Integrating Operations into Planning and Programming

Communicating TSMO

Analysis and Performance Measurement

Regional Collaboration and Coordination

Organizing for Operations

Mainstreaming TSMO

Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Plans

Congestion Management Process (CMP)

How Does TSMO Relate To ...

All Resources

Resource Type

Resources Helpful to ...

Policy and Regulations

Performance-Based Planning

Designing for Operations

Regional ITS Architecture and ITS Strategic Plans

Systems Engineering and ITS Project Development

Livability and Sustainability

Traffic Signal Programs

Corridor Management

Active Transportation and Demand Management

Transportation Demand Management

Traffic Incident Management



What is TSMO?

What is Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO)?

TSMO is a set of strategies that focus on operational improvements that can maintain and even restore the performance of the existing transportation system before extra capacity is needed. The goal here is to get the most performance out of the transportation facilities we already have. This requires knowledge, skills, and techniques to administer comprehensive solutions that can be quickly implemented at relatively low cost. This may enable transportation agencies to "stretch" their funding to benefit more areas and customers. TSMO also helps agencies balance supply and demand and provide flexible solutions to match changing conditions.

The benefits to TSMO can include:

  • Improved quality of life
  • Smoother and more reliable traffic flow
  • Improved safety
  • Reduced congestion
  • Less wasted fuel
  • Cleaner air
  • Increased economic vitality
  • More efficient use of resources (facilities, funding)
  • Greater availability of transportation options
  • Better balance of supply of and demand for the overall transportation system

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What is meant by "an integrated set of strategies"?

TSMO looks at performance from a systems perspective, not just one strategy, project or corridor. This means that these strategies are coordinated with others across multiple jurisdictions, agencies, and modes. Integration views the surface transportation network as a unified whole, making the various transportation modes and facilities work together and ultimately perform better. TSMO not only provides public agencies with a growing toolbox of individual solutions but encourages combining them to achieve greater performance on the entire system. Integration can happen on multiple levels:

  • System – Implementing and combining strategies as a corridor or region matures in needs.
  • Technical – Developing a framework used to support information sharing between technology deployed on the system.
  • Cultural – Developing a workforce that values and prioritizes the use of TSMO solutions across multiple disciplines.
  • Operational – Coordinating day-to-day operational strategies so that corridor, region, or system-wide objectives are achieved.
  • Institutional – Incorporating TSMO policies and processes into an agency's normal way of doing business. This step includes TSMO integration with various disciplines, such as planning, program management and design, to support long-term goals for the transportation system. This can be applied both internally and externally.

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What is meant by "the implementation of multimodal and intermodal, cross-jurisdictional systems, services, and projects"?

TSMO includes efforts to operate the multimodal transportation system and activities to manage travel demand, thus crossing over political, modal, and jurisdictional boundaries. TSMO expands beyond just roads. It emphasizes the door-to-door experience, regardless of the modes of travel. TSMO requires agencies to look beyond a project or a corridor and consider the impacts of the entire transportation system. This involves coordination and collaboration among multiple stakeholders, such as federal, state, and local agencies, the first responder community, and the private sector to achieve seamless interoperability.

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What are examples of TSMO strategies and solutions?

Below is a list of examples of TSMO strategies. These are not all inclusive:To see some examples of TSMO strategies providing benefits throughout the country, see TSMO in Action.

Many agencies are already doing some of these activities. In addition, many of them specifically address congestion due to non-recurring events in addition to daily rush hour traffic. TSMO addresses both types of congestion and brings the strategies together to maximize the safety, mobility and reliability of the transportation system. Many of them require coordination across multiple jurisdictions and modes. While each individual strategy can be beneficial, TSMO means they are applied with consideration of the entire transportation, not just one specific location. Many of these strategies can be applied to urban, suburban, and rural environments.

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Why should I consider TSMO?

The transportation world is changing, and doing business the way it was done in the past is no longer effective. Traditionally, congestion issues were primarily addressed by funding major capital projects, such as adding lanes or building new interchanges and roads, to address physical constraints, such as bottlenecks. These expansion projects were based primarily on traffic volumes predicted far out into the future. Operational improvements were typically an afterthought and considered after the new infrastructure was already added to the system.

