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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

North Central Texas Council of Governments (Dallas–Ft. Worth, Texas)

Agency Overview


MPO Population: 6.4 million
CMAQ Funding: Nonattainment
TSMO Dedicated Funding: Yes
Dedicated Operations Staff: 3 FTE
Programmed Operations Funding: $4 million per year
TSMO included in UPWP: Yes

The North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) is the MPO for the Dallas-Fort Worth region, which spans twelve counties in north central Texas. The region has a complex network of limited access freeways, including a number of toll roads and managed lanes, which require a strong emphasis on management and operations. NCTCOG plays an important coordinating role between FHWA, Texas DOT (TxDOT), toll authorities, and hundreds of local governments.

NCTCOG defines operations as devices and personnel that allow planners and engineers to optimize the efficiency of a corridor. Examples of operations projects that meet this definition include ITS infrastructure, signal upgrades and timing, and TDM. In general, NCTCOG includes capital and operational projects in the TIP. Administration, implementation, and outreach activities related to TDM, air quality, and streamlined project delivery projects have become more common in recent years. Lifecycle costs are considered in the project cost estimates.

Funding Programs

NCTCOG has several funding streams at its disposal to fund TSMO projects, including Federal, local, and public-private sources. Federal funding consists of two main programs: STP and CMAQ. CMAQ is more restrictive than STP, because it can only be used for projects that directly improve air quality. NCTCOG generally assigns CMAQ funds to projects that qualify for the program first, leaving the STP funds for other activities. Matching funds for Federal programs are obtained through local partners, State match or Transportation Development Credits (also known as Toll Credits).39 Federal funds can be used for TSMO purposes and often fare well in project selection, because of cost efficiency and return on investment. Federal, State and local funds are often dedicated to TSMO projects.

NCTCOG has a significant local source of funding from the Regional Toll Revenue (RTR) Program. This program was created when the North Texas Tollway Authority (NTTA) bought the right to finance, develop, construct, operate, and maintain the Sam Rayburn Tollway. Since that time, funding has been added to the RTR program from private-sector partners through concessionaire contracts, loan repayments, revenue sharing on certain toll collection projects, and interest on the RTR pool. Annual funding for RTR projects varies based on proposals for eligible projects. The fund has grown to over $3.6 billion. TSMO projects are eligible for RTR funding, and most toll roads have operational infrastructure included in initial construction.

Project Selection

There are two pathways to project selection for TSMO projects and other types of projects.40 These projects undergo less technical review, because they were already identified as a priority in the metropolitan transportation planning process. Most projects, however, must go through a competitive proposal and technical evaluation process associated with different programs and Federal funding categories.

Since 1992, NCTCOG has selected projects using a performance-based selection process. The selection process involves developing regional selection criteria to evaluate projects both on their individual merits and for their impact on the regional transportation system. A call for projects is issued to stakeholders in the region. Thus, local governments and other public entities are able to propose projects for funding using a formal application process.

Selection of NCTCOG ITS Project Selection Criteria.  The figure includes three categories: eligibility, technical, and strategic.

Figure 4. ITS Project Selection Criteria.

There are separate project selection criteria for the following types of TSMO projects: a) Intersection Improvements; b) ITS; and c) Traffic Signal Improvements. Those proposing projects fill out an application. NCTCOG staff then evaluate the merits of the project using criteria and weights identified in the call for projects. Figure 4 shows a portion of the project selection criteria for ITS projects. The first step in evaluating a project is to determine eligibility (shown in yellow). The second step evaluates whether the project meets the strategic mission of the agency (shown in orange). The third step includes 26 criteria (blue; all rows are not shown) designed to measure the technical merits of the project. A set of recommended projects is then prioritized using the results of this technical evaluation, while also considering geographic equality.

Programming Documents

NCTCOG makes use of "regional funding pools" for certain types of projects or programs. In this method of programming, funding is identified for a specific type of project, but individual projects are not yet known. The source and amount of funds are set aside in advance for expenditure over a span of several years. The timeframe for expenditure often approximates the time horizon of the TIP, but there is not a direct relationship. At any point, an individual project can be identified and funded from the regional funding pool. When a project is identified, the TIP is amended to include full project information, including a project description, funding amounts, and funding timeframe(s). The cost of the project is deducted from the regional funding pool. Identification of a new project requires approval by FHWA and TxDOT through the TIP/STIP revision process.

An example of a regional funding pool is NCTCOG's "Regional ITS Funding Pool." This program draws together funding committed to ITS from multiple sources, including Federal, State, local, and private sources. The pool can be used to pay for capital costs of ITS infrastructure, active operation, or life cycle costs associated with maintaining and replacing components. .  Project needs are identified through analysis of data collected through performance monitoring of the system.


Much of NCTCOG's operations activities are staff-led, and funding is found in the UPWP.  This includes projects that are Federally funded, such as data collection and special events coordination, and items that are not Federally funded, like vanpool matching.

NCTCOG's staff is highly integrated. No staff are completely dedicated to management and operations. Instead, project teams are assembled as needed for TSMO activities. NCTCOG has a planning team that focuses on traditional transportation planning and project implementation. Other teams focus on facilitating interlocal agreements, public private partnerships, and interlocal coordination of operations activities.

NCTCOG plays an important role in coordinating the TSMO efforts of multiple agencies. TxDOT has three Districts within the region, with the two largest Districts (Dallas and Fort Worth) each having their own TMCs. NTTA also maintains a TMC. Concessionaires of public–private partnership facilities are responsible for operation of their facility. Sixteen counties and 230 municipalities are responsible for maintenance, incident response, and law enforcement. Cities over 50,000 people have traffic signal operations centers. NCTCOG consolidates all of the information generated by these agencies and uses it in the planning process. Further, NCTCOG facilitates interagency cooperation.

Public–Private Involvement

The NCTCOG region is notable for the strong role of private sector involvement in transportation infrastructure construction and operation. The NTTA is a State–chartered toll road operator that plans to operate 1,435 lane–miles of toll roads in the region by 2035, nearly 21 percent of the region's limited access highways. NTTA maintains its own TMC and performs routine maintenance and upgrades to its roadways. Local governments are responsible for law enforcement within their jurisdictional boundaries along NTTA's facilities.

Private dollars are important beyond construction and maintenance of toll roads and managed lanes. Concession and other tolling agreements have generated large amounts of funding for traditional investment in the transportation system. A portion of the RTR funds are invested in TSMO improvements to the existing system.

Lessons Learned

  • Private investment can introduce complexity to the roles and responsibilities in management and operation of the system. Further, public–private partnerships can be a significant source of funding for non–tolled facilities.
  • Project decisionmaking can be deferred by identifying pools of funding in the TIP. Decisions on which projects to fund can be made later, as needs become more apparent.

For More Information


Natalie Bettger (Management and Operations)

Christie J. Gotti (Funding)


39 Transportation Development Credits require the active participation of the State DOT, and can only be used in states with active toll roads. For more information, see FTA Circular 9010.1.D: Return to note 39.

40 An example of this includes RTR funds. A call is issued for projects that fit with RTR eligibility.Return to note 40.

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