Section 2: Metropolitan Transportation Planning Process

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The basis for the metropolitan transportation planning process is federal legislation. The U.S. Congress passes transportation-related acts or public laws such as the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). These acts or public laws amend or replace various sections of Title 23 of the United States Code (USC) for highway-related items or Title 49 USC that deal with transit-related items.

The various federal agencies, based on the changes to Title 23 USC and Title 49 USC, then write or rewrite their rules. The rules are included in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR matches the USC numbering. For example, rules created by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) based on changes to Title 23 USC would appear in 23 CFR. Rules created by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) based on change to Title 49 USC would appear in 49 CFR.

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The 1962 landmark federal surface transportation legislation (previously called highway act legislation) created the first mandate for transportation planning in the United States. Processes since that time have emphasized links between good planning and decision making. Strengthened planning practices and coordination among state departments of transportation (DOTs), metropolitan areas, transit agencies, and between public and the private sectors are expected to improve the linkages and connections between different forms of transportation.

Federal regulations require the designation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) in each urbanized area with a population over 50,000. Regulations further require each metropolitan area have a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning process that results in plans and programs to consider all transportation modes and support community development and social goals. Transportation plans and programs must lead to the development and operation of an integrated, intermodal transportation system that facilitates the efficient and economic movement of people and goods.

Responsibility for statewide transportation planning and its coordination has been delegated by the Governor to the Texas Transportation Commission, which in turn has delegated these responsibilities to the Executive Director of the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). TxDOT has developed minimum standards for metropolitan transportation planning which prescribe how the state and metropolitan planning organizations will develop transportation planning processes to ensure effective planning and program development. These processes will also assure eligibility of the state to continue to receive federal transportation funds.

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Planning Factors

In ISTEA, 15 factors were identified as part of the planning process for all metropolitan areas. These factors were to be considered in the development of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP). In the legislative process for TEA-21, these factors were reviewed and consolidated into seven elements:

  • support the economic vitality of the metropolitan area, especially by enabling global competitiveness, productivity, and efficiency
  • increase the safety and security of the transportation system for motorized and nonmotorized users
  • increase the accessibility and mobility options available to people and for freight
  • protect and enhance the environment, promote energy conservation, and improve quality of life
  • enhance the integration and connectivity of the transportation system, across and between modes, for people and freight
  • promote efficient system management and operation
  • emphasize the preservation of the existing transportation system.

It is important to note that TEA-21 included a statement indicating that failure to consider any of the above factors shall not be reviewable by any court under Title 23, Subchapter II of Chapter 5 of Title 5, or Chapter 7 of Title 5 in any matter affecting a transportation plan, a transportation improvement plan, a project or strategy, or the certification of a planning process.

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