Today, transportation agencies are facing trends, such as increased urbanization, that create a growing demand for travel with less funding and space to work with. As a result, we can no longer build our way out of congestion. Trends we see today include:

  • Limited funds – The primary source of federal funding for the U.S. highway system is the federal gas tax, which has not changed since 1993. Since that time, the financial constraints for public agencies have increased:
    • Inflation – The cost to build roads and bridges has increased.
    • Fuel efficiency – Vehicles today can travel farther with less trips to the gas pump, decreasing revenue. The growing use of electric and plug-in hybrid cars has also reduced the purchase of fuel.
  • Advances in Technology – Transportation agencies can leverage technology to develop solutions to address congestion issues. However, given the advancement in consumer technologies (smart phones, apps, GPS, etc.), privately owned mobility services (Uber, Lyft, etc.), and the availability of more information, the traveling public expects that the products they use and the technologies they encounter will be "smart" and will ultimately improve their travel experience. They also expect that the information received will be accurate and reliable. This creates an added responsibility for the transportation community to provide the best customer service. Technology will likely have an even greater impact on the transportation network in the future with automation, connectivity, and big data.
  • Changing Customer Needs and Expectations – There is a greater demand for accountability for public officials to ensure that public funds are spent to maximize the performance of the transportation system in the most cost-effective way. This creates a trend toward "performance-based" programs. The traveling public is also becoming less tolerant of unexpected delays in their trips that can result from crashes, bad weather, work zones, and special events. Such delays can be frustrating for drivers and can impact businesses as well. The traveling public expects to reach their destinations on time, regardless of the mode of travel or who owns the road. In urban areas, there is an additional expectation for multi-modal options and connectivity.
  • Better Understanding of the Causes of Congestion – Research has shown that while some congestion may be caused by typical morning and evening rush hours, a significant amount comes from non-recurring events, such as crashes, breakdowns, work zones, bad weather, and special events. In many cases, roadway capacity is not lost due to bottlenecks or limited capacity, but due to these unexpected events. There may be opportunities to quickly apply low-cost TSMO improvements that are targeted toward these specific causes to reduce their impacts.

Given these trends, a different philosophy and approach is needed than what has been done before. Addressing congestion issues now requires transportation professionals to seek out solutions that involve optimizing the performance of our existing facilities.

TSMO provides agencies with the tools to manage and operate what they already own more efficiently and effectively before making additional infrastructure investments. Applying TSMO solutions that cost less than road expansion projects can yield a high return on investment. One major benefit for TSMO is that it can target the unexpected delays, reduce their impacts to the system, and regain much of the lost capacity.

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Does TSMO replace capacity building projects?

In some cases, yes, but not all. TSMO can serve as an alternative to adding capacity for some areas by increasing the mobility and reliability of the existing system enough to meet current and projected needs, and do so more quickly. Other times TSMO may improve conditions enough to delay when a road expansion project is needed, enabling the agency to stretch their limited funding to more areas. There will, however, usually be a need to increase capacity and add new infrastructure throughout the transportation system. In some cases, that is the best solution given the circumstances. TSMO strategies can be added to these capital projects and serve as a complement to extend the performance life of the new corridor.

When looking at the most efficient and cost-effective ways to improve performance, TSMO should not be viewed as competing with other infrastructure investments, but as a viable option to support an agency's overall mission to manage and operate the transportation system.

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Does TSMO only include technology-based strategies?

No. While many TSMO strategies do have a significant technology component, the TSMO toolbox is not limited to them. Operational enhancements and design treatments can also be used to improve the performance of the transportation system. Accessible shoulders, restriping, emergency access, and snow fences, for example, are also relevant TSMO strategies.

In addition, TSMO can be utilized on a programmatic level that include key processes. Such examples can include traffic incident management, traffic signal management, and corridor management coordination, information sharing, and inter-agency agreements.

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When should TSMO be considered?

TSMO should be considered at any location that experiences either recurring or non-recurring congestion or both. TSMO should be considered as early as possible, in both the project planning process and the agency's overall strategic planning. TSMO should also be considered at every stage, such as planning, project development, construction, and maintenance. Even in situations where adding capacity is the best alternative, the TSMO discussion should not end there. There may be opportunities to include TSMO solutions in the capital project that extend the performance life.

TSMO should not be limited to only when congestion challenges arise. The goal of TSMO is to keep the system operating well all day, every day. Thus, opportunities to utilize TSMO can occur any time to enhance safety and reliability as well as integration across modes, jurisdictions, and facilities.

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Aren't we already doing this? Is TSMO just another way of saying operations, Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), or work zones, etc.?

While agencies may already be using some of these solutions, TSMO is not limited to deploying a single strategy. ITS, for example, is just one tool for managing and operating the transportation system. TSMO does leverage technology, a toolbox of strategies, and engineering solutions to maximize the performance of the system. However, TSMO ultimately involves a mindset to determine the best way to optimize the mobility and reliability of the existing system with limited resources. TSMO needs to include planning, design, people, processes, technology, and data.

In the past, such strategies were considered an afterthought to be implemented after major construction along a highway was completed. TSMO changes this paradigm to become an investment strategy for long-term and cost-effective performance.

