through concessionaire contracts, debt repayment, toll collection, and interest on the RTR pool.

MPOs use planning funds to support TSMO efforts.

MPO activities to support TSMO include data collection, regional coordination efforts, and creation of subcommittees on TSMO. Examples of TSMO efforts that were observed in MPOs' UPWP include:

  • Data collection.
  • Development of regional operations platforms.
  • Intergovernmental coordination and organization of ITS working groups/committees.
  • Programs that educate the public (traveler information, commuter information) that are hosted at the MPO.
  • Programs for use by the public, such as incident response or vanpool matching. These may be staffed by MPO staff.

While all MPOs profiled spend staff time on TSMO, not every agency has staff dedicated to the area. Specialized staff may allow the MPO to provide more sophisticated services to its members. MetroPlan Orlando is a strong example of an MPO applying planning funds to TSMO staffing needs. The MPO has three full–time staff members who support the Systems Management and Operations Department: a program director, a professional engineer for design and contracting, and technical staff with a focus on data and analysis related to performance measurement, safety and security.

Types of Activities Funded

A range of TSMO activities are included in the TIPs of MPOs Table 3 shows the TSMO activities that were encountered during the case study research. Additional activities not shown below may be occurring, but were not uncovered during the case study process. ITS hardware, signal timing, TDM, and intersection improvements were common TSMO activities.

Table 3. TSMO Activities Included in TIP Documents

MPO Example TSMO Strategies or Programs in TIP
  • ITS
  • TDM
  • Traffic Signal System Improvements
  • Highway Emergency Local Patrol
  • RTOC staffing
  • ITS
  • Roundabouts
  • Traveler Information
  • Traffic Signal Improvements
  • Weather Sensors
  • Freeway Management System
  • Freeway Service Patrol
  • Transportation Management Centers
  • Cameras
  • Dynamic Message Signs (DMS)
  • Road Rangers
  • Signal Retiming
  • Intersection Improvements
  • TDM
  • Incident Management
  • ITS
  • Intersection Improvements
  • Signal Upgrades and Timing
  • TDM
  • Highway Emergency Local Patrol
  • RTOC staffing
  • ITS
  • Roundabouts
  • Regional TDM Program
  • Traveler Information
  • Traffic Signal Improvements
  • Weather Sensors
  • ITS
  • Active Traffic Management
  • Congestion Pricing
  • Upgraded Traffic Signalization
  • Incident Management
  • TDM
  • Road Rangers
  • Signal Retiming
  • Intersection Improvements
  • TDM
  • Incident Management
  • ITS
  • TDM
  • Traffic Signal Improvements
  • Managed Lanes

Ongoing staffing and maintenance of TSMO programs and equipment is not often included in the TIP.

Most MPOs do not own or operate infrastructure. As such, MPOs traditionally have included only on the capital cost of highway projects or ITS in the TIP, because another agency (such as the State DOT) assumed ongoing maintenance and operation of the infrastructure once it was built. Often MPO TIPs show only the capital cost of the TSMO project. Some agencies noted that obtaining funding for upfront costs of TSMO projects is much easier than insuring the long–term commitment by providing ongoing staffing. In an effort to address the issue of ongoing operations following an initial TSMO project, MAG has made it a requirement to demonstrate that long–term staffing is available before a project is programmed.

Procedures for Programming TSMO Activities

MPOs may set aside funding, allows open competition, or a combination of both.

The TSMO programming approaches for the MPOs studies for this report fell into three main categories: 1) Set aside dedicated funding for TSMO projects, 2) allow TSMO projects to compete with other types of projects for funding, or 3) combine a set–aside with the ability for TSMO projects to compete for other funding.

In a set–aside system, a portion of funding is segregated and spent only on TSMO projects. TSMO projects compete against each other for the pool of set–aside funds. A set–aside system guarantees that some TSMO projects will be funded each year. Separate project selection criteria are sometimes used for certain programs (CMAQ, STP, local, etc.). As an example, MetroPlan Orlando reserves a fixed $4 million per year to TSMO projects, entirely from STP funds. Some MPOs viewed dedicated funding for TSMO as helpful to advance TSMO priorities and implementation.

Other MPOs have an open competition system where all projects, including TSMO activities, compete for funding. This is the approach used by PSRC. In these cases, using evaluation criteria that address mobility, reliability, safety, and/or cost–effectiveness helps TSMO initiatives compete effectively for funding. The merits of each project are evaluated using selection criteria (discussed below), and the highest scoring projects are generally selected for funding. The potential for TSMO projects to be selected in an open competition system is highly dependent on the selection criteria used for evaluation. Table 4 shows the TSMO programs and projects with funding set-asides encountered during case study research along with dollar amounts or percentages associated with each.

Table 4. TSMO Funding Set-Aside Programs and Projects Included in TIP Documents.
MPO TSMO Programs/Projects with Funding Set-Aside  Set-Aside Amount
DRCOG ITS $4.1M (2012-2017)
TDM $7M (2012-2017)
Traffic Signal System Improvements (TSSIP) $14.8M (2012-2017)
GTC Highway Emergency Local Patrol $2.61M (2014-2017)
Regional Traffic Operations Center $5.67M (2014-2017)
MAG ITS projects $105M (2011-2015)
MetroPlan Orlando Non-capacity projects $4M/year
Road Ranger Program $500k/year
NCTCOG Regional ITS Funding Pool $4M (2013-2016)
PPACG Maintenance and Operations 35% of annual sales tax revenue
PSRC No separate funding pool for operations N/A
Portland Metro TSMO $1.67M/year
SANDAG Congestion reduction, including operations 70% of sales tax revenue

Under an approach that combines the set–aside and open competition models, some funds are segregated for use on TSMO projects. However, TSMO projects are also eligible to compete for the general pool of funds. This method is utilized by GTC and Portland Metro.

