The National Academies

NCHRP 08-154 [Pending]

Guidance for Agencies to Incorporate Uncertainty into Long-Range Transportation Planning

  Project Data
Funds: $600,000
Contract Time: 34 months
Staff Responsibility: Trey Joseph Wadsworth

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:
  1. Identify how, when, where, and why uncertainty should be considered in state DOT and MPO planning and programming processes;
  2. 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;
  3. Identify strategies and techniques to proactively adapt plans when impacts from uncertainty require agencies to pivot to ultimately achieve their goals; and
  4. Identify strategies to communicate with stakeholders, including partners, decision-makers, elected officials, and the public-at-large about uncertainty in transportation planning and programming.
Accomplishment of the project objective(s) will require at least the following tasks.
Task descriptions are intended to provide a framework for conducting the research. The NCHRP is seeking the insights of proposers on how best to achieve the research objectives. Proposers are expected to describe research plans that can realistically be accomplished within the constraints of available funds and contract time. Proposals must present the proposers' current thinking in sufficient detail to demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the soundness of their approach to meeting the research objectives.
Proposers are encouraged to propose and sequence tasks in the manner they think are most effective to complete the research with two project phases. The proposal should identify project milestones and any interim deliverables associated with the proposed tasks (such as technical memorandums or summary reports, etc.). An Interim Report (IR) should be included as a deliverable at a mid-point in the proposed timeline. The proposer should use the IR to distinctly reflect Phase I and include an updated research plan for Phase II.
An engagement strategy should be developed and presented in the proposal to achieve the four research objectives including the validation of draft guidance or frameworks. The strategy may include interviews, focus groups, surveys, peer exchanges, workshops, or other creative methods targeted at stakeholders including, decision-makers, elected and appointed officials, practitioners, and partners. The proposer should be creative and inclusive in devising how to bring together stakeholders from diverse backgrounds and geographies. Engagement activities should be identified and executed throughout the life of the project, and results from engagement activities should be considered deliverables and shared with NCHRP at associated milestones.
The elements of research tasks envisioned to be necessary to meet the research objectives are described below, but proposers are encouraged to consider these elements in their proposed tasks and deliverables as they think would be most effective and are encouraged to suggest additional activities.
  1. Conduct a literature review. Review existing research related to planning and programming in uncertainty and building resiliency, including research related to other public infrastructure and multi-modal investment planning as well as non-transportation or other private sector planning that might be relevant to research objectives. Defining uncertainties, and develop a typology of uncertainties should be included.
  2. Conduct a synthesis of state DOT and MPO planning practices related to uncertainty and improving resilience, including examples of new or modified programming processes. This might include a broad-based scan or survey, followed by select case studies to document approaches, impacts, and lessons learned. Frameworks or examples where partnerships were utilized in transcending modal or agency silos should be noted. Gaps in practice may be identified.
  3. Develop new frameworks, guidance, and/or toolkits for incorporating uncertainty into LRTPs and STIP/TIPs, and other relevant planning documents, addressing topics including, but not limited to, uncertainty in priority setting, in target setting, and programming and phasing.
  4. Develop a communications and implementation plan with supporting materials to advance the framework, guidance, and/or toolkits, especially with stakeholders, including partners, decision-makers, elected officials, and the public-at-large. 
The framework and guidance should be flexible to address different scales, contexts, and geographies for specific types of agencies and provide approaches that would be appropriate to incorporate into different types of planning processes with consideration for the level of resources available. It also should consider the workforce, technical, and financial capacity of agencies to adapt these approaches, especially as planning requirements evolve. Additionally, guidance should assist with the facilitation of alignment between state DOT and MPO plans when identifying and accommodating uncertainty. Creative methods to navigate uncertainty that are still compliant with federal planning and programming requirements should only be included.
Anticipated final deliverables include (1) a guidebook presented in Microsoft Word, (2) a "Conduct of Research Report" that documents the research effort, (3) a PowerPoint presentation with speaker notes that summarizes the project, (4) a draft article suitable for publication in the TRNews (no guarantee of publication is implied), and an Implementation Plan.

STATUS: Proposals have been received in response to the RFP.  The project panel will meet to select a contractor to perform the work.

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