Examples of the Paradigm Shift to TSMO
Traditional Method TSMO
Operating Completed Projects Integration throughout the Project Life Cycle
  • Planning
  • Project Development
  • Construction
  • Maintenance
Static and Reactive Responsive, Proactive, and Predictive
Average Travel Time, Level of Service Also Travel Time Reliability
Adding Capacity Preserving and Restoring Existing Capacity as an asset to manage
Focus on Individual Facilities and Jurisdictions Entire Transportation System
Moving the Car/Truck from Point A to Point B Moving the Person/Cargo from Point A to Point B
Individual Strategies Integrated Strategies

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Should I use the term TSMO in my State or region?

While the term TSMO is in national legislation, each State and region can use whatever terminology they deem necessary to communicate to their audience. Success in TSMO requires support from stakeholders who may not be deeply involved in TSMO or even have an engineering background. Given the variety of stakeholders and different dynamics in various parts of the country, each group may find different ways to communicate the TSMO philosophy. While it would be beneficial for everyone to adopt the same term, the higher priority is that everyone understands what we all are trying to accomplish with TSMO.

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Does TSMO only apply to urban regions?

No. While TSMO can be very beneficial to urban areas, there is also a need for it in suburban and rural areas. These areas are also prone to crashes, seasonal travel, special events, bad weather, and road construction. This means there is a level of coordination needed to manage such events.

In suburban areas, normal daily travel may not experience as much congestion as in urban areas, but in some cases, suburban delays may be worse due to limited travel alternatives or crashes that cause significant delays. The benefit of TSMO may be best realized in suburban areas before congestion begins. When proactively applied, traffic can be actively managed and capacity preserved regardless of the level of operation of a facility.

Rural regions may also not encounter the daily commuter congestion common in urban areas, but likely can encounter severe congestion by incidents or work zones. Recreational and seasonal travel and occasional special events, such as festivals, can generate a significant amount of traffic as well. In many cases, there are limited detour routes and alternative means for travel.

TSMO is not a practice that only applies to routes with high traffic. The number of cars and trucks on the system does not impact the overall need for TSMO. If we lived in a world where roads and automobiles do not even exist, there would still be a need for a system to transport people and cargo to their destination. That system would still need to be managed and operated.

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How do I apply TSMO to my State DOT that is only responsible for the freeway system or my local agency that is only responsible for a few arterial routes?

TSMO covers the entire transportation system, which mean the impacts and solutions go beyond the targeted locations. If a crash happens on a freeway, the effectiveness of the incident response on the freeway will impact how many vehicles divert off the freeway to arterials. Some TSMO strategies, like Integrated Corridor Management (ICM), require coordination among multiple agencies. When applying a TSMO strategy to a specific location, some questions to ask may be:

  • How do my TSMO strategies impact other routes?
  • How will activities on other routes impact the effectiveness of my TSMO strategy?
  • How will other modes affect or be affected by this TSMO strategy (transit, bike, pedestrian)?

TSMO is not just confined to one jurisdiction or mode of travel. Agencies must look at the transportation system as a whole and coordinate with the appropriate partners. So TSMO applies to any and all transportation agencies, modes and routes.

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How do I advance TSMO in my agency?

Your agency may already be implementing some TSMO strategies, but the key is that they are integrated to accomplish an overall goal for the system and that all the jurisdictions are involved. One of the top priorities is to ensure there is understanding and support from senior leadership and other disciplines and staff who play a key role in advancing TSMO projects. Success in TSMO cannot be dependent on just one champion. There may be opportunities to start small and apply TSMO on strategic corridors and then expand it to the region. While there is no "one size fits all" approach to mainstreaming TSMO into your agency, there are some questions you can ask to begin the conversation.

  • Who owns what routes in the transportation system? (Freeways, arterials, local roads)
  • Are we coordinating with the right stakeholders? (State/Local DOT's, Cities, Counties, MPOs, Transit Authorities, First Responders, etc.)
  • Is TSMO integrated into current processes, such as planning and project development?
  • Do we have goals and objectives for TSMO in our State or region? Are they reflected in our existing plans and processes or will new ones need to be developed?
  • Does our staff have the right skill sets to advance TSMO?
  • How are we tracking and monitoring the performance of our transportation system?
  • How can we best utilize the data and metrics we have?
  • What technology needs should we address to advance TSMO? Is out technology interoperable with other related systems and jurisdictions?
  • Do senior leadership and other departments understand TSMO?

The Capability Maturity Model was developed to assist agencies in building the organizational elements needed to advance TSMO.

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Where can I learn more about TSMO?

While the FHWA Office of Operations offers many resources for various strategies and elements within TSMO, basic information for TSMO can be found here:

* For more information on how TSMO can relate to natural infrastructure, you can download the Connecting TSMO with Natural and Human Environment Fact Sheet and Presentation Slides.