Highway Planning

At the heart of the MPO’s duties is the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). This plan projects transportation system and program needs 20 years into the future. Drafting the plan can take up to two years, as massive amounts of traffic, demographic, and employment data must be synthesized, often utilizing special software such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS) or transportation modeling software. Agencies impacted by transportation–such as environmental protection, social services, or historic preservation–are consulted during the process to ensure the plan compliments the goals of those agencies. The plan is also subjected to input and scrutiny from private citizens, members of advisory commissions, and MPO board members. Finally, the MPO board must approve the plan.

Transportation Improvement Program TIPs are a written three to five year work program of projects in an MPO’s region. The TIP prioritizes projects to be completed based upon the 20-year Long Range Transportation Plan, current conditions, and prevailing funding. Federal and state funds are allocated to the projects that appear in the TIP. Often, no more than a list of projects, it heavily refers to the LRTP for planned projects.The operations and management plan for the MPO is the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP). The UPWP’s purpose is to coordinate the planning activities of all participants in the planning process, including municipalities, counties, and MPOs. It contains the schedule, projected costs, and needed resources to construct planned projects. Usually approved for only one fiscal year, it is the last and most detailed step in the transportation infrastructure planning process.

The Highway Trust Fund–the principal source of transportation funding–could become insolvent as early as 2010 due to inflation and gasoline conservation. These revenue forecasts indicate that current levels of transportation funding are unsustainable. Reform of the Highway Trust Fund is needed to build the necessary infrastructure to relieve congestion, move freight, and grow the economy.  New sources of transportation funding or alternative methods of raising funds must be explored. NARC is committed to helping Congress and the Administration find new sources of revenue or new ways of thinking about funding transportation.  Included in the options being explored are public/private finance, innovative finance and infrastructure banks.

A FHWA Primer on the Highway Trust Fund can be found here (.pdf, 133k)

Presentations made on this topic at the NARC Washington Policy Conference:
Future of Transportation Finance, by Jack Basso, AASHTO
The State of Transportation Finance, by Rob Puentes, Brookings Institution

Highway Links

Federal Highway Administration
National Cooperative Highway Research Program
FHWA Office of Planning, Environment and Realty
Highway Planning Network GIS Data
ESRI Transportation Planning Site
NARC Modeling Page

Highway Programs

Federal-aid highway programs form the backbone of COG/MPO transportation planning.  Administered by the Federal Highway Administration, the 97 highway programs authorized by SAFETEA-LU are worth an average of $39.9 billion per year.

Core Programs

The five “core” programs offered to states by SAFETEA-LU are:

Congestion Management and Air Quality

National Highway System

Interstate Maitenance

Highway Bridge

Surface Transportation Program

Other Major Federal-Aid Programs

Beyond the “Core” programs, SAFETEA-LU authorizes several other major programs.  The designation of “major” is used for convenience on this website, it is not a term used by FHWA or SAFETEA-LU.  All Federal aid programs worth more than $100 million per year are discussed in this section.  Programs are listed from largest to smallest.

Equity Bonus Program
EB Fact Sheet

High Priority Projects Program
HPP Fact Sheet

Highway Safety Improvement Program
HSIP Fact Sheet

Federal Lands Highway Programs
FLHP Fact Sheet

Appalachian Development Highway System
ADHS Fact Sheet

Railway-Highway Crossings
Crossings Fact Sheet

Surface Transportation Research, Development, and Deployment Program
STRRD Fact Sheet

Safe Routes to School Program
SRSP Fact Sheet

Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act
TIFIA Fact Sheet


National Transportation Programs

Most programs in SAFETEA-LU are intended as grants to states and local governments.  However, several programs are identified as important programs for the entire nation.  These programs are generally associated with freight movement and border crossings.

Coordinated Border Infrastructure Program

National Corridor Infrastructure Improvement Program

Projects of National and Regional Significance

Minor Programs and Grants

SAFETEA-LU has 15 minor grant programs that address specific issues.  These programs and their FHWA fact sheets are listed here.

Delta Region Transportation Development Program
Denali Access System
Ferry Terminal Construction Program
Future Strategic Highway Research Program
Highways for Life Pilot Program
Highway Use Tax Evasion Projects
National Historic Covered Bridge Preservation
National Scenic Byways Program
Recreational Trails Program
Surface Transportation-Environmental Cooperative Research Program
Training and Education Program
Transportation, Community, and System Preservation Program
Truck Parking Facilities
Value Pricing Pilot Program
Work Zone Safety



Provisions are regulations, requirements, and caveats attached to funding programs.  States, MPOs, COGs, and local governments are required to comply with provisions in order to receive funding.

Congrestion Mitigation
Environmental Review Process
Environmental Stewardship
High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes
Interstate Oasis Program
Metropolitan Planning
Program Administration and Excess Funds
State Infrastructure Bank Program
Statewide Planning
Stewardship and Oversight
Tolling Provisions
Transportation Conformity
Transportation Enhancement Program
Transportation Systems Management


Copyright © 2013 National Association of Regional Councils