A Comprehensive Approach to Transportation Planning

By Arroyo, Rodney L. | Nation's Cities Weekly, August 2, 2004 | Go to article overview
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A Comprehensive Approach to Transportation Planning

Arroyo, Rodney L., Nation's Cities Weekly

Municipalities face a wide variety of transportation planning and traffic engineering challenges. The process of providing and maintaining a safe and efficient transportation system can be greatly enhanced by following a comprehensive approach to transportation planning that provides a link between long-range planning and implementation.

Key components of successful transportation planning include:

1. appropriate studies and evaluations by transportation experts,

2. public input, and

3. decision making by municipalities and road agencies that reflects the comprehensive transportation planning process.

Without a comprehensive approach, municipal officials may be forced to use valuable resources inefficiently. For example, there will be pressure to concentrate resources on certain issues or geographic areas that have urgent traffic concerns such as traffic generated by a proposed new shopping center, perceived cut-through traffic in a neighborhood or safety concerns raised by a vehicular crash. If such decisions are made in isolation, they can result in an inefficient use of resources, excess cost to the municipality and requests by others for similar solutions.

In contrast, decisions that are based on established and recognized criteria that reflect public input and that include an evaluation of the "part" as it relates to the "whole" are generally better and can lead to a more coordinated transportation system.

A comprehensive approach to transportation planning includes public input: long-, mid- and short-range planning: and implementation.

Public Input

"Harmonization" is a method transportation professionals use to solve transportation problems by encouraging public participation and input. There is often more than one technically acceptable way to solve a problem.

But, to find a solution that works for the community, social costs and benefits must be considered.

One effective way of gathering input early in the process is through transportation futuring. This process allows participants to brainstorm new ideas and approaches to solving transportation problems. It can also foster community-level support for the overall transportation planning process.

Long-Range Planning

Developing a comprehensive, long-range transportation plan is a community's opportunity to establish policies that will guide future transportation decisions. It also establishes the framework for the long-range road system. Area and corridor transportation plans can be part of this effort.

It is important to consider state and regional long-range plans, Review the state long-range transportation plan, plans of the regional planning agency and plans and programs of the metropolitan planning organization (MPO). If necessary, ask state and regional agencies to modify their plans to be consistent with local plans.

Mid-Range Planning

A 10-year transportation improvements plan (TIP) is an excellent planning tool to refine the recommendations of a long-range plan. The main goal of a TIP is to identify road widenings, new roads, intersection improvements, road paving and similar projects expected over the next decade. Preliminary costs and priorities can be established at this phase.

It is most critical at this stage to target resources based on priorities. The cost of improvements in a 10-year TIP will almost always far exceed the municipality's budget.

If these improvements are prioritized by type (e.g., county intersections, county road widenings, city/village intersections, etc.), funding sources can be identified accordingly. Monitoring MPO and MDOT funding programs should be part of the process.

The recommendations from a community's mid-range planning process should flow down from the plan to the capital (or transportation) improvements program, bridging the gap between planning and budgeting.

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