Transportation Planning


All levels of government conduct transportation planning. Thoughtful, coordinated, and inclusive planning creates linked mobility options for residents of all ages and ability levels within a community. It also can connect neighborhoods to the broader region via an efficient road and transit network.

Federal efforts—the US Department of Transportation (DOT) authorizes state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to determine the uses of federal funds for roads and highways, public transportation, and bicycle and pedestrian programs. The federal government provides standards and technical assistance for state and local project decisions and reviews planning activities of MPOs and states in light of federal policy and law. Before a project receives federal funding, it must be included in the regional or state long-range transportation plan (LRTP) and transportation improvement program (TIP).

There have been a number of federal transportation laws over the years. Currently, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, enacted in 2015, is in effect. It provides long-term funding certainty for surface transportation infrastructure planning and investment. This ensures that state and local governments can move forward with important transportation projects. Various DOT offices—including the Federal Highway Administration, Federal Transit Administration (FTA), the Federal Railroad Administration, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration—are responsible for implementing the FAST Act.

Funding for senior transportation comes from a number of different federal, state, and local grants. Traditionally, transportation providers have used grants from the FTA’s Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities to purchase vehicles. Funding from the Older Americans Act is used to operate service.

Metropolitan areas—under federal law, every region with a population over 50,000 must have a metropolitan planning organization (MPO), which comprises local government officials, public transit officials, and appropriate state officials. MPOs plan for the allocation of federal investment and are responsible for regional transportation planning.

State planning—state transportation departments participate in the metropolitan planning process and are responsible for planning activities outside of metropolitan areas. The state transportation department develops the four-to-six-year state transportation improvement program (STIP). Projects listed in the regional transportation improvement plan are incorporated into the STIP. States agencies also prepare statewide long-range transportation plans.

Rural areas—small towns and cities, counties, rural planning organizations (RPOs), and state transportation departments undertake rural transportation planning. States take the lead in planning for federal investment in nonmetropolitan areas and have the option under the FAST Act to establish and designate regional transportation planning organizations (RTPOs), which are analogous to MPOs. RTPOs enhance the planning, coordination, and implementation of long-range plans and STIPs. States that do not establish RTPOs are still required to consult with affected nonmetropolitan officials to identify projects that may be of regional significance, carry out statewide planning, and develop LRTPs and TIPs.

Counties, cities, and towns—counties, cities, and towns also develop and maintain transportation infrastructure through public works, transportation planning, or community development departments. Such local planning work often feeds into the regional and state transportation improvement plans.

Public input—the FAST Act requires states and MPOs to certify that their transportation planning processes include citizen participation. The Coordinated Public Transit-Human Services Transportation Plan must be developed with input from key stakeholder groups and the public. Public involvement is also an important element in the development of state Strategic Highway Safety Plans.

Transportation Planning: Policy

Transportation planning

In this policy: FederalLocalState

The Federal Transit Administration and the Administration for Community Living should encourage state and local governments to provide older adults, including those with disabilities, with greater opportunities to participate in planning for community-based transportation systems and services.

States, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), regional planning organizations, and local jurisdictions should:

  • adopt plans that enhance the mobility of older adults and people with disabilities—planning efforts should consider the effects of transportation planning and land-use decisions on the mobility of older adults and people with disabilities;
  • coordinate planning and programming activities to ensure that the regional project priorities of MPOs are reflected in fiscally constrained state transportation plans;
  • examine the benefits of public transportation service improvements before undertaking major road-building projects; and
  • actively promote public participation by consumers, including older adults, in transportation planning decisions on such issues as routing services, placing and designing highways and roads, transportation demand management, and investing in and deploying intelligent transportation systems.