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


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." Central to this challenge has been the need to squeeze greater efficiency out of existing and programmed infrastructure and to manage travel demand. Moreover, in recent years, increasing recognition of the vital role of transportation system operations on traveler safety, security, and mobility across modes and jurisdictions has placed greater attention on opportunities associated with regional transportation system management and operations (M&O).

The passage of the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) brought a renewed emphasis on the role of regional transportation system management and operations in the metropolitan planning process. 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. This guidebook, focused on the inclusion of management and operations in the long range plan through an objectives-driven, performance-based approach is the product of over a decade of dialogue among transportation planners and operators.

In 1999, a pair of FHWA and FTA-sponsored conferences on Refocusing Transportation Planning for the 21st Century engaged Federal, State, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), transit, academic, and non-traditional stakeholders in a discussion of key transportation planning issues emerging from the recently passed TEA-21 legislation. "Mainstreaming Management, Operations, and ITS into the Planning Process,"1 a conference resource paper highlights one of the key topics of discussion. The challenges of incorporating M&O and ITS in the transportation planning process presented in this paper include:

  • Movement towards a customer service-delivery orientation to surface transportation in response to growing and changing demands on infrastructure.
  • Full incorporation of the benefits of M&O into resource-allocation decisions by focusing on system performance.
  • Development of new kinds of partnerships among operating agencies and with members of the private sector.

The conceptual foundations for this guidebook emerged from the FHWA-FTA Linking Planning and Operations Working Group, a group of operations, planning, and public safety officials who met together over a period of 15 months to discover ways to increase coordination between transportation operations and planning. Key conclusions included:

  • A "cultural shift" is essential to engaging planners and operators; they have different timeframes, institutional arrangements, responsibilities, incentives, and performance measures.
  • A common language to communicate ideas, agenda, and activity among day-to-day transportation operators and long-term oriented planners is needed.
  • Effective system management maximizes transportation system performance through a coordinated and integrated decision making approach to (1) construction, (2) preservation, (3) maintenance, and (4) operation of transportation facilities, with the goal of safe, reliable, predictable and user-friendly transportation.

Also during this time, a National Dialogue on Transportation Operations initiated by the Institute of Transportation Engineers was conducted among transportation professionals to develop ideas on how to conduct effective transportation operations in a regionally coordinated and proactive dialogue. Subsequently, local leaders were reached out to through national operations local dialogue sessions held in five major metropolitan areas. Among the participants, there was broad-based recognition for the need to enhance management and operation of the transportation system, although many remained skeptical on to how best to accomplish regional M&O given that "no one has the 'charge' for regional M&O." Participants acknowledged that, although TEA-21 encouraged thinking about operations, the planning process did not encourage it.

The National Dialogue culminated in late 2001 with a broad-based national summit on operations that produced the following recommendations:

  • Increase focus on transportation operations
  • Enhance performance of transportation system through performance-based decision-making
  • Create linkages between traditional capital planning process and planning for operations.

In 2003, a Transportation Research Board study2 concluded:

  • Regional collaboration and cooperation are essential to improving the performance of transportation systems in metropolitan areas.
  • Establishing objectives and performance measures at the regional level is critical to assessing progress toward goals and achieving those goals.

These efforts were followed by the development of FHWA handbooks promoting enhanced collaboration between the planning community and the operations community, as well as reaching out to a broader range of stakeholders, especially public safety.

  • Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination3 stressed regional collaboration and coordination as the mechanism for advancing M&O. It provides principles and a framework for achieving the need collaboration.
  • Getting More by Working Together – Opportunities for Linking Planning and Operations4 lays out the mechanisms that aid in linking planning and operations – the transportation planning process, data sharing, performance measurement, the congestion management process, shared funding and resources, institutional arrangements, the regional ITS architecture, regional M&O projects, and use of the regional concept for transportation operations (RCTO) as a tool for working through M&O ideas.
  • The Regional Concept for Transportation Operations: A Blueprint for Action5 encourages the use of an RCTO as a management tool in planning and implementing operations strategies.

Additionally, in The Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process: Key Issues,6 FHWA and FTA noted the requirement to incorporate system management and operations (M&O) into the regional planning process and encourage user-oriented performance measurement following the passage of SAFETEA-LU in 2005. The SAFETEA-LU implementing regulations7 state "Because transportation systems management and operations is emerging as an important aspect of regional transportation planning, it is strongly encouraged that a set (or sets) of objectives be set forth in the metropolitan transportation plan for operational and management strategies that will lead to regional approaches, collaborative relationships, and funding arrangements for projects."

The evolution of ideas on planning for operations over the past decade has set the stage for the requirements in SAFETEA-LU for the inclusion of management and operations strategies in the metropolitan transportation plan and for the recommended approach in this guidebook. The key themes of regional collaboration, objective-focused operations, and performance measurement resonate throughout the previous dialogues and publications. This guidebook combines these themes and offers a recommended approach for including operations in the metropolitan planning process. This guidebook is intended as guidance only and does not create any new requirements. You may use an alternative approach if the approach satisfies the requirements of the applicable statutes and regulations.

1 Stephen Lockwood, "Mainstreaming Management, Operations, and Intelligent Transportation Systems into the Planning Process," Transportation Research Board Conference Proceedings 20 Refocusing Transportation Planning for the 21st Century, National Academy Press (Washington, DC: 2000).

2 Transportation Research Board Committee on Developing a Regional Concept for Managing Surface Transportation Operations, report to FHWA, June 30, 2003.

3 Regional Transportation Operations Collaboration and Coordination, FHWA-OP-03-008, 2003.

4 Getting More by Working Together – Opportunities for Linking Planning and Operations, FHWA-HOP-05-016, 2005.

5 The Regional Concept for Transportation Operations: A Blueprint for Action, FHWA-HOP-07-122.


7 "Statewide Transportation Planning; Metropolitan Transportation Planning; Final Rule. Department of Transportation. 23 CRF Part 613, February 14, 2007.

Office of Operations