Program Overview

FTA's metropolitan and statewide planning office supports a cooperative, continuing, and comprehensive framework for assisting communities in  making transportation investment decisions. Our office provides planning support in funding, planning guidance, technical assistance, and oversight.

Funding

Both FTA and FHWA provide funding to metropolitan and state agencies for the development of plans, programs, and supporting analyses. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) document their planned use of these funds in Unified Planning Work Programs (UPWPs). States identify the individual planning activities at both the metropolitan and statewide levels in State Planning and Research Programs (SPRs). Cooperatively with FHWA, FTA’s Office of Planning and Environment provides broad program direction and guidance to these state and metropolitan agencies to ensure implementation of the policy priorities and program requirements set forth in both statute and regulation. This is accomplished through close working relationships with the field offices of both agencies, through which guidance, training, and technical assistance, as well as statutory and regulatory oversight, is provided, as discussed below.

Planning Guidance

Joint FTA/FHWA guidance is prepared to encourage and facilitate attention by metropolitan and statewide planning processes to critical planning emphasis areas having national significance. In 1998, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) identified seven factors for planning processes to consider in identifying projects for inclusion in plans and programs: 1) support economic vitality, 2) increase safety and security, 3) increase access and mobility options for people and freight, 4) protect and enhance environmental quality and energy conservation, 5) enhance integration and connectivity across systems, 6) promote efficient system management and operation, and 7) emphasize system preservation. In 2005, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), gave added emphasis to the role of security by listing it separate among a new total of eight planning factors.

Technical Assistance

The FTA Office of Planning and Environment is cooperating with FHWA in providing opportunities for peer exchange of effective practices the eight planning factors, as well as publication of case studies. In addition, the National Transit Institute and the National Highway Institute develop and provide training courses on these topics. On an as-needed basis, the Office of Planning and Environment also works with FHWA in providing technical assistance to federal field offices and state and local agencies on such issues as transportation conformity, fiscal constraint, public involvement, and analytical methods.

Because transportation planners and policy boards responsible for developing transportation plans and programs in states and metropolitan areas face increasing responsibilities and increasingly complex issues, FTA’s Office of Planning and Environment and FHWA have developed the Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program (TPCB). The program aims to provide an orientation for MPO and transit agency policy board members; strengthen planning staffs' consensus building, policy analysis, and technical skills; disseminate best practices; assist MPO and transit agency policy board members in understanding the metropolitan transportation planning process; and provide a venue and structure for peer exchange of experiences and effective practices. The TPCB Program has been expanded to include statewide, metropolitan, rural, and tribal planning issues.

The TPCB Program serves as a centralized and comprehensive source of information for those with an interest in transportation planning. The TPCB program provides information, technical assistance, training, and education, and solicits customer feedback in order to effectively contribute to the needs of the planning community.

Oversight

An important element of the stewardship responsibility of the FTA Office of Planning and Environment is ensuring that metropolitan and statewide planning processes conform to federal requirements, including support for a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive program of activity. Metropolitan areas with more than 200,000 in population – termed transportation management areas (TMAs) – are the focus of federally required compliance reviews and certifications at least every four years, made jointly by FTA and FHWA. In addition to fulfilling a key federal requirement, these TMA Planning Certification Reviews provide useful occasions for gaining insight into the recurring issues, information needs, as well as the notable success stories, of local planning processes. FTA and FHWA use this information to develop guidance and training programs and identify potential case studies of effective practices to share with planners in other areas as well as more broadly in the transportation planning industry. A study of the certifications made in recent years identified the greatest opportunities for improvement to be public involvement, agency representation, and interagency coordination. Interestingly, the certification reviews identified a comparable number of effective practices that were in those topic areas.

SAFETEA-LU also requires FTA and FHWA to make a finding at least every four years that statewide planning processes leading to the development of the statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) conform to federal requirements. In practice, this determination is made whenever a state updates its STIP (but not less frequent than every four years).

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