Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

1. Introduction

1.1 Creating an Objectives-Driven Approach to Management and Operations

Transportation agencies and their customers are increasingly concerned about the performance of the transportation system. While the metropolitan transportation planning process traditionally has focused on long-range project needs, challenges associated with transportation system reliability, safety, and security require near-term and long-term operational solutions. Moreover, the time and resources required to implement new transportation infrastructure emphasize the need to optimize the effectiveness of the transportation system through improved transportation system management and operations (TSM&O or M&O, which will be used most commonly in this guidebook).

This guidebook is designed to provide a basis on which to integrate transportation system management and operations (M&O) in the metropolitan transportation planning process, and to assist metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in meeting Federal requirements under the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) calling for M&O strategies to be incorporated into the metropolitan transportation plan (MTP). It highlights effective practices that result in an MTP with a more optimal mix of infrastructure and operational strategies, founded on the inclusion of measurable, performance-based regional operations objectives.

Regional operations objectives are specific, measurable statements of performance objectives relating to the operation of the regional transportation system. Regional operations objectives provide specific, agreed-upon measures of system performance that are time-sensitive, and can be tracked on a regional level over time. These objectives may relate to issues such as recurring and non-recurring congestion, access to traveler information, emergency response, and ease of movement across modes and jurisdictions, among others. Using measurable regional operations objectives helps to focus attention on the operational performance of the transportation system and ensure that M&O is integrated into the MTP, addressing both short-term and long-term system performance. An increased focus on M&O within the MTP will not only fulfill SAFETEA-LU requirements, but also address pressing issues facing the transportation system, such as congestion, air quality, and safety and security.

The content is applicable to all MPOs and recognizes the wide diversity of characteristics among MPOs and regions. The intended audience is metropolitan planning organizations, as well as state and transit planners, operators, managers and decisionmakers involved in the metropolitan transportation planning process.

1.2 What is Management & Operations?

M&O is an integrated approach to optimize the performance of existing infrastructure through the implementation of multimodal, intermodal, and often cross-jurisdictional systems, services and projects. This includes regional operations collaboration and coordination activities between transportation and public safety agencies. M&O strategies aim at improving service efficiency, enhancing public safety and security, reducing traveler delays, and improving access to information for travelers. M&O strategies include a broad range of activities, including:

  • Traffic incident management
  • Travel information services
  • Roadway weather information
  • Freeway management
  • Automatic vehicle location
  • Traffic signal coordination
  • Work zone management
  • Electronic payment/toll collection
  • Transit priority/integration
  • Emergency response and homeland security
  • Freight management
  • Transportation demand management
  • Transit fleet management and dispatching

It is important to note that M&O does not encompass traditional maintenance activities, such as lawn cutting, pothole repair, or resurfacing. M&O strategies focus on optimizing the performance of the transportation system. Although M&O strategies may be implemented on a regional, area-wide, or project-specific basis, those included in a transportation plan should typically be those that have importance on a regional level. M&O strategies enable transportation agencies to provide higher levels of customer service in the near-term without incurring the high costs and time to implement major infrastructure projects.

1.3 Motivation for Integrating M&O in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan

Regional efforts to manage and operate existing transportation systems are becoming ever more important for several reasons:

  • Rapidly Increasing Congestion – As travel demand continues to increase, while the amount of new infrastructure that can be developed is limited, traffic congestion in the U.S. has risen dramatically. According to data from the Texas Transportation Institute on traffic congestion levels in 85 urban areas, traffic congestion has increased in every area since 1982. Congestion is affecting more roads, extending into longer periods of the day than traditional rush hour, and impacting travel times to a greater extent.8 The share of traffic experiencing congestion during peak travel hours has more than doubled in about 20 years, from 32 percent in 1982 to 67 in 2003. The amount of time during the day when travelers may encounter congestion has grown from about 4.5 hours to 7.1 hours per day. Travelers now experience on average 47 hours of delay per year. The worsening of congestion is impacting mobility, the environment and economic productivity, and highlights the need for attention in transportation planning.

    Recognizing these concerns, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network (the Secretary's Initiative on Congestion) is designed to achieve measurable impacts, with goals to relieve urban congestion, promote operational and technological improvements, and target major freight bottlenecks, among others.
  • Constraints on Transportation Capacity Expansion – In many metropolitan areas, there are limited opportunities for highway or transit capacity expansion due to environmental and community constraints. Moreover, infrastructure projects can be very expensive, and limited funding constrains the ability to build all of the potential facilities that might be desired. In some cases, air quality issues also limit the ability of many metropolitan areas to construct new capacity. These constraints have placed increased pressures on decision makers and transportation agencies to find new ways to enhance the effective capacity of the existing transportation network.
  • Growing Connectivity, Interdependency and Operational Impacts Across Modes – Over the past several years, there has been an increasing recognition of the importance of weather conditions, traffic incidents, special events, and emergency situations on the reliability and safety of the transportation system. It is estimated that about half of traffic congestion is caused by temporary disruptions that take away part of the roadway from use ("nonrecurring" congestion). Travelers and shippers are increasingly sensitive to unanticipated disruptions to tightly scheduled personal activities and manufacturing distribution procedures, and overall increases in traffic volumes often mean that even small disruptions can have a significant ripple effect on transportation system performance throughout a broad area. Moreover, emergency preparedness and homeland security concerns require regional system coordination and collaboration for emergency response. Together, these new and emerging needs are pushing an increased emphasis on developing a MTP that more clearly and adequately relates regional transportation funding decisions to customer concerns, and to utilizing system management and operations solutions.

