By the early 1990s, there were major changes underway that would have significant effects on urban transportation and urban transportation planning. The era of major new highway construction was over in most urban areas. On a selective basis, gaps in the highway system would be closed and a few new routes would be constructed, but the basic highway system was in place. However, the growth in urban travel was continuing unabated. With only limited highway expansion possible, new approaches needed to be found to serve this travel demand. Moreover, this growth in traffic congestion was contributing to the degradation of the urban environment and urban life and needed to be slowed. Previous attempts at the selected application of transportation system management measures (TSM) had proven to have limited impacts on congestion, providing the need for more comprehensive and integrated strategies. In addition, a number of new technologies was reaching the point of application, including intelligent vehicle-highway systems (IVHS) and magnetically levitated trains.
Many transportation agencies entered into strategic management and planning processes to identify the scope and nature of these changes, to develop strategies to address these issues, and to better orient their organization to function in this new environment. They shifted their focus toward longer-term time horizons, more integrated transportation management strategies, wider geographic application of these strategies, and a renewed interest in technological alternatives.
The shortage of financial resources was still a serious concern. In the debate over the reauthorization of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, there was a considerable discussion over the level of funding, the amount of flexibility in using those funds, and the degree of authority that local agencies would be given in programming the funds.