For several decades, the transportation community – especially in our metropolitan regions – has increasingly been challenged by growing congestion, while simultaneously grappling with the increased recognition that we cannot "build our way out of congestion." Through the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), management and operations (M&O) strategies are highlighted as an important component in combating congestion as well as increasing safety and security. Specifically, SAFETEA-LU includes "promote efficient system management and operations" as one of the planning factors that must be considered in transportation planning, and requires that the Metropolitan Transportation Plan include not only capital projects, but also M&O strategies.
M&O is an integrated approach to optimize the performance of existing and programmed 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, public safety agencies and other potential stakeholders. M&O strategies aim at improving service efficiency, enhancing public safety and security, reducing traveler delays, and improving access to information for travelers.
Implementing a planning process with a strong M&O component is best accomplished by a new way of thinking about management and operations in transportation planning – one that is objectives-driven and performance-based. A recommended approach to including M&O in metropolitan transportation planning is through establishing regional operations objectives in the metropolitan transportation plan (MTP). Regional operations objectives are specific, measurable statements of performance objectives relating to the operation of the transportation system on a regional basis. Regional operations objectives provide agreed-upon measures of system performance that can be tracked on the regional level and will inform investment decisions. The 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. An example of a regional operations objective is: "By 2012, reduce the clearance time of traffic incidents on freeways and major arteries in the region from a current average of 60 minutes to an average of 40 minutes."
An objectives-driven performance-based approach to planning for management and operations includes the following elements conducted in collaboration with operating agencies and other stakeholders within the region:
- Engage transportation planners and operators, as well as non-traditional entities to ensure a regional perspective of transportation system performance informs the planning process.
- Establish one or more goals that focus on the efficient management and operation of the transportation system.
- Develop regional operations objectives that will lead to accomplishing the goal or goals.
- Create a set of performance measures that allow tracking of progress towards the objectives. Performance measures (and objectives) should be established based on data availability.
- Using performance measures, analyze transportation performance issues and develop management and operations strategies for inclusion in the MTP. This may be addressed as part of the congestion management process (CMP) for those MPOs that have a CMP.
- Select management and operations strategies within fiscal constraints that can best address the region's needs.
It is suggested that MPOs include in their MTPs discussion of M&O strategies that are funded by state, regional and local transportation agencies even without use of Federal funding. Because many M&O strategies (e.g., incident clearance, emergency response) are planned and executed within these agencies, this added discussion in MTPs will provide a more holistic picture of the totality of M&O strategies being employed within a region.
While metropolitan areas have flexibility to use different approaches to organizing the MTP, in all cases, the MTP should include:
- A vision and goals that includes effective management and operations of the transportation system;
- Measurable regional operations objectives that allow the region to track progress toward achieving its M&O goals; and
- Identification of M&O strategies, backed by specific performance measures for evaluation.
In order to sustain a successful integration of objectives-driven, performance-based M&O in the planning process, MPOs need to institutionalize the process of engaging operating agencies and stakeholders in developing operations objectives. An increasing number of MPOs support interagency committees that deal directly and regularly with regional systems management and operations. In hosting such committees, the MPO facilitates a vital forum where inter-jurisdictional coordination, funding strategies, and data sharing can be addressed. In addition, the MPO can use the committee's diverse operations expertise to inform M&O issues in regional planning process, to identify ITS systems and data needed to support operations and to influence the MPO's annual work program.
The benefits of an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to planning for management and operations include:
- Facilitates a more objective (rather than subjective) way to allocate resources and screen improvement strategies.
- Prioritizes regional investments in management and operations.
- Increases accountability through performance measurement.
- Engages the operations community in a more substantive way.
- Expands the focus of the MTP to include both short-range and long-range needs related to the operation of the transportation system.