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Congestion Management Process Guidebook

Chapter 1 - Introduction

1.1 — What is a CMP?

"The transportation planning process in a TMA shall address congestion management through a process that provides for safe and effective integrated management and operation of the multimodal transportation system, based on a cooperatively developed and implemented metropolitan-wide strategy, of new and existing transportation facilities...through the use of travel demand reduction and operational management strategies.

The development of a congestion management process should result in multimodal system performance measures and strategies that can be reflected in the metropolitan transportation plan and TIP."

23 CFR 450.320(a) and (b). Metropolitan Transportation Planning, Final Rule, February 14, 2007.

Congestion management is the application of strategies to improve transportation system performance and reliability by reducing the adverse impacts of congestion on the movement of people and goods. A congestion management process (CMP) is a systematic and regionally-accepted approach for managing congestion that provides accurate, up-to-date information on transportation system performance and assesses alternative strategies for congestion management that meet state and local needs. The CMP is intended to move these congestion management strategies into the funding and implementation stages.

The CMP, as defined in federal regulation, is intended to serve as a systematic process that provides for safe and effective integrated management and operation of the multimodal transportation system. The process includes:

A CMP is required in metropolitan areas with population exceeding 200,000, known as Transportation Management Areas (TMAs). Federal requirements also state that in all TMAs, the CMP shall be developed and implemented as an integrated part of the metropolitan transportation planning process. While not required in MPOs with populations below 200,000, the decision-making process represented by the CMP can still serve as a valuable approach at these smaller Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). This is especially true in MPOs that are close to the 200,000 TMA population cutoff, which may benefit from developing a CMP in preparation for becoming a TMA.

In TMAs designated as ozone or carbon monoxide non-attainment areas, the CMP takes on a greater significance. Federal law prohibits projects that result in a significant increase in carrying capacity for single-occupant vehicles (SOVs) from being programmed in these areas unless the project is addressed in the region’s CMP. The CMP must provide an analysis of reasonable travel demand reduction and operational management strategies; if the analysis demonstrates that these strategies cannot fully satisfy the need for additional capacity and additional SOV capacity is warranted, then the CMP must identify strategies to manage the SOV facility safely and effectively, along with other travel demand reduction and operational management strategies appropriate for the corridor.

Although a CMP is required in every TMA, federal regulations are not prescriptive regarding the methods and approaches that must be used to implement a CMP. This flexibility has been provided in recognition that different metropolitan areas may face different conditions regarding traffic congestion and may have different visions of how to deal with congestion. As a result, TMAs across the country have demonstrated compliance with the regulations in different ways. For many MPOs, the CMP has become an important tool for addressing persistent congestion problems and for prioritizing investments. The examples in this guidebook illustrate these uses, as well as linkages to other aspects of the planning and project development process.

The flexibility in the development of the CMP allows MPOs to design their own approaches and processes to fit their individual needs. The CMP is an on-going process, continuously progressing and adjusting over time as goals and objectives change, new congestion issues arise, new information sources become available, and new strategies are identified and evaluated.

Appendix A includes language on the CMP from the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), identifying the legal requirement for a CMP. 23 CFR Part 450 Section 320 identifies the specific federal requirements for a CMP, and is included in Appendix B.

1.2 - History of the CMP

The Congestion Management System (CMS) was first introduced by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) of 1991 and continued under the successor law, the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The CMS was intended to augment and support effective decision making as part of the overall metropolitan transportation planning processes.

Whereas previous laws referred to this set of activities as a "congestion management system" (CMS), the most recent surface transportation authorization law, the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), refers to a "congestion management process," reflecting that the goal of the law is to utilize a process that is an integral component of metropolitan transportation planning.

While the CMS was often treated as a stand-alone data analysis exercise or report on congestion, the CMP is intended to be an on-going process, fully integrated into the metropolitan transportation planning process. The CMP is a "living" document, continually evolving to address the results of performance measures, concerns of the community, new objectives and goals of the MPO, and up-to-date information on congestion issues.

1.3 - Why is a CMP useful?

Traffic congestion continues to challenge our nation’s transportation system, resulting in billions of gallons of wasted fuel, hours of wasted time, and costs to the economy. The Texas Transportation Institute estimates that traffic congestion costs the nation 2.8 billion gallons in wasted fuel and 4.2 billion hours of wasted time per year1. Efforts to address congestion in urban areas are one of the primary demands on transportation funding.

A successful CMP offers many benefits to the regional transportation system. Congestion concerns inevitably tie into community objectives regarding transit use, livability, and land use. When identifying goals and actions to address regional congestion, other planning goals should be considered as well in order to create one unified and efficient approach, thereby helping to ensure that the region’s transportation investments support the desired vision of the community. The CMP is therefore not intended to be a standalone process, but instead an integral part of a larger overall planning process. Some specific benefits of the CMP are noted below.

