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

Denver Regional Council of Governments (Denver, CO)

Agency Overview

FAQs about DRCOG

Population: 2.8 million
TSMO Dedicated Funding: Set-asides for ITS, TSSIP, TDM
TSMO included in UPWP: Yes

The Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) serves as the metropolitan planning organization for Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Clear Creek, Douglas, Gilpin and Jefferson counties; the City and County of Broomfield and the City and County of Denver; and southwest Weld County. The organization serves approximately 2.7 million people and expects to serve 1.5 million more by 2035. DRCOG's policy framework, defined in Metro Vision 2035, focuses on the following performance-based goals for 203513:

  • Increase urban density by 10 percent.
  • Locate 50 percent of new housing and 75 percent of new employment in urban centers.
  • Protect a total of 880 sq. mi. of State and local parks and open space.
  • Cut per capita greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent.
  • Lower single-occupant vehicle trips to work from 74 percent to 65 percent.
  • Reduce daily vehicle miles traveled (VMT) per capita by 10 percent.

The 2035 Metro Vision Regional Transportation Plan (MVRTP) expands upon this core strategy by identifying regionally important transportation projects that meet the needs of local governments; the Regional Transportation District, the major transit provider in the region; Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT); and the public. The 2012-2017 TIP is the six-year program for implementing the regional plan.

Three documents define the vision, goals, and strategic direction for operations in the Denver region and are used to support the selection of operations investments. The Regional Transportation Operations Strategy14 (adopted October 2010) defines regional operations goals as well as operators' roles and responsibilities within the regional transportation system. The Regional Concept of Transportation Operations (RCTO)(adopted August 2012) expands upon this strategy by describing a unified direction for regional transportation managers through shared objectives and performance measures. The RCTO15 was developed as a management tool to promote goals related to providing safe and reliable operations to regional travelers. This includes monitoring and managing traffic conditions, improving incident management, and increasing non-single occupant vehicle travel by providing mode, departure, and route choice. The DRCOG Regional Transportation Demand Management Short Range Plan (2012-2016) defines the region's TDM policies, activities, strategies, and stakeholder roles and describes how TDM supports the vision, goals, and strategies in DRCOG's regional plans.16

Funding for Operations Projects

The 2012-2017 TIP includes several funding pools for programs, including three program pools that serve as the core mechanism for Federal funding for operations in the region, described in the table below. In addition to the three pools described below, the 2012–2017 TIP provides funds for the "RideArrangers Program" for the Denver Transportation Management Area. RideArrangers is a regional commute options program that provides centralized services to help commuters, employers, and others find transportation options to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality in the region.

Table 6. DRCOG Regional Operations Program Pools.17
Funding Pool Description 2012–2017 Funding Amount (including match)
Regional ITS Pool Funds ITS projects that implement the adopted Regional Intelligent Transportation Systems Strategic Plan. $4,124,000
Regional TDM Program Pool Funds projects that promote alternative transportation mode use, with the intent to reduce mobile source emissions. $6,985,000
Regional TDM Program Pool Funds 1) capital improvements to signal systems in the region, defined in the Update to Traffic Signal System Improvement Program (adopted by DRCOG in August 2010); 2) traffic signal timing and coordination work; and 3) traffic signal system engineering and design. $14,800,000

There is a project selection process for each for these three funding operations programs within the TIP. Most ITS, TDM, and TSSIP projects are only eligible for the pool project selection processes and not the general TIP project selection process. However, two types of projects are exceptions18:

  • Traffic signal system/coordination projects over $1,000,000 in Federal funds that have been approved for submittal by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) and the Metro Vision Issues Committee (MVIC), and
  • TDM projects over $200,000 in Federal funds, with letters of support from affected local governments.

Intelligent Transportation Systems Program Pool

The ITS program pool projects are selected through a consensus-based process led by DRCOG's Regional Transportation Operations Working Group, an ongoing, collaborative forum for operations in the Denver region. Projects submitted for ITS funding are scored using a unique set of criteria. The working group relies on the operations investment priorities based on those specified in the RCTO and the Denver Regional ITS Strategic Plan in making their decisions.

The specific priorities used to select Fiscal Year (FY) 2012 and FY 2013 projects were:

  1. Projects that prepare and implement inter-jurisdictional coordinated operations.
  2. Projects that expand traffic monitoring and traveler information systems.
  3. Projects that implement upgraded software or infrastructure to specifically support incident management.
  4. Projects that implement and enhance transit signal priority.

As part of the application process, sponsors were requested to estimate person-hours of travel (PHT) savings to subsequently prioritize projects (by benefit-cost ratio) in the same priority category.

