For decades, state departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and other transportation agencies have developed multimodal long-range transportation and capital investment plans as required by federal law to ensure the plans meet future and forecasted needs. These plans have anticipated trends and considered uncertainty, however, state DOTs and MPOs are facing new and compounding uncertainties that are difficult to consider, forecast, or fully understand how they may impact transportation networks and mobility. These challenges are coupled with additional regulatory requirements, resulting in transportation planning and programming, becoming more complex inside more constrained processes.
Long-range transportation planning is fraught with uncertainty. A confluence of trends, including, but not limited to, shifts in demographics, the economy, and workforce; freight and supply chains disruptions; pressure from land use decisions; changes in society, culture, and politics; the impact of, and security concerns with, rapidly changing technologies and emerging modes of mobility; a growing number of wide-ranging risks to transportation networks; and continued uncertainty about future funding for transportation. There is also significant uncertainty regarding the short-term duration and recovery from the pandemic and the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on travel behavior. Additional regulatory requirements of transportation planning include, but are not limited to, performance based-planning and programming, and asset management.
State DOTs and MPOs have some research and guidance at their disposal to help understand uncertainty, including how to utilize methods such as scenario planning, robust decision-making, and risk analysis tools to assess the potential impacts of uncertainty. Research is needed to identify points in processes where flexibility exists and how state DOTs and MPOs can better consider uncertainty. Specifically, state DOTs and MPOs need research to focus on statewide and metropolitan long-range transportation plans (LRTP), statewide and metropolitan transportation improvement programs (STIP/TIP), and other related planning documents (e.g., modal or implementation plans), to inform investment decisions that achieve agency goals such as performance management targets, increased accessibility, congestion mitigation, greenhouse gas reduction targets, resiliency, or increasing equitable outcomes.
The objectives of this research are to:
Identify how, when, where, and why uncertainty should be considered in state DOT and MPO planning and programming processes;
Develop frameworks, guidance, and/or toolkit(s) to factor uncertainty into LRTPs, STIP/TIPs, and other related planning documents, and that allow state DOTs and MPOs to monitor and implement their plans;
Identify strategies and techniques to proactively adapt plans when impacts from uncertainty require agencies to pivot to ultimately achieve their goals; and
- Identify strategies to communicate with stakeholders, including partners, decision-makers, elected officials, and the public-at-large about uncertainty in transportation planning and programming.
STATUS: Research in progress.