A Structured Process for Analyzing Congestion Issues

The CMP creates a structured process for incorporating congestion issues into the metropolitan transportation planning process. By addressing congestion through a process that involves developing congestion management objectives, developing performance measures to support these objectives, collecting data, analyzing problems, identifying solutions, and evaluating the effectiveness of implemented strategies, the CMP provides a framework for responding to congestion in a consistent, coordinated fashion. The CMP both informs and receives information from other elements of the planning process, including the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

An Objectives-Driven, Performance-based Approach

The CMP is intended to use an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to planning for congestion management. Through the use of congestion management objectives and performance measures, the CMP provides a mechanism for ensuring that investment decisions are made with a clear focus on desired outcomes. This approach involves screening of strategies using objective criteria, relying on system performance data, analysis, and evaluation. In turn, this approach can help to demonstrate which congestion management strategies are most effective over time, assess why they work (or do not), and help practitioners to target individual strategies to those locations where they may be most successful at reducing congestion. In some regions, the CMP may function as a primary mechanism for an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to integrating management and operations (M&O) strategies into the planning process. More information on this approach is available on U.S. Department of Transportation’s Planning for Operations website - http://www.plan4operations.dot.gov.

Increased Collaboration and Coordination

The CMP often brings an expanded group of partners and stakeholders into the metropolitan transportation planning process, including agencies responsible for transportation system operations (e.g., state and local transportation agencies, toll authorities, transit agencies), land use planning agencies, transportation management associations, and the public. In particular, the involvement of many stakeholders is often important in developing agreed-upon regional objectives for congestion management and appropriate performance measures. Many agencies may be involved in collecting data for the CMP, including operations agencies that may provide real-time data from Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS), transit agencies, state police and safety agencies, and others. These stakeholders can also help to identify strategies, such as demand management approaches (e.g., road pricing, parking management, ridesharing incentives) and operational strategies (e.g., transit signal priority, traffic signal coordination, incident management), that traditionally may not have been considered in the planning process. Collaboration among practitioners is a key element in a successful CMP.

More Effective Resource Allocation

One of the potential benefits of the CMP is a more effective allocation of limited transportation funding among operations and capital projects and programs. The CMP provides a mechanism for identifying short, medium, and long-term strategies for addressing congestion on a system-wide, corridor-level, and site-specific basis. It also highlights travel demand management and operations strategies that historically may not have been a focus of metropolitan transportation planning, and can bring attention to issues such as transportation system reliability and non-recurring congestion, which are not well addressed through traditional transportation demand modeling.

By providing information to decision-makers on system performance and the effectiveness of potential solutions and implemented strategies, alternatives to major capital investments can be identified and considered along with the need for infrastructure improvement. Demand management and operations strategies may be more cost-effective in the short-term than larger capacity adding projects, or could be integrated into capacity projects in order to enhance their effectiveness. A CMP can be designed to swiftly address small-scale congestion problems that threaten the efficiency of the regional transportation network. Prioritization criteria and funding set-asides can be established to support small-scale projects such as bottleneck relief projects and traffic signal coordination that may help to address immediate transportation challenges, serving as a critical link between strategy identification and implementation.

In addition, by examining congestion in the context of multiple goals, the CMP provides information to help make tradeoffs among various issues important to the public, including safe bicycling and walking options and support for livable communities. By considering all of the factors that are important to the public, the CMP helps to ensure the development of appropriate congestion management strategies that fit within the context of the community and help to support the regional vision.

Linkage to Project Development and Environmental Review

Finally, the CMP is not only an integral part of the planning process, but can also help to link planning and project development by providing information to support the environmental analysis conducted under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). The CMP, if appropriately developed, can provide a valuable starting point for identifying a project’s purpose and need, and for alternatives development and screening. Rather than starting from a blank page, the data and decisions made during the planning process can carry forward to feed into the NEPA process.

1.4 - What is the Purpose of this Guidebook?

This guidebook provides practitioners with an understanding of the individual elements of a CMP and includes practical examples of how to implement a successful process based on lessons learned from MPOs across the country. The Process Model included in this document is intended to assist practitioners in their efforts to integrate the CMP into the metropolitan transportation planning process, including the development of the MTP and the TIP.

In 2008, FHWA and FTA released two companion interim guidebooks: An Interim Guidebook on the Congestion Management Process in Metropolitan Transportation Planning and Management & Operations in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan: A Guidebook for Creating an Objectives-Driven, Performance-Based Approach (Interim Draft). These interim guidebooks are available at http://www.plan4operations.dot.gov. Following the development of the interim guidebooks, FHWA and FTA conducted a wide-ranging outreach program to showcase the guidebooks and receive additional input on the approaches recommended in the documents. In response, FHWA and FTA developed an updated guidebook, Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: An Objectives-Driven, Performance-Based Approach - A Guidebook in 2010, which describes an approach to advance planning for operations, including the role of the CMP.

