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

Maricopa Association of Governments (Phoenix, Arizona)


FAQs about MAG

MPO Population: 3.8 million
TSMO Dedicated Funding: Yes
Dedicated Operations Staff: 2 FTE
TSMO included in UPWP: Yes

The Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) is the MPO for the Phoenix metropolitan area. MAG is comprised of 27 incorporated cities and towns within Maricopa County and urbanized areas in two adjacent counties, as well as three Native American communities. In the past four decades, Maricopa County has experienced considerable population growth – Phoenix was the 20th largest city in the United States in the 1970s and is now the 6th largest34. The population for Maricopa County is expected to steadily increase through 2050.35

With no major freeway system expansion slated for the near future, MAG is committed to improving the region's existing transportation system through safer and more efficient system operations. This is reflected in the goals of the current draft 2035 Regional Transportation Plan, which lists system preservation and safety as one of its key goals. MAG groups all operations related projects under the project category ITS.

MAG was one of the country's early leaders in planning for operations. Since 1996 the MPO has integrated ITS projects into its regional transportation planning process. This concerted approach to system management and operations is further supported by a Regional ITS Strategic Plan that identifies targeted areas for future investments, an RCTO that provides a plan for more fully utilizing investments in operations projects, and the CMP, which works to incorporate congestion mitigation strategies into the planning and programming process.

Project Prioritization and Selection Process

The region's ITS infrastructure projects are divided into two categories, freeway and arterial, with separate funding streams for each: MAG is responsible for programming of regional funds for all freeway and arterial ITS projects, and all these projects are included in the TIP. Selection of 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 projects do not compete with other transportation projects for funding. Since 1998, MAG has had a dedicated funding stream for ITS projects. Although most of the ITS projects are funded with CMAQ funds received by the region, several other regional transportation funding sources are applied as well. The Arizona DOT (ADOT) is responsible for the actual construction of freeway ITS projects.

MAG's ITS project selection process includes extensive involvement from various policy and technical committees, as well as the public. First, MAG solicits project applications, which are reviewed by the ITS Committee and the Transportation Review Committee (TRC). The ITS Committee, comprised entirely of ITS professionals representing member agencies, is responsible for regional ITS planning and is supported by MPO technical staff. All proposed ITS projects are reviewed by the ITS Committee and recommended for funding and inclusion in the TIP. This recommendation is reviewed by the TRC, which is comprised of high–level transportation staff from member agencies and is the primary committee responsible for assembling and recommending the TIP. During the project review phase, the ITS Committee reviews and ranks applications for operations projects. This committee includes representatives from 15 member agencies, as well as ADOT, Arizona Department of Public Safety, Regional Public Transit Authority, METRO Rail, Arizona State University, and FHWA. The Air Quality Committee evaluates all proposed ITS projects for emission reduction potential and provides this as input to the project review process.

The recommendation of proposed projects generated by the TRC is further reviewed and recommended by the Management Committee, comprised of city and town managers of member agencies. The Regional Council, comprised primarily of mayors of member agencies, provides the final approval of projects to be funded and included in the draft TIP. The overall programming process from the initial call for projects to Regional Council approval takes about six months.

The draft TIP is then compiled and released for public review. During the public review period, MAG hosts an open house and public meeting. Public comments are incorporated into the Final TIP, and MAG holds another open house and public meeting for additional review. Program managers, the TRC and TPC approve the final TIP, which is then sent to a designee appointed by the Governor for final approval.

Funding Sources for TSMO Projects

MAG's 2011–2015 TIP programs $7.4 billion worth of projects.36 Out of this, about $105 million is slated for ITS projects (both freeway and arterial), and almost half was programmed by the MPO for arterial ITS projects. Funding for ITS comes from a number of sources:

  • Federal (FHWA and Federal Transit Administration): CMAQ and STP.
  • State: Highway User Revenue Fund (from gasoline and fuel taxes, vehicle license tax, registration fees, etc.)
  • Local: Highway User Revenue Fund (local apportionment), and other local sources (bonds, general funds, etc.)

The types of ITS projects planned and funded by the MPO include: the Freeway Management System operated by the ADOT, Freeway Service Patrol operated by the Department of Public Safety (DPS), transportation management centers (TMCs) at 12 local agencies, cameras and dynamic messaging signs. 37 Lifecycle costs are paid by the local agencies (i.e. staff time, maintenance, etc.), and MAG does not track these expenditures.

Lessons Learned

  • While the region has deployed a range of operations projects, local agencies continue to struggle to secure adequate funding for staffing. This is a challenge, because sophisticated ITS systems alone cannot help manage congestion issues. All these systems are highly dependent on skilled staff to operate them on a day–to–day basis. Hiring skilled operations staff and providing them with training, tools and other resources to perform their jobs is critical to getting the maximum benefit out of regional investments that are being made in the transportation system.
  • Diversifying funding sources for operations projects is a sound programming strategy. Having multiple streams of funding to rely on helps to ensure that the operations program is more resilient to funding cuts.

For More Information

Contact Sarath Joshua
Transportation Programming Guidebook (FY 2013)
TIP Link
Regional Transportation Plan
MAG's ITS Committee

34 United States Census Bureau, Top 20 Cities, July 2012. Available at: Return to note 34.

35 Arizona Department of Administration, "2012–2015 State and County Population Projections," Population Projections. Available at: Return to note 35.

36 Maricopa Association of Governments, FY2011-2015 Transportation Improvement Program, July 2010. Available at: Return to note 36.

37 Ibid. Return to note 37.

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