Office of Operations
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 2. The Rationale for Transportation Systems Management and Operations Program Planning

While State, local, and regional agencies address transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) in a variety of ways, in many cases, TSMO has not been identified as a primary focus within an organization. Even in cases where TSMO has been elevated as a priority for an agency, it has often been acknowledged strategically (e.g., incorporated into goals) or in terms of specific needs, investments, or activities, but has not been mainstreamed into the agency's organizational responsibilities and business processes.

As noted in a series of white papers on "Improving Transportation System Management and Operations," research conducted through the Second Strategic Highway Research (SHRP2) Program determined that agencies with the most effective TSMO activities were differentiated not by budgets or technical skills alone, but by the existence of critical processes and institutional arrangements focused on TSMO applications. The significance of this finding was validated in over 40 State and regional self-assessment workshops.1

Agencies with the most effective TSMO activities were differentiated not by budgets or technical skills alone, but through the existence of critical processes and institutional arrangements focused on TSMO applications.

These assessments found that few States or regions had developed plans that describe TSMO activities comprehensively. While many States have plans for specific TSMO services, projects, and activities, such as ITS plans, traffic incident management plans, emergency response plans, or special event plans, these plans do not describe the role of TSMO in support of the agency's mission and do not address all TSMO functions. TSMO planning and budgeting have been largely limited to specific projects or initiatives, and initiatives have been limited based on available funding and program status.

Although some agencies have begun to elevate operations objectives, the business case for TSMO is not widely understood at the State or regional level. At the same time, emerging technology applications and approaches, such as integrated corridor management (ICM), active transportation and demand management (ATDM), and connected vehicles, highlight the need and value of a systematic approach to TSMO planning. Consequently, many of the action plans coming out of the SHRP2 self-assessment efforts identified the development of a TSMO program plan as a key action to guide organizations in advancing the institutional focus on TSMO.

TSMO operations program plan lays out the important role of TSMO in the agency. It describes what the TSMO program seeks to accomplish, including strategic goals, objectives, and focus areas. As importantly, it describes how the organization is structured and how work is accomplished toward those objectives, who is involved and their roles; and what resources are needed and will be deployed. It may also include identification of investment priorities to support desired performance outcomes.

A TSMO program planning process guides development of the structure, resources, business processes, and decision support systems needed to deliver the strategic vision for TSMO. Although a TSMO program plan is not required by Federal law, State and regional transportation agencies benefit from developing TSMO program plans to better mainstream TSMO within their agencies and to set priorities for activities and investments. Moreover, the TSMO program plan defines the programmatic structure for organizing activities, functions, and the workforce to accomplish the goals and objectives of the TSMO program.

A TSMO program plan, and the process of TSMO program planning, helps agencies in many ways, as described below.

Creating a Transportation Systems Management and Operations Mission

TSMO program planning can play a vital role in creating a TSMO mission within an agency by clearly articulating how TSMO supports the state or regional vision and the agency's core purpose. Specifically, a TSMO program plan:

  • Articulates the benefits of TSMO across the organization (or "business case"), including to departments not directly involved in operations, to help facilitate culture change and increase support.
  • Describes the importance of TSMO to the organization's mission, and clarifies the linkages between TSMO activities and goals and objectives found in the long-range statewide transportation plan (LRSTP) or metropolitan transportation plan (MTP).
  • Describes the connections between TSMO activities and other agency plans (e.g., asset management plan, strategic highway safety plan, etc.), as well as agency processes, such as the congestion management process, ITS architecture, and regional concept for transportation operations.
  • Defines strategic goals and objectives.

Similar to developing a Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), which brings together the wide range of stakeholders involved in traffic safety across functional areas of the State department of transportation (DOT) and external partners (e.g., law enforcement, emergency management, and local governments), a State or regional TSMO program plan helps to focus agencies, their partners, and other stakeholders on strategies to improve transportation system performance, including mobility, reliability, and travel choices. As a result, the culture of the agency becomes more focused on TSMO, and TSMO considerations are integrated into all aspects of the agency, including long-range planning, specialized planning (e.g., freight planning, corridor planning), programming, project development and design, asset management, as well other program areas (e.g., safety, environment).

