Forward Motion: Transportation Planning

Making Plans Count: Taking Performance-Based Transportation Planning to the Community Level

October 1st, 2013

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The concept of “planning for operations” first began under SAFETEA-LU (2005) to guide Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) across the country in how they make investment decisions to more comprehensively consider system management and operations.

Measuring the value of how well an investment meets regional transportation goals and policies was an important breakthrough.

The current MAP-21 federal program (2012) continues this emphasis on using performance measures in transportation planning. Now, MPOs are asking local agencies to remake their transportation plans in a similar performance-based manner.

In the Portland, Oregon-Vancouver, Washington metropolitan area, for example, Metro’s Regional Transportation Plan (2010) calls for local cities and counties to report on how they will comply with regional performance targets for mobility, congestion, and mode share, to name a few. Metro communities have responded by adding performance measures into plan updates. In doing so, they’ve discovered some unexpected benefits, which are summarized in the following sections.

Project Values Align with Funding

Since a regional transportation plan already complies with federal MAP-21 guidelines, it makes sense for local communities to also re-align themselves with the same policy and performance framework. In this way, the local and regional agencies share a common set of metrics that can be used to score and discuss potential improvement projects. Local projects that could be funded through regional or state programs would be evaluated in a similar fashion as the regional plan. This also simplifies the public conversation about transportation investments by using a shared lexicon that describes what is valuable.

This new measurable planning framework can also highlight gaps and weaknesses in local funding programs.

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Carl_Springer_photoCarl Springer is both a professional engineer and professional transportation planner, and is a Principal of DKS Associates in their Portland, Oregon office.

Carl has led citywide and regional transportation planning studies throughout the West Coast over the past 30 years. He has presented to dozens of planning commissions and councils about their transportation challenges and potential solutions, and has helped them to understand what it takes to get them built.

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