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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 5. Strategic Elements: Setting Clear Direction and Common Understanding

The strategic component of transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) program planning provides a clear, common understanding of what the agency is trying to accomplish and how TSMO fits within its mission. It answers questions of "why" TSMO is important, provides a high-level vision of "what" the agency seeks to achieve, and makes the case for TSMO. It includes some assessment of current conditions and future challenges and identifies high-level strategic goals and objectives, or focus areas for the TSMO program.

Transportation systems management and operations (TSMO) program planning starts with defining a high-level strategic business case for TSMO and clearly defining TSMO as a core part of the agency's mission and vision. It involves development of strategic goals and objectives for TSMO within the organization.

A State department of transportation (DOT) or operations organization should identify and explain how TSMO aligns with the department's mission, goals, and objectives and the specific challenges that TSMO can address. A metropolitan planning organization (MPO) may not have direct responsibility for operational programs (e.g., incident management, road weather management), but may define the mission for TSMO in relation to the region's vision and goals for enhancing system performance in areas such as mobility, reliability, and safety.

Developing the Business Case for Transportation Systems Management and Operations

While operations staff and practitioners who work within the field understand the role of TSMO strategies in contributing to mobility and safety of the transportation system, they and others need to understand the business case for integrating TSMO into the core mission of a DOT and the role TSMO can play in the region. Agencies can draw upon the Business Case Primer: Communicating the Value of Transportation Systems Management and Operations,4 which was developed under the second Strategic Highway Research Program (SHRP2) Program. The business case should address:

  • Internal motivation – Why is TSMO important for the agency? There are many possible answers to this question, including the inability to build our way out of congestion, using more cost- effective and faster solutions, and improving agency stewardship of resources.
  • The value to customers – Why is TSMO important to the traveling public and communities? Again, there are many answers to this question, but these are generally the most important and compelling issues for a transportation agency as a customer-oriented organization. TSMO strategies address the most significant causes of congestion and reliability issues, support efficient goods movement that is vital to the economy, and support safety as well.

Given budget constraints that limit funding for major capital improvements, a case for TSMO can be made as TSMO strategies are more cost-effective than capital solutions. However, the argument for TSMO goes much beyond "it's all we can afford," to stress the critical role of system operations in achieving goals related to system reliability, mobility, and safety. TSMO is not simply an "option" or "alternative" to transportation system capacity; it is an inherent function of delivering mobility, safety, and reliability for the traveling public. Transportation agencies cannot simply provide transportation infrastructure and maintain it. They need to play a role in actively managing transportation services and system assets to get maximum performance from the investment.

Florida Department of Transportation (DOT) Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Program: Business Case

Florida DOT developed a TSMO Strategic Plan, completed in 2013, which provides groundwork for the DOT's TSMO program. The Strategic Plan describes Florida's challenges, including population growth, traffic fatalities, and safety for older drivers in particular. It also describes the value of TSMO in terms of benefit-cost ratios of intelligent technologies, and the economic benefits associated with intelligent transportation systems and operations investments due to creation of technology sector jobs for engineers, electronics technicians, software developers, and system integrators.


Source: Florida DOT, Florida Transportation Systems Management and Operations Strategic Plan, December 13, 2013.

In defining the business case, issues that can be brought into the discussion include:

  • Challenges facing the region, which may include traffic congestion, incident-based delay, weather-based delay, and fatalities and injuries on the road.
  • Information on the cost- effectiveness of TSMO strategies in relation to capacity expansion.
  • Anticipated future issues, such as increased population, traffic growth, and increased freight movement.
  • Opportunities for the future, such as leveraging of new sources of data and technologies, as well as multimodal connections.
  • Comparisons showing the performance of similar facilities with and without TSMO treatments, or comparing before-and-after implementation of TSMO strategies.
  • Experience in other States and regions, or industries.

The business case for TSMO is the cornerstone for integrating and advancing a comprehensive TSMO program.

In developing the case for TSMO, it is important to consider national, State, and regional trends in economics, demographics, land use, and technology, as well as forecasts of transportation system outcomes related to mobility and safety. These influence current and future opportunities and needs for the transportation system.