Sustaining and Institutionalizing the Transportation Systems Management and Operations Mission

By formalizing a TSMO program plan, the organization helps ensure that initiatives are not simply reactive or subject to leadership changes but are institutionalized. A TSMO program plan:

  • Identifies how TSMO responsibilities are integrated into the responsibilities of key organizational units, outlines interactions with stakeholders, and establishes mechanisms for setting priorities.
  • Provides an explanation of roles, responsibilities, and business capabilities for advancing TSMO within the organization or geographic area, and can support consideration of organizational changes that are needed to most effectively undertake TSMO functions.
  • Supports organizational decision-making and prioritization of investments and actions.
  • Identifies staffing expertise and workforce development needs for advancing TSMO practices.
  • Creates a consistent and common understanding and approach for coordinating TSMO program planning across partner agencies (including with local jurisdictions, transit agencies, and other partners involved in operations).

TSMO program planning is an active business administration and program management activity that is likely to be particularly vital during periods of rapid change caused by changes in leadership, expansion or contraction of available fiscal or human resources, staff turnover, changes in technology, or changes in programmatic emphasis (e.g., Towards Zero Deaths, transportation system resiliency, sustainability). A TSMO program plan provides an agency with a well-defined organizational structure and series of processes and procedures to sustain the TSMO mission.

Supporting Effective Program Delivery

TSMO program planning not only creates and sustains a TSMO mission within the agency but also helps to ensure effective delivery of TSMO program services by identifying the financial and staff resources needed and developing procedures for prioritizing TSMO investment needs. Specifically, TSMO program planning:

  • Includes discussion of tactical considerations associated with implementation of the plan, including identification of funding needs and sources, deployment activities, and responsible parties.
  • Identifies program and project priorities, often including investment needs in relation to technology deployment, program implementation, and maintenance.
  • Identifies performance measures for tracking ongoing progress toward strategic goals and objectives, as well as mechanisms for reporting on performance outcomes.

Moreover, with the rapid advances in technology that are taking place in the transportation industry, including connected and autonomous vehicles, new shared mobility options, and opportunities to more actively manage travel demand, TSMO program planning helps an agency to look beyond "today" to position for what is coming in the near future. It helps the organization to consider how system management and operations functions, roles, and needs are changing and better prepare to integrate new data sources, technologies, and approaches into the agency's investments and programs.

Responding to Unique Needs and Issues

There is no one-size-fits-all structure of a TSMO program plan, and a TSMO program plan may look different for a State DOT or MPO or other organization.

  • For a State DOT, a TSMO program plan can help the agency to assess challenges it experiences in managing and operating the State's transportation system and define the organizational structure, workforce needs, partnerships, and strategies needed to deliver an effective TSMO program.
  • Given the role of an MPO as a planning agency, the mission for a TSMO program at an MPO may focus on regional coordination and collaboration and prioritization of TSMO investments and services in plans and programs, rather than on service delivery. An MPO can develop a TSMO program plan as part of (or in coordination with) the congestion management plan (CMP) to create a common vision and organizational structure for advancing TSMO within the region.
  • A TSMO program plan could also be developed by a local DOT or other organization, such as a transit agency or regional operations organization, to help guide activities, investments, and responsibilities.

The process of and outcomes associated with developing a TSMO program plan help support the organization to better meet its customers' needs. A TSMO program plan provides the structure by which the organization coordinates to deliver enhanced system performance as a part of its mission. It serves as a business plan for TSMO activities, supporting organizational decisions and processes needed to proactively manage a safe, efficient, and reliable transportation system. As a result, TSMO program planning is a vital component of integrating TSMO into the culture of a transportation agency.

1 For information on the white papers, see Federal Highway Administration, "Organizing for Operations" web page at: https://ops.fhwa. [ Return to note 1. ]

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