The ITS program pool is funded with CMAQ funds. An example of an ITS pool project funded with FY 2012-2013 funds is the Denver Federal Blvd Traveler Information System "to monitor in real-time, the traffic and travel conditions on Federal Blvd between Alameda and Interstate 70" ($370,000).19

Regional Transportation Demand Management Program Pool

DRCOG also manages a regional TDM program, which provides funding for strategies aimed at reducing single-occupant vehicle travel, varying travel time of day, shortening or eliminating trips, and providing multimodal travel opportunities such as ridesharing, vanpooling, transit, bicycling, and walking. The DRCOG Regional TDM Short Range Plan (2012-2016) defines TDM regional stakeholders, roles, policies, and strategies within the context of the larger DRCOG vision.

Projects for the TDM pool are also selected using a collaborative group of stakeholders. Once projects are submitted, a TDM Project Review Panel comprised of TDM experts and DRCOG staff members evaluates the projects according to the scoring criteria given in the table below. Following the scoring process, the TDM Project Review Panel makes recommendations for projects to be funded.

A total of $2.15 million in Federal funds is available from the TDM pool for FY 2014-2015. The minimum project funding request is $80,000, and the recommended target maximum is $300,000 total over a 2 year period.20

TDM projects funded through the pool must adhere to the Federal CMAQ Final Program Guidelines. Evaluation scoring criteria for the TDM pool are as follows.21

Table 7. TDM Evaluation Criteria for the FY 2014-15 TDM Pool.
Evaluation Factor Point Allocation
Reviewed by Project Review Panel
Level of Innovation and Uniqueness 15 points awarded to totally new (market/connections/project type) and extremely unique project; 1 point to project that does not reach new market or is continuation of existing service/project/campaign
Project Readiness 5 points awarded if project sponsor is ready to go; 1 point if sponsor is just getting started/extensive additional coordination is required
Timing/synergy of Projects 5 points awarded if project brings immediate benefits/links to major roadway/rapid transit project; 1 point if benefits are several years out/no links to roadway/rapid transit project
Motor Vehicle Trip Reduction Potential 15 points awarded if high trip reduction is expected (> 150,000 trips/year); 1 point if low trip reduction is expected (< 20,000 trips/year)
VMT Reduction Potential 15 points awarded if high VMT reduction is expected (> 1.5 million miles/year); 1 point if low reduction is expected (< 100,000 miles/year)
Cost-Effectiveness (Cost/VMT reduction) Potential 5 points awarded to projects with high results expected/lower cost; 1 point awarded to projects with low results expected/higher cost 
Other Factors/Intangibles 7 points to project sponsors with established quality of project performance, pertinent project partnerships, cooperation with Regional TDM Program, etc.
Scored by DRCOG Staff
User Base Points awarded if population or/and employment are to be reached directly through this project in the specific project area
Environmental Justice (EJ) Area 5 points to project entirely in EJ area; 3 points to project partially in EJ area, or that serves defined population away from project; 1 point to project that does not serve any EJ area
Congestion Level Within Project Area 10 points to project in high congestion area; 1 point to project in low congestion area
Serves DRCOG Designated Urban Center (UC) 5 points awarded if project strongly serves/focuses on established UCs; 1 point if no UCs are involved
Type of Local Match 3 points awarded to all cash; 1 point to any "in kind"

Traffic Signal System Improvement Program (TSSIP) Pool

The purpose of TSSIP is to work with CDOT and local governments to coordinate traffic signals in the region to reduce congestion and improve air quality. Through the TSSIP, DRCOG identifies corridors to retime, develops and fine-tunes timing plans, and documents improvements and benefits. In turn, the operating agencies are responsible for maintaining and operating their signals, maintaining the timing, and reviewing and approving plans. The implementation program consists of four categories of activities:

Capital improvements and special projects

  • Contingency and miscellaneous equipment purchases
  • Signal timing and coordination
  • System engineering and design22

The TSSIP investment program is updated every 3 to 4 years through a collaborative planning process involving representatives from the region's operating agencies. Projects are prioritized based on general consensus from TSSIP stakeholder group and DRCOG on the following factors:

  • "The criticality of the need (higher priority assigned to corridors/projects addressing key signals not on system, insufficient communications, and/or obsolete systems)
  • Cost effectiveness (lower priority assigned to improvements with a high cost per signal)
  • The importance of the corridor (priority based on roadway classifications)
  • Strategic communications links
  • Local priorities and synergies among projects23

After each project is implemented, DRCOG evaluates and documents the benefits of the project. These summaries can be found in the Annual Benefits Summary24 and are also contributed to CDOT's CMAQ Reporter in order to comply with CMAQ regulations and promote the benefits of the region's investment in signal improvements. Benefits are clearly delimited in terms of

  • Travel Time Reduction (Hours/Day).
  • Fuel Consumption Reduction (Gallons/Day).
  • Pollution Emissions Reduction (Pounds/Day).
  • Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Pounds/Day).
  • User Savings (Dollars/Day).