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Questions for Consideration

  • What issues and trends are affecting the performance of our transportation system?
  • What are our unique transportation needs and challenges?
  • What opportunities does TSMO offer in addressing the challenges?
  • Who are the users of our transportation system?
  • What is most important to the system users?
  • What is most important to our decision makers?
  • What constraints must we work with to manage and operate the system effectively?

Developing a Transportation Systems Management and Operations Vision and Program Mission

In the strategic components of a TSMO program plan, the agency should include a high-level vision and mission for the TSMO program.

Depending on how the organization wishes to develop its TSMO program plan, this component may include:

  • Identifying of a vision for TSMO within the State or region, describing the intended outcomes.
  • Developing a description of the agency's mission and the role of TSMO in supporting that mission.
  • Updating the mission or vision of the organization to align with TSMO.
  • Developing a TSMO program-specific mission or vision.

The vision provides a shared intention and direction for the organization's TSMO program and a focal point for agency or regional alignment. To be effective, the vision for TSMO should speak to high-level outcomes while reflecting the needs of the organization and its constituents and should be consistent with and support the organization's overall vision and mission. This component of planning may also identify core principles for how the transportation system should be operated.

The mission for a TSMO program defines the program's purpose. The mission may emphasize partners, stakeholders, and participants working together to leverage mutual interests, and advance TSMO through an environment of cooperation, coordination, and collaboration. The TSMO mission encourages all agencies and subunits involved to move toward a comprehensive and integrated approach to TSMO.

Maryland Department of Transportation (DOT) State Highway Administration's (SHA) Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Program Vision and Mission

In developing a TSMO program, Maryland DOT SHA clearly defined its TSMO program vision and mission, along with associated goals and objectives to support attainment of that vision.

TSMO Program Vision

Maximize mobility and reliable travel for people and goods within Maryland by efficient use of management and operations of transportation systems.

TSMO Program Mission

To establish and maintain a TSMO program and implement supporting projects within Maryland SHA improving mobility and reliability for all people and goods through operations of transportation facilities.


Source: Maryland DOT, Maryland Transportation Systems Management and Operations Strategic Implementation Plan, August 2016.

Given the cultural challenges in many transportation agencies that historically have focused on and been organized around project development and design, an effective approach is to conduct a deliberate crosswalk between the agency's overall mission and goals and TSMO. At the strategic level, an organized effort to change the culture of the organization to focus on TSMO as part of its core mission and to integrate operations considerations within all activities often is an important component of this level of TSMO program planning. Leadership at a senior management level can play a key role in advancing this outcome. Leadership and organizational culture are discussed further as part of the programmatic element of TSMO program planning.

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Questions for Consideration

  • How does TSMO support our agency mission?
  • What makes TSMO activities important to our agency and our constituents?
  • What opportunities and TSMO applications do we want to take into the future?
  • What current practices or challenges do we want to overcome or leave behind?
  • Who will gain the greatest benefits from TSMO and what are those benefits?

Developing Strategic Goals and Performance Objectives for Transportation Systems Management and Operations

Strategic goals and objectives for TSMO focus on the desired outcomes to be achieved through TSMO. While goals are high-level, objectives should be more specific and measurable to guide performance-based tracking and reporting of the TSMO program's ability to deliver the strategic goals. These goals and objectives generally focus on outcomes to the customer and may relate to specific aspects of TSMO. For instance:

  • Effective management of congestion to reduce traveler delays.
  • Seamless multimodal travel.
  • Reliability and on-time performance.
  • Comprehensive and accurate, available information about travel conditions.
  • Effective winter weather management.

Denver Regional Council of Governments Transportation System Management and Operations (TSMO) Goals, Objectives, and Performance Measures

While not part of a formal TSMO program plan, the Denver Regional Council of Governments identified strategic goals and associated performance objectives for TSMO when developing a regional concept of transportation operations. Three TSMO strategic goals were identified, along with objectives, which link to program initiatives and performance measures.

