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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Developing and Sustaining a Transportation Systems Management & Operations Mission for Your Organization: A Primer For Program Planning

Chapter 1. Introduction to Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Planning

Historically, transportation agencies were organized to deliver infrastructure capacity as the core mission. State and local departments of transportation (DOT) traditionally focused on capital project planning, design, construction, and maintenance, with limited emphasis and resources applied to managing and operating the transportation systems. Similarly, metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) grew out of a need to plan for and program funding for infrastructure projects. This focus is now changing rapidly, and transportation agencies at all levels increasingly recognize the importance of transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) activities to their core mission.

Transportation systems management and operations focuses on actively managing the multimodal transportation network to deliver positive safety and mobility outcomes.

With road capacity largely built out in urban areas and transportation funding in limited supply, State and local DOTs and MPOs are turning to cost-effective, near-term TSMO solutions to address customer needs. The public and elected officials now expect existing transportation networks to be seamlessly optimized without regard to jurisdictional boundaries. Increasingly, the public has access to real-time traffic and transit information and expects agencies to use technology to help reduce traffic congestion and improve coordination of multimodal transportation services.

Moreover, nonrecurring events such as incidents, construction, special events, and weather conditions are responsible for a significant portion of travel delays. Consequently, improved condition monitoring and detection of disruptions, coordination across transportation agencies, and communication with the public and agency partners such as emergency responders can yield significant improvements in system performance and benefits to customers, including the traveling public, freight shippers, and communities.

To be effectively implemented, transportation systems management and operations should be recognized and structured as a core function of a transportation agency—more than simply a strategy or ad hoc set of activities, it is a cohesive program that is vital to the mission of the agency.

An integrated program focused on TSMO offers opportunities to improve system performance through multimodal, intermodal, and cross-jurisdictional systems, services, and projects that preserve capacity, enhance public safety and security, enhance seamless connections between modes, and improve reliability. Effective TSMO relies upon institutional arrangements and processes within agencies to shift the focus to managing transportation systems in order to optimize performance. Collaboration among functional areas within a transportation agency, including planning, project development, traffic engineering, maintenance, and safety, is a fundamental element of TSMO. Collaboration among partner agencies—including State DOTs, MPOs, transit agencies, local jurisdictions, toll authorities, and law enforcement—to implement integrated corridor management, transit signal priority, and other strategies and to coordinate for special events and emergency management functions is also key to a successful TSMO program. More than simply a strategy or set of activities, TSMO is recognized as a core part of the mission of a transportation organization and should be supported by clear organizational roles, responsibilities, and business processes.

TSMO program planning is an effective practice for making TSMO a part of the mission of a transportation organization. TSMO program planning involves strategic, programmatic, and tactical elements. It involves the organizational business process and discipline of regularly assessing, enhancing, and documenting:

Transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) program planning facilitates integration and mainstreaming of TSMO within a transportation organization to support the new and evolving roles and responsibilities of these organizations. The process of TSMO program planning identifies the strategic, programmatic, and tactical elements needed to advance TSMO as a critical part of the agency's mission.
  • The relationship of TSMO to the agency mission and the fundamental reasons or business case for organizational commitment to TSMO.
  • The organizational structure and business processes to administer TSMO as a core program area.
  • The services, programs, technologies, and infrastructure to which an organization or geographic area commits to implement in order to support achievement of performance outcomes.

A TSMO program plan is the documented outcome of this process.

Purpose of this Primer

The purpose of this primer is to help State DOTs, MPOs, and regional operations organizations understand the rationale for and the key elements of successful TSMO program planning. The primer is intended to help agencies understand:

  • Why is TSMO program planning important? How can it benefit a transportation agency or region?
  • What are key elements of effective TSMO program planning, and what steps or activities should be taken?
  • What would an effective TSMO program plan look like?

This primer is designed to help transportation agencies increase the quality, effectiveness, and consistency in TSMO program plans, while being flexible to reflect the different needs of diverse States and regions based on their unique contexts and existing capabilities.

Who Should Use the Primer?