For instance, GTC sets funding aside for two priority operations programs: the HELP program and staffing for the RTOC. The remainder of funding is prioritized using a performance–based approach that assigns points to projects based on contribution to different performance areas tied back to the LRTP.

Since 2009, the Portland region has set aside dedicated funding from Metro's Regional Flexible Fund program to support implementation of TSMO. There has been little opposition to the program through four sub–allocation cycles, and Metro hopes to further promote this program by documenting project benefits and demonstrating program successes. A variety of other funding sources is accessed in a competitive process.

Efforts to Support Project Selection for TSMO Activities

MPOs are using a variety of project selection processes. Table 5 summarizes the project selection process of all case studies in this project.

Table 5. TSMO Project Selection Process Summary.
MPO Project Selection Process
DRCOG Three program pools serve as the core mechanism for Federal funding for operations in the region: ITS, TDM, and Traffic Signal System Improvements. There is a separate project selection process for each of three pools. Stakeholder groups apply a consensus-based scoring process with different selection criteria for each funding pool. Decisions are based on regional operations priorities in regional operations-focused planning documents.
GTC There are set-aside funds for the HELP (highway emergency local patrol) program and RTOC staffing. Other operations projects compete with all other projects for TIP funds. All projects are ranked using a set of common criteria and mode-specific criteria. TSMO is a category with its own mode-specific criteria. 
MAG Selection of ITS/operations projects is based on priorities set forth in the Regional ITS Strategic Plan using a competitive process with the following criteria: 1) relevance to regional ITS plan; 2) compliance with Regional ITS Architecture; 3) congestion mitigation potential; and 4) emissions reduction potential. ITS/operations projects do not compete with other transportation projects for funding. All proposed ITS projects are reviewed by the ITS Committee. It provides project recommendations that are then reviewed by other committees.
MetroPlan Orlando Once a year, an operations stakeholder committee meets to select TSMO projects to be funded by the TSMO set-aside, prioritize them, and set a schedule for implementation.  The committee ranks projects based on expected system impact, cost efficiency, coordination with the ITS System Architecture, Strategic Plan and geographic equity among MetroPlan's member local governments.
NCTCOG NCTCOG uses separate project selection criteria for the following types of TSMO projects: a) intersection improvements, b) ITS, and c) traffic signal improvements. NCTCOG staff then evaluate the merits of each project using criteria and weights identified in the call for projects. While most projects go through a competitive proposal and technical evaluation process, some projects are selected because they qualify for targeted, strategic State or local programs.
PPACG Projects are prioritized based on their ability to fulfill the goals of the RTP and to meet criteria specified for each specific funding program. TSMO strategies compete for funding in the Maintenance & Operations and CMAQ funding program categories.
PSRC Operations projects compete against all others in the TIP selection process. Operations project sponsors may apply for Federal transportation funds from PSRC's programming process through either a regional competition or through one of four countywide competitions.
Portland Metro Operations projects receive funding through the TSMO Program funding set-aside and the open competitive process. The MPO works through its operations stakeholder group to evaluate and select projects for the TSMO Program funds; one-third of these funds go to region-wide projects and two-thirds goes to corridor-level projects. The region-wide projects are selected by consensus whereas the corridor-level projects are selected using specific evaluation criteria and analysis.
SANDAG The MPO applies a 100-point scoring process in the selection of TSMO as well as other types of projects. The scoring criteria are grouped into three broad categories: serves travel needs (40 percent weight), network integration (20 percent weight), and addresses sustainability (40 percent weight). Many ITS and operations projects are incorporated into larger capital projects.

Operational performance measures enable TSMO strategies to compete effectively for funding.

The use of operational performance measures creates a system where TSMO projects may score highly enough to compete with other types of projects. Some MPOs use separate criteria for evaluating TSMO projects even when competing with other types of projects. In developing the TIP, GTC begins with the goals and performance measures from the LRTP. Project evaluations are based on the responsiveness of proposals to the performance measures and are conducted by a combined GTC and New York State DOT Region 4 team. MPOs provide additional points for (mainstream) projects that include ITS/operations elements. The DRCOG evaluation criteria for the ITS Systems Program pool provides additional points for projects on the 2035 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan Emphasis Corridors for Operational Improvements map. The performance return of each proposed TSMO project was generally not analyzed. Instead, the performance of the entire investment package was analyzed (all projects, including TSMO).

Collaboration between member agencies including use of TSMO committees can be a key element of TSMO project selection.

MPOs create formal, collaboratively developed operations objectives and priorities in the RCTO, LRTP, and ITS Strategic Plan. These carry over into the programming phase in the form of project selection criteria and project prioritization in the TIP.

MPOs including Portland Metro and DRCOG host regional TSMO committees that provide input to the evaluation and selection of TSMO projects. The committees are usually composed of professional staff members from local governments in the area. Some MPO committees are delegated project selection authority over TSMO projects. This is usually found in conjunction with a set–aside funding system (described above). Committees are charged with evaluating projects for funding from the TSMO pool and prioritizing projects for inclusion in the TIP.

MPOs may use measures of cost–effectiveness to evaluate TSMO projects.

Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments (PPACG) does not have a formal policy to support operational improvements. However, the project prioritization process focuses strongly on cost–effectiveness, which allows TSMO projects to do well in the project selection process. A significant percentage of programmed projects are solely operations or have operations components. MetroPlan Orlando includes cost–effectiveness as an evaluation criterion in the LRTP with the annual cost of congestion as the performance measure.

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