Objectives Initiatives Performance Measures
Goal 1: Provide reliable transportation operations for regional travelers

Daily Operations

  • Increase trip travel time reliability on freeways and arterials for all modes
  • Reduce traveler stops and delay due to signal operations

Incident Management

  • Reduce average incident duration time
  • Reduce the occurrence of secondary incidents

Daily Operations

  • Continue to coordinate signal timing system management across jurisdictional boundaries
  • Continue to coordinate freeway management
  • Expand freeway management.

Incident Management

  • Establish regional incident management  process

Work Zones and Special Conditions

  • Improve work zone/special event management


  • Coordinate/integrate multi-modal traveler information
  • Expand traffic monitoring capabilities and infrastructure
  • Establish shared monitoring between jurisdictions
  • Expand a shared communications  network
  • Establish a shared data warehouse or data management process
  • Travel Time Index (TTI)
    Planning Time Index (PTI)
  • Transit on-time reliability
  • Arterial Progression Index (API)
  • Average roadway clearance time
  • Average incident clearance time
  • Number of secondary incidents
Goal 2: Provide safe transportation operations for regional travelers and for public safety and construction/ maintenance  personnel
  • Reduce traffic injury rates
  • Reduce traffic fatality rates
  • Reduce public safety and construction/maintenance personnel  injury/fatalities
  • Establish regional incident management  process
  • Traffic fatality rates
  • Traffic injury rates
  • Number of personnel injuries/fatalities
Goal 3: Provide transportation operations support for non-auto modes of travel
  • Reduce single-occupant vehicle (SOV) mode share
  • Reduce per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT)
  • Reduce per capita greenhouse gas emissions
  • Further coordinate/ integrate multi-modal traveler information
  • Define criteria for operations improvements and monitoring for bicycle and pedestrians
  • SOV mode share
  • Annual per capita VMT
  • Annual per capita greenhouse gas emissions

Source: Denver Regional Council of Governments, Regional Concept of Transportation Operations, Adopted August 15, 2012. Available at:

In developing performance objectives, it is useful to consider the concept of SMART objectives, or objectives which are:

  • Specific – Provide adequate details to guide the development of viable approaches to achieving the objective.
  • Measurable – Allow for quantitative evaluation to track progress.
  • Agreed-Upon – Have consensus among planners, operators, and other key stakeholders.
  • Realistic – Address what can be reasonably accomplished, given resource constraints and other critical factors.
  • Time-bound – Establish a timeframe for achieving the objective.5

Performance measures that are used to track and assess progress toward desired outcomes should be associated with each objective.

Several steps are typically part of developing strategic goals and performance objectives:

  1. Build off of Agreed-upon State and Regional Planning Goals. An important first step is to identify existing State and regional goals that relate to system management and performance. TSMO goals and objectives should align with and tie together with those that are used in a long-range statewide transportation plan (LRSTP) or metropolitan transportation plan (MTP). Ultimately, it is important to tie the TSMO program together with the overall strategic goals of the agency, State, or region.
  2. Gather Data and Understand Baseline Conditions. An important step in the process of developing SMART objectives is to gather data to establish the baseline conditions for system performance as well as the performance of the TSMO program activities. First, the organization needs to understand how the transportation system is performing in order to develop performance objectives or targets. Next, it is useful to explore the reasons for performance deficiencies or gaps in order to develop objectives to address those issues. For instance, if reliability issues are caused due to weather conditions, incidents, and special events, strategic objectives may relate to improving performance across each of these areas.
  3. Collaborate Internally and Externally with Partner Agencies. Gathering information internally and externally also is an important step in this process. For instance, an agency can conduct outreach to partners for input on goals and objectives; establish a working group internally or together with partner organizations to collaboratively define goals, objectives, and performance outcomes; and identify data available for the creation of performance measures.
  4. Define Performance Targets. Finally, an agency can use the information on existing and forecast conditions, together with input from partners and stakeholders, to define specific desired performance outcomes or targets for the transportation system. Developing targets will require agencies to consider what kinds of data are available for tracking and to ensure that systems are in place to conduct ongoing monitoring.

For examples of operations objectives that could be applied at a regional scale or on the State level, see the FHWA publication, Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: The Building Blocks of a Model Transportation Plan Incorporating Operations - A Desk Reference.