1.4 SAFETEA-LU Requirements

Federal Requirements

Not only is addressing M&O within the MTP a reflection of good planning practice, but it is also required under Federal law. Specifically, the Safe Accountable Flexible Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) contains the following requirements for all MPOs, regardless of size:

  • Promote Efficient System Management and Operations: SAFETEA-LU, Section 6001(h) requires consideration of M&O in the metropolitan transportation planning process - "Promote efficient system management and operation" is specifically identified as one of eight planning factors.
  • Include M&O Strategies: SAFETEA-LU, Section 6001(i), explicitly states that the MTP shall include "operational and management strategies to improve the performance of existing transportation facilities to relieve vehicular congestion and maximize the safety and mobility of people and goods."

In addition, Transportation Management Areas (TMAs) – urban areas with a population over 200,000 – are also required to:

  • Develop a Congestion Management Process (CMP): The CMP evolved from what was formerly called a Congestion Management System (CMS). The CMP is a systematic process to identify the causes of congestion and develop solutions to address congestion problems.9 The new language about "process" emphasizes that congestion management is not meant to be considered as a stand-alone system, but as an integral part of the metropolitan transportation planning process. At the core, a CMP should include a data collection and monitoring system, a range of strategies for addressing congestion, performance measures or criteria for identifying when action is needed, and a system for prioritizing which congestion management strategies would be most effective. In air quality non-attainment areas, the CMP takes on even greater importance, since Federal guidelines prohibit projects that increase capacity for single occupant vehicles unless the project results from a CMP.10

M&O in the Context of Multiple Metropolitan Planning Requirements

While this guidebook focuses on system management and operations in the metropolitan transportation planning process, it is important to recognize that MPOs face a wide range of transportation planning requirements, some of which may place competing demands on priorities for inclusion in the MTP. Figure 1 provides a representation of the many planning requirements that MPOs face in developing the MTP. Specifically, it shows the eight planning factors that must be considered in developing the MTP, including the M&O planning factor. Surrounding these factors are other planning requirements, including the requirement that TMAs develop a CMP. Highlighted within the circle in the center is the requirement that the MTP must include M&O strategies.

Graphic representation of the planning factors and planning requirements that must be considered in developing the MTP.
Figure 1: M&O in the Context of Metropolitan Transportation Planning Requirements.

While the MTP must include M&O strategies, the M&O planning factor is not intended to be viewed in isolation. In fact, a focus on improving transportation system management and operations can support the other planning factors. For instance, M&O strategies can:

  • Support economic vitality by improving system reliability, which is valued by the freight and business communities;
  • Increase safety by focusing attention to operational strategies, such as driver education, speed enforcement, and technologies to improve pedestrian safety;
  • Increase security by improving communication and coordination between transportation agencies and law enforcement;
  • Increase accessibility and mobility by implementing strategies that reduce recurrent and non-recurrent congestion, and improve the efficiency of operations, such as transit bus priority, signal timing, and pricing;
  • Enhance the environment, energy conservation, quality of life, and consistency with planned growth by implementing programs to reduce travel demand, providing traveler information to help avoid and reduce time stuck in traffic delay, and avoiding the need to develop new transportation infrastructure with negative impacts to the environment and communities;
  • Enhance integration and connectivity by implementing strategies to allow seamless travel between transit service providers and modes; and
  • Emphasize preservation of the existing transportation system by focusing resources toward optimizing existing capacity rather than building new capacity.

M&O strategies clearly do not serve a narrow purpose, and the M&O planning factor should not be viewed as a "silo" in the planning process. M&O strategies can help to support a wide diversity of goals that are established through the MPO planning process. Moreover, the CMP can be an effective process for advancing M&O strategies with a focus on congestion relief.

1.5 The Role of Regional Operations Objectives and the Congestion Management Process

Regional Operations Objectives

A recommended approach to address M&O in metropolitan transportation planning is through the development and inclusion of "regional operations objectives" in the MTP. Regional operations objectives are specific, measurable statements of performance objectives relating to the operation of the transportation system on a regional basis.