This primer is written for a broad audience, and can assist several types of agencies:

  • State DOTs – While State DOTs have traditionally been project-oriented, a TSMO program can expand that orientation to focus on a range of operational and management strategies to optimize system performance. TSMO programs incorporate skills and capabilities of project delivery with effective systems management, traffic operations, technological innovations, and other activities that improve travel safety and reliability, enhance traveler information and user experience, and maximize the agency's return on capital investments. As a result, TSMO program planning helps the agency develop a common vision, organize and prioritize TSMO activities, and create a structure for advancing TSMO effectiveness.
  • MPOs – As planning agencies, MPOs typically do not manage or operate the transportation system. However, they play a critical role in planning for investments, facilitating regional coordination and collaboration, and providing direction and focus on common goals. Consequently, an MPO-led TSMO program at a regional level can address the organizational issues and structure for ensuring a focus on TSMO within the region, and establish priorities that can feed into the metropolitan transportation plan (MTP) and transportation improvement program (TIP).
  • Local/regional operations organizations, including transit agencies – Some areas have regional operations organizations, which are structured specifically to support communication and collaboration among transportation agencies for effective TSMO, such as by coordinating construction management, incident management, emergency management, and traveler information services. Transit agencies also operate services and may benefit by conducting TSMO program planning to define the strategic vision and goals for the organization, institutional structures, and priorities. In addition, local jurisdictions often work together to implement traffic signal coordination programs and other TSMO initiatives, and often are key stakeholders within a State or regional TSMO program planning effort.

This document acknowledges that the roles different types of organizations play in TSMO vary, and no single approach to TSMO program planning or a TSMO program plan is appropriate for every organization. Moreover, organizations operate in a wide array of contexts in terms of agency size and staffing, transportation challenges being faced (e.g., levels of traffic congestion, road weather conditions, multimodal options, rural/urban conditions), level of sophistication with TSMO, and existing organizational structure around TSMO.

How to Use the Primer?

This primer introduces the concept of TSMO program planning. However, the primer is not a "cookbook," or a step-by-step set of directions to be implemented sequentially. It identifies a high- level approach for TSMO program planning within transportation agencies and is organized around key elements of this TSMO program planning model.

Users are encouraged to view the primer as a general approach, which can be adapted to specific circumstances and issues within the organization or region. The primer also provides examples of effective practices. It is organized into the following sections:

  • Introduction to TSMO Program Planning (Section 1): Provides an introduction to the primer topic, purpose, and organization.
  • The Rationale for TSMO Program Planning (Section 2): Highlights why TSMO program planning is important for advancing TSMO within an organization and how a TSMO program plan benefits transportation agencies.
  • The Evolution and Current Practice of TSMO Program Planning (Section 3): Provides background on the origins of TSMO program planning, early efforts to define a framework for TSMO program planning, and how the approach described in this document builds on best practices.
  • Key Elements of TSMO Program Planning (Section 4): Identifies and describes three key elements of TSMO program planning – strategic, programmatic, and tactical – and how activities associated with these elements can be documented within a TSMO program plan.
  • Strategic Elements: Setting Clear Direction and Common Understanding (Section 5): Describes the early, foundational component of TSMO program planning, including the identification of TSMO as a key part of the agency mission or regional vision, and development of strategic goals and objectives. This section may be particularly helpful for agencies without a formal TSMO program or those with a need to elevate the understanding of TSMO within the organization.
  • Programmatic Elements: Organizing, Staffing, and Developing Processes to Advance TSMO (Section 6): Describes the core programmatic component of TSMO program planning associated with creating the organizational and process structure for institutionalizing TSMO with an agency. This section may be particularly useful for agencies that have already defined strategic goals and objectives for TSMO but need to focus on program structure, workforce development, and staff and financial planning.
  • Tactical Elements: Identifying Priority Services, Activities, and Projects (Section 7): Describes the final component of TSMO program planning, where priority services and programs are defined more specifically, and a near-term action plan for implementation is developed. This section helps agencies that already have defined the programmatic structure for their TSMO program and are ready to define more specific services, activities, and projects for implementation.
  • Guiding Principles to Advance TSMO Program Planning for Your Organization (Section 8): Identifies guiding principles for any agency to keep in focus in developing a TSMO program plan.
  • Resources (Section 9): Lists resources available for supporting TSMO program planning, and sample statewide and regional TSMO program plans.
Question mark
Throughout, the document asks prompting questions to help agencies and organizations evaluate their current status and guide development of a program plan that meets users' needs. These questions are called out from the text with the graphic (at left).
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