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Questions for Consideration

  • What goals will support our TSMO vision and program mission? What strategic objectives will help us move toward attainment of our goals?
  • How do TSMO strategic goals and objectives align with and support the agency's goals?
  • What data are available to track progress?

Identifying Strategic Focus Areas and Priority Functions

In addition to strategic goals, objectives, and performance measures, the TSMO program may identify strategic focus areas or priorities that are important for achieving the goals and objectives. These focus areas or priorities may be defined in different ways, based on the needs of the agency. For instance, they may identify:

  • Geographic focus areas.
  • Functional areas.
  • Internal capabilities

Geographic Focus Areas

An organization may identify geographic areas of focus for its TSMO program. For instance, some agencies have begun to identify the corridor level as a key focus within the organization for planning and system management. This corridor level focus can have important implications for how the TSMO program is structured and possibly even how the organization is structured to address corridor performance, which will form the basis for programmatic decisions. Another geographic area of focus could be to differentiate between urban areas and rural areas in terms of describing the needs, expectations, and issues surrounding system performance and how this relates to strategic goals and objectives. A third approach would be to conduct planning and implementation at the district or regional level within a State.

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) Focuses on Corridors

Caltrans recognizes that working with partners is vital to ensuring that the State's transportation system is contributing to an efficient and interconnected network. In its system planning, Caltrans has put significant emphasis on the corridor- level through development of Corridor System Management Plans because it recognizes that these plans are unique in their ability to analyze existing corridor conditions, to forecast corridor performance through scenario testing utilizing complex traffic simulation models on a corridor-wide scope, and to recommend consensus-driven long- range implementation strategies.

Source: Caltrans, Corridor System Management Plans: Findings and Recommendations, January 2013, available at:

Functional Areas

Another way of looking at strategic focus areas is to identify key functions associated with TSMO that form the basis for the TSMO program. For instance, functions such as traveler information, incident management, work zone management, and demand management could be identified as strategic focus areas, and these functions relate to programmatic and organizational aspects as well as tactical deployment decisions.

Portland Metro Regional Transportation System Management and Operations (TSMO) Plan Identified Priority Functions

The Portland Metro Regional TSMO Plan, 2010-2020 identifies four key functional area priorities:

  • Multimodal traffic management.
  • Traveler information.
  • Traffic incident management.
  • Transportation demand management.

For each functional area, the plan identifies strategies and projects that improve the operation of the existing infrastructure and manage demand on the transportation system using a 10-year planning horizon.

Source: Portland Metro, Regional TSMO Plan, 2010-2020. Available at

Internal Capabilities

Finally, an agency could focus its strategic priorities on internal capabilities, such as data management and decision support. This type of priority ties directly to the programmatic elements of TSMO program planning (discussed in the next section). Identifying these capabilities as a priority may come out of an agency self- assessment in which gaps or weaknesses are identified in the capabilities of the organization to advance TSMO.

In laying out strategic priorities, it is important to be forward-looking, to be focused not just on the functions of the organization today, but on the technologies and issues of the future that will affect TSMO over the next 10 to 20 years. For instance, issues such as the impact that connected and autonomous vehicles will have on system management needs, the role of mobile apps, and the shifting role of the private sector in providing traveler information and transportation services should be considered.

Question mark

Questions for Consideration

  • What are the most important functions that our agency has, or could have, in optimizing system performance?
  • How will these functions change in the future?
  • Is there a geographic focus needed to advance TSMO?
  • What are the technologies and issues that will affect TSMO over the coming decade or more? And do we need to put a new focus on those issues?

4 J. D'Ignazio and B. Bowen, Business Case Primer: Communicating the Value of Transportation Systems Management and Operations, (TRB: December 2014). Available at: transportation-systems-management-and. [ Return to note 4. ]

5 Federal Highway Administration, Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: The Building Blocks of a Model Transportation Plan Incorporating Operations – A Desk Reference, FHWA-HOP-10-027 (Washington, DC: April 2010). Available at: [ Return to note 5. ]

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