Operations Staffing

Support from DRCOG staff for planning for operations is typically funded through the UPWP. Staff support from DRCOG for signal timing and other engineering activities associated with the TSSIP is funded through the CMAQ program. The UPWP provides staff support to several areas of planning for operations, including:

  • DRCOG CMP. The objective of this activity is to conduct the region's ongoing multimodal and multi-approach CMP, including updating the DRCOG Congestion Mitigation Program data, evaluating key bottlenecks in partnership with CDOT, and incorporating congestion information into project selection and evaluation for the TIP and Regional Transportation Plan.25
  • Regional Transportation Operations. The staff support activities under this area include providing a regional operations perspective to the planning process, holding regular operations stakeholder meetings to support the implementation of the RCTO, and ensuring that projects comply with the Regional ITS Architecture. The activities for 2013 include conducting the project selection processes for the Regional ITS Pool for FY2014 and FY2015 and revising the Regional ITS Deployment Program to direct deployment through the Regional ITS Program Pool.26
  • Regional TDM Planning. The objective of this activity is to "facilitate and monitor the provision of travel demand management services and projects consistent with the 2035 MVRTP.27 This includes assisting with completion and monitoring of projects funded through the TIP Regional TDM Pool (including activities of the Regional TDM Program), conducting the project selection process for the Regional TDM Pool for FY2016 and FY2017, and preparing a summary report on progress, status, and outcomes of the TDM Program and Pool.

DRCOG has been successful in implementing operations projects throughout the Denver region. The separation of funding for operations into specific funding pools has helped to ensure the use of Federal funds dedicated to operations, which provides flexibility for project selection separate of other funding demands. Additionally, DRCOG relies on documented strategies for regional operations and a highly collaborative, consensus-based operations project selection process. DRCOG has created an atmosphere in which operators are working together on a consensus basis rather than a competitive basis. This is especially true with the development of an RCTO, which focuses disparate efforts of individual jurisdictions around the region. Already, DRCOG has witnessed individual regions delaying project deployment in favor of neighboring jurisdictions in an effort to work together.

Although there is a strong cooperative spirit in the Denver region, joint operations project submissions are rarely received by DRCOG. The localities have expressed that it is challenging to collaborate with other jurisdictions as part of the application development process. This is especially true for ITS Pool projects, which require systems engineering analysis activities prior to completing the application. Instead of collaborating with other localities, sponsors seek partnership with DRCOG staff to assist with collaborative project development.

For More Information

Contact Greg MacKinnon
TIP Link

13 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Metro Vision 2035 Plan, January 2011. Available at: Return to note 13.

14 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Regional Transportation Operations Strategy, October 2010. Available at: Return to note 14.

15 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Regional Concept of Transportation Operations, August 20112. Available at: Return to note 15.

16 Denver Regional Council of Governments, DRCOG Regional TDM Short Range Plan (2012-2016), June 2012. Available at: Return to note 16.

17 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Metro Vision 2035 Plan, January 2011. Available at: Return to note 17.

18 Denver Regional Council of Governments, TIP Preparation Policy, May 2013. Available at: Return to note 18.

19 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Fiscal Year 2012-2013 ITS Pool Application Submissions, November 2011. Available at: Return to note 19.

20 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Regional Travel Demand Management Pool Call for Projects, 2013. Available at: Return to note 20.

21 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Table 1 TDM Evaluation Criteria for the FY 2014-15 TDM Pool, April 2013. Available at: Return to note 21.

22 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Traffic Signal System Improvement Program, August 2010. Available at: Return to note 22.

23 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Traffic Signal System Improvement Program, August 2010. Available at: Return to note 23.

24 Denver Regional Council of Governments, Traffic Operations Program Projects Completed in Calendar Year 2013. Available at: Return to note 24.

25 Denver Regional Council of Governments, FY 2014 and 2015 Unified Planning Work Program for the Denver Region, July 2013. Available at: Return to note 25.

26 Denver Regional Council of Governments, FY 2012 and 2013 Unified Planning Work Program for the Denver Region, May 2012. Available at: Return to note 26.

27 Denver Regional Council of Governments, FY 2014 and 2015 Unified Planning Work Program for the Denver Region, July 2013. Available at: Return to note 27.

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