While the MTP will typically contain a number of regional goals, which may include one or more goals relating to the management and operation of the transportation system, inclusion of regional operations objectives moves a step further. Not just a refinement of goals, regional operations objectives provide agreed-upon measures of system performance that can be tracked on a regional level and that will inform M&O strategies and projects that appear in the MTP. These objectives may relate to issues such as recurring and non-recurring congestion, access to traveler information, emergency response, and ease of movement across modes and jurisdictions, among others. The objectives should be specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic, and time-sensitive. For instance, rather than simply indicating an objective to reduce clearance time of traffic incidents, a strong regional operations objective might state: "By [year], reduce the clearance time of traffic incidents on freeways and major arteries in the region from a current average of X minutes to an average of Y minutes."

Performance measurement can focus the attention of decisionmakers, practitioners, and the public on important characteristics of the transportation system. The act of defining specific regional operations objectives in the MTP therefore will place increased attention on the operational performance of the transportation system in investment planning. This increased attention may occur in several ways. The act of defining regional operations objectives requires coordination and collaboration among transportation system operators and planners, which can focus increased consideration of operational strategies. Moreover, the inclusion of specific objectives will enable performance to be tracked, which may place increased attention to programs and strategies that address operational concerns. Rather than focusing primarily on long-range system capacity needs, the MTP will focus on both short-range and long-range needs related to the operation of the transportation system.

The Congestion Management Process

For TMAs, the CMP is an important component of the metropolitan transportation planning process for integrating M&O strategies, with a focus on congestion, in the metropolitan transportation plan.11 By changing the requirement from a "congestion management system" to a "congestion management process," SAFETEA-LU clearly emphasizes that congestion management is as an integral component of the metropolitan transportation planning process, rather than a stand-alone system or activity. In addition to collecting data to measure congestion, the CMP is a larger, systematic process that involves developing performance measures, identifying operational needs and deficiencies, and developing strategies, including M&O strategies, with a focus on congestion relief.

Given the role of the CMP as part of the process for integrating M&O in the metropolitan transportation plan, a companion guidebook has been developed, A Guidebook on the Congestion Management Process in Metropolitan Transportation Planning: Objectives-Driven, Performance-Based Management of Congestion in Metropolitan Transportation Systems. Readers are urged to refer to this document for more specific ideas on addressing M&O considerations within the metropolitan transportation planning process through the CMP. Although a CMP is only required for TMA areas, all MPOs can benefit from using a systematic process to address congestion issues. Moreover, while the CMP focuses on congestion, the data collected as part of the CMP process can also be used to help support other system management and operations consideration, such as safety, accessibility, and connectivity.

1.6 Overview of this Guidebook

This guidebook is designed to help metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) and other stakeholders in the metropolitan transportation planning process to integrate management and operations considerations into planning, which will not only help fulfill SAFETEA-LU requirements, but also result in an MTP that is better able to meet customer needs, resulting in an optimal mix of transportation investments.

The guidebook includes:

  • An Objectives-driven, Performance-based Approach to M&O in the MTP (Section 2) – This section discusses a new paradigm in thinking about incorporating M&O in metropolitan transportation planning through use of regional operations objectives. It describes a framework that involves development of measurable regional operations objectives, discusses characteristics of regional operations objectives, and highlights benefits of this approach.
  • Getting Started – Engaging Stakeholders in Developing Regional Operations Objectives (Section 3) – This section focuses on a key element of bringing operations considerations into the planning process: the process of engaging operations stakeholders in transportation planning. It provides examples of approaches that can be used to engage operations stakeholders in planning and help decisionmakers understand the potential role of M&O strategies.
  • How to Use Regional Operations Objectives in the MTP (Section 4) – This section focuses on the application of operations objectives throughout the planning process, including how operations objectives are used to develop performance measures and strategies in the Plan. It discusses the role of the CMP.
  • Outcomes (Section 5) – This section discusses outcomes of an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to M&O in the metropolitan planning process, in terms of what the MTP looks like, and additional benefits MPOs might achieve from the process.
  • A Self-Assessment for MPOs (Section 6) – This section is designed to help MPOs assess to what extent they are addressing M&O in the MTP and using a performance-based approach.

Additionally, appendices are provided in response to several requests from MPOs:

  • Appendix A is a simple, step by step outline designed to help MPOs less familiar with M&O to get started.
  • Some MPOs find that explaining or encouraging new concepts to decisionmakers (particularly elected officials) is challenging. The synopsis provided at Appendix B is intended to provide help in this regard.
  • Given the evolving vocabulary in the M&O arena and the potential for confusion, Appendices C and D provide common understanding of acronyms and terms that are associated with M&O.
  • To assist in pursuing more detailed information about the M&O concepts discussed in this guidebook, Appendix E provides a list of references.

8 For further details, see the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Annual Urban Mobility Report,

9 For a more detailed discussion of CMP, see U.S. DOT, FHWA/FTA, A Guidebook on the Congestion Management Process in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan: Objectives-Driven, Performance-Based Management of Congestion in Metropolitan Transportation Systems, 2007 Draft.

10 Safety improvements and the elimination of bottlenecks are exceptions to this restriction.

11 As discussed in Section 4, a CMP is required for Transportation Management Areas (TMAs); however the logic of the process is a useful approach for all MPOs.

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