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Planning for Freight Projects

The transportation planning process led by State DOTs and MPOs provides an opportunity for funding and coordinating OLT strategies. State DOTs and MPOs can use planning funds for freight planning, and can dedicate funds for implementation of freight projects. This section highlights components of established transportation planning and programming processes that can be used to further freight and goods movement mobility in urban areas.

Transportation planning is a cooperative process designed to foster involvement by all users of the system, such as the business community, community groups, environmental organizations, the traveling public, freight operators, and the general public, through a proactive public participation process. State DOTs and MPOs are responsible for making sure that freight movement is considered in the transportation planning process.

Key components of the transportation planning process for freight stakeholders are described in Table 3 below.

State or Regional Freight Plans are designed to help address planning activities and investments, both immediate and long-term. Within a statewide or metropolitan freight plan, State and MPOs can identify OLT needs and use this process to document specific opportunities for funding and implementation of OLT strategies.

The National Highway Freight Program (NHFP) is a formula grant program that distributes $6.3 billion in formula funding to States over five years from fiscal year (FY) 2016 to FY 2020. To obligate funding under the NHFP, each State is required by the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act to develop a State freight plan, which must comprehensively address the State's freight planning activities and investments (both immediate and long-range). A State may develop its freight plan either separately from, or incorporated within, its statewide strategic long-range transportation plan. Among other requirements, a State freight plan must:

  • Cover a five-year forecast period.
  • Include a "freight investment plan" with a list of priority projects and be fiscally constrained.
  • Describe how the State will invest and match its NHFP funds.

The State must update its freight plan at least every five years, and may update its freight investment plan more frequently than the overall freight plan.

The FAST Act requires the U.S. DOT to encourage each State to establish a freight advisory committee consisting of a representative cross-section of public and private freight stakeholders. The role of a State freight advisory committee is to:

  • Advise the State on freight-related priorities, issues, projects, and funding needs.
  • Serve as a forum for discussion for State transportation decisions affecting freight mobility.
  • Communicate and coordinate regional priorities with other organizations.
  • Promote the sharing of information between the private and public sectors on freight issues.
  • Participate in the development of the freight plan of the State.

Table 3. Freight Opportunities in the Transportation Planning Processes

Planning Product Who Develops? Time Horizon Freight-Related Content
Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan State DOT 20+ years The State's long-range planning process must address several freight-related factors, such as economic vitality, accessibility and mobility of freight, system preservation, and intermodal connectivity. Plans must set targets for Federal freight performance measures and report on progress made with respect to performance targets. The long-range plan may incorporate State freight plan.
State Freight Plan State DOT 5 years Identification of significant freight system trends, needs, and issues in the State; an inventory of facilities with freight mobility issues; freight investment plan with a list of priority projects; description of how the State will invest and match Federal NHFP funds. Typically informed by freight advisory committee.
State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) State DOT 4 years Identifies statewide priorities for transportation projects throughout the State. Lists projects to be funded with Federal transportation funds or needing certain Federal approvals.
Long-Range Metropolitan Transportation Plan MPO 20+ years Includes long-range and short-range program strategies and action that lead to the development of an integrated intermodal system in a region. Addresses a range of issues relevant to freight mobility including: economic vitality, accessibility and mobility of people and freight, system preservation, and intermodal connectivity. Sets targets for Federal freight performance measures and report on progress made with respect to performance targets.
Regional or City Freight Plan MPO (regional) or city DOT (city) No Federal requirement Varies by plan, but usually includes: an inventory of freight facilities; data on historical freight activity; forecast of future freight activity; and identification of needed freight investments, policies, and strategies. Typically informed by freight advisory committee.
Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) MPO 4 years Identifies transportation projects and strategies the MPO plans to undertake over the next four years. Project receiving Federal funding must be in the TIP.
Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) FHWA/FTA/MPO 1 or 2 years Lists transportation studies and tasks to be completed by MPO staff or a member agency, including freight planning studies or plans for collection and analysis of freight data.
Congestion Management Process (CMP) MPOs with population >$200K Be consistent with update cycle for long-range plan & TIP. Determines causes of congestion and identifies operational and trip-reduction strategies for managing congestion. These actions and strategies can be freight-specific.
Transportation Systems Management & Operations (TSMO) Plan MPO (not required as stand-alone plan) No Federal requirement Operations objectives, performance measures, operations strategies, and potential projects or programs. Can be used to identify operations goals and strategies that benefit freight mobility.

Federal statute requires each MPO to develop a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which is a fiscally constrained list of upcoming transportation projects covering a period of at least four years. In the TIP, an MPO could identify infrastructure maintenance or rehabilitation projects that might involve OLT strategies before, during, or after project implementation. Similarly, States are required to develop a State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which is designed to leverage MPOs and other local entities to develop a statewide project list covering a four-year period. States could use STIPs to identify and fund large-scale OLT initiatives that could benefit urban freight movement at the State level.

The Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) identifies planning priorities and activities for metropolitan planning areas over a one- to two-year period. The UPWP typically identifies planning data collection and analysis tasks, public outreach activities, and planning studies to be conducted. MPOs could use a UPWP to help set the stage for implementing OLT strategies by including the following:

  • A description of overall goals or objectives for the freight system, which provide context for later decision-making on freight strategy implementation, including OLT strategies.
  • A description of needs for OLT strategies at a high level.
  • An overview or update of initiatives, programs, or projects that involve OLT strategy implementation.
  • Identification of action steps that might lead to further study of, recommendations for, or application of OLT strategies.

A Congestion Management Process (CMP) is an approach for managing congestion at a regional or MPO level. The CMP uses a number of analytic tools to define and identify congestion within a region, corridor, and activity center or project area, and to develop and select appropriate strategies to reduce congestion or mitigate the impacts of congestion. A CMP is required in metropolitan areas with population exceeding 200,000, known as transportation management areas (TMAs). MPOs may use a CMP to:

  • Collect, analyze, and report on data related to urban freight mobility that provide a foundation for future OLT strategy decision-making.
  • Identify and describe urban freight projects that involve OLT strategies after implementation.
  • Foster partnerships with key urban freight stakeholders involved in OLT strategy decision-making and implementation.

A Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Plan is often used as an addendum or complement to the metropolitan transportation plan and provides input on operations goals, objectives, performance measures, strategies, and projects or programs. The projects identified in a TSMO plan can be applied to freight at the regional, corridor, and/or project level. In developing a TSMO plan, management and operations stakeholders and planners work together to define a common vision, develop operations objectives, and identify performance measures. Participants also develop strategies and potential projects or programs to reach those objectives, then seek out resources by working within the region's planning and programming processes.

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