This CMP guidebook builds on the Interim CMP Guidebook and the Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations guidebook, which focus on an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to address congestion and the relationship between the CMP and efficient system management and operations. This guidebook underscores the importance of developing congestion management objectives appropriate to the region and using performance measures to understand congestion problems, assess potential solutions, and evaluate implemented strategies. Moreover, it goes beyond the previous documents by emphasizing the role of the CMP in addressing multiple objectives, including livability, accessibility and mobility, multimodal connectivity, and economic vitality. It also highlights effective practices for documentation and visualization of congestion information, and includes more case study examples of CMP practices at MPOs around the country. In-depth case studies of the CMP at several MPOs also have been developed in association with this guidebook, and are available on the Planning for Operations website (http://plan4operations.dot.gov/congestion.htm) and the FHWA/FTA Transportation Planning Capacity Building website (http://www.planning.dot.gov/).

1.5 - The CMP as an Integral Part of the Metropolitan Planning Process

Transportation planning within a metropolitan region represents a comprehensive, continuing, and cooperative (3C) process to support the needs, vision, and goals of the region. The individual aspects of MPO planning, including the development of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP), the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP), and the Congestion Management Process (CMP), represent the tools that policy makers use to implement their adopted vision and goals. Integration of these elements is a key feature of a comprehensive planning process. Regardless of how an individual MPO structures its CMP, the process is both supportive of and supported by the other activities.

A continuing planning process requires that each of the required products (MTP, TIP, UPWP, CMP) undergoes review and update on a periodic basis. Federal regulations establish minimum update schedules for both the MTP and the TIP; however, there is flexibility within the requirements that allow state DOTs and MPOs to coordinate their plans and programs. The MTP cycle is different for areas that are in attainment (every five years) and those that are non-attainment with respect to air quality (every four years). The required update deadline of the MTP is specific to the individual MPO and is based on the date designated as a TMA. The TIP is required to be updated at least every four years. Many states have adopted an annual or biennial update schedule for the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), and the MPOs coordinate their TIP updates accordingly. As a result, the cycle for the MTP update may be unrelated to the TIP cycle.

Designation of an MPO as a Transportation Management Area (TMA) invokes the requirement for the CMP. Although the CMP does not have an update cycle established by federal regulations, both the four-year certification review cycle and the four- or five-year MTP update cycle for each TMA provide a baseline for a re-evaluation/update cycle in the absence of an identified requirement. The CMP must, at minimum, be updated often enough to provide relevant, recent information as an input to each MTP update. In order to establish a routine CMP review, many MPOs have chosen to link CMP updates to either the MTP or TIP development cycle. The CMP may also operate on an independent update schedule and provide input to both the MTP and the TIP.

The cooperative aspect of the 3C process also can be viewed within the CMP with respect to data collection and analysis. Both the CMP and the MTP are data-driven planning efforts that rely on an understanding of the existing conditions of the transportation system to make projections of future conditions. However, because the CMP identifies areas with significant congestion, it provides an opportunity to consider detailed data on the operation of individual segments and corridors. Along with the use of more detailed data often comes the use of analysis tools and techniques that are not commonly used in long-range planning. The CMP can be greatly enhanced by data sharing among planning partners, as well as supporting resources such as tools and knowledgeable staff. Although this finer level of data and analysis may establish a more robust understanding of the existing conditions, projections of future congested areas still rely upon travel demand models and system-level analysis. As agencies collect operations data on individual corridors or segments over time, identified trends may inform traffic forecasting techniques to more strongly connect observations and analysis of existing congestion and the strategies available to address it with the development of scenarios to mitigate congestion in the future, and may also be a useful tool in calibration/validation of the travel demand model.

The CMP mirrors the elements of the transportation planning process shown in Figure 1. The strong similarities between the activities in both the CMP and the overall transportation planning process facilitate the integration of the CMP into the planning process. The development of regional objectives for the CMP responds to the goals and vision for the region established early in the transportation planning process. As part of the CMP, congestion management strategies are identified, assessed, programmed, implemented, and evaluated. Those activities occur for all types of improvement strategies in the transportation planning process and are reflected in the elements shown in Figure 1. The connections provide opportunities for conducting the CMP in conjunction with, or completely integrated with, the overall metropolitan transportation planning process.

The Interim CMP Guidebook provided in 2008, along with its companion, Management and Operations in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan: A Guidebook for Creating an Objectives-Driven, Performance-Based Approach (Interim Draft), were part of initial efforts to incorporate operational strategies into the MPO planning process using an objectives-driven, performance-based approach. The use of performance measures, data collection, and analysis within the CMP is compatible with a systems operations approach. The framework for an integrated CMP provided in this guidebook is intended to support the use of appropriate demand management, operations, and other strategies to meet transportation needs, for inclusion in both the MTP and the TIP.

Figure 1. The Transportation Planning Process

The Transportation Planning Process. Click for more information.

Source: U.S Department of Transportation, FHWA and FTA "The Transportation Planning Process: Key Issues - A Briefing Book for Transportation Decisionmakers, Officials, and Staff," Updated September 2007, Publication Number: FHWA-HEP-07-039. Available at: http://www.planning.dot.gov/documents/BriefingBook/BBook.htm.


1 Texas Transportation Institute, 2009 Urban Mobility Report. Citing data for 2007.

Updated: 03/25/2013
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