Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
Planning · Environment · Real Estate

HEP Events Guidance Publications Glossary Awards Contacts

Scenario Planning Peer Workshop Report - Vancouver, Washington

III. Highlights from Presentations

A. Scenario Planning Overview

Fred Bowers and Rae Keasler, FHWA
Alisa Fine, USDOT Volpe Center
Brian Betlyon, FHWA Resource Center

FHWA staff provided an overview of the scenario planning process. While there are many conceptualizations of scenario planning, FHWA defines it as a process that can help transportation professionals prepare for what lies ahead. Scenario planning provides a framework for developing a shared vision for the future by analyzing various forces (e.g., health, economic, environmental, land use) that affect transportation and testing future alternatives that meet state and community needs.

Photograph of workshop participants seated at round tables, listening to a speaker who is in the background. There are also 5 easels with maps and information along the wall with the speaker.

Vancouver workshop participants listen to speakers.

A defining characteristic of the process is that it actively involves the public, elected officials, and other stakeholders on a broad scale. It educates them about trends and trade-offs, and incorporates their values and feedback into future plans.

Scenario planning helps facilitate dialogue among community members and allows for active stakeholder involvement. Through these activities, scenario planning helps build consensus for strategic transportation and land use decisions. FHWA also supports scenario planning practitioners by sponsoring webinars and workshops around the country and by providing guidance and assistance through the FHWA scenario planning website, which is available at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/scenario_and_visualization/scenario_planning/.

In addition, FHWA supports practitioners by disseminating the FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook.4 This document outlines a six-phase framework that guides practitioners to implement a complete scenario planning process (see Figure 3). The six phases offer a non-prescriptive approach that agencies can tailor to meet their needs. Each of the phases focuses on a different component of scenario planning, including getting started, establishing goals and aspirations, developing and assessing scenarios, and implementing an action plan.

Figure 3. FHWA Six-Phase Scenario Planning Framework. Click image for detailed description.

Figure 3. FHWA Six-Phase Scenario Planning Framework.

During the workshop, FHWA staff provided the following three cases as examples of noteworthy planning practices:

B. Envision Utah Overview

Alan Matheson, Envision Utah

Mr. Matheson provided an overview of Envision Utah and its scenario planning approach. In collaboration with state leaders, the Coalition for Utah's Future, a nonprofit, formed Envision Utah in 1997 to serve as a neutral facilitator of a public process to explore solutions to the challenges presented by growth in the greater Wasatch Front region in Utah. Between 1997 and 1999, the organization held over 200 scenario planning workshops and spoke with more than 20,000 community members and leaders about their values and visions, working closely with these stakeholders to determine how to best plan for projected growth in the ten-county greater Wasatch Front Region.8

Photograph of Alan Matheson, speaking at a podium to workshop participants

Mr. Matheson speaks to participants.

From this public feedback, Envision Utah created four alternative scenarios and assessed their impacts on a variety of indicators such as energy use, jobs, air quality, housing, land consumption, water, open space, and others. The results of this analysis were shared with stakeholders through an intensive public awareness campaign.

Using feedback obtained through the campaign and preceding public workshops, meetings, and surveys, Envision Utah developed a Quality Growth Strategy that incorporated population, housing demand, and employment projections over a 20-year time horizon.9 The strategy outlined six goals and 32 individual community strategies for accommodating growth in the Wasatch Front region. In its review of the Quality Growth Strategy, the Utah Governor's office found that implementing the recommended strategies would provide more housing and transportation choices for the region, reduce traffic congestion, improve air quality, and save $4.5 million in infrastructure costs over 20 years.

Since the late 1990s, Envision Utah has replicated its scenario planning process in dozens of communities and regions in Utah and other states. Recent efforts have included the Wasatch Choice for 2040, which developed a more defined, specific version of the earlier Quality Growth Strategy, Blueprint Jordan River, a visioning exercise for communities along the Jordan River in Utah, and the Mountain View Corridor Study in western Salt Lake County.1011

Envision Utah's scenario planning model involves conducting values exercises to understand what residents want from their region. It also involves preparing a baseline scenario to raise stakeholders' awareness of projected growth and how it might affect their community. The model also involves conducting extensive public outreach and promoting in-depth collaboration with partners across the community. Overall, Envision Utah's process aims to help communities identify their options for growth and promote stakeholders' ownership of the planning process.

Additional highlights from Mr. Matheson's presentation are presented below.

Need for Scenario Planning
Changing trends bring a need for changes in planning processes. Scenario planning can help address some current socioeconomic, demographic, transportation, land use, and other types of trends, such as:

Envision Utah Scenario Planning Model
Envision Utah's scenario planning model focuses on conducting values analysis to assess what is most important to the community and strategic visioning to assess what decisions support the values under different constraints. Mr. Matheson noted that scenario planning is ultimately an exercise to identify what people have in common. As such, scenario planning should start with values identification exercises, which help unite communities by establishing a common baseline and encourage long-term strategic thinking.

Values analysis and strategic visioning are examined in detail below.

Mr. Matheson suggested that values analysis and strategic visioning can be important components for a community's scenario planning process, but each community must tailor these components to meet a unique set of goals and objectives.

Lessons Learned
There are many factors involved in designing a successful scenario planning process. For example, scenario planning requires investment and commitment from the community and its leadership. During the workshop, Mr. Matheson provided some lessons learned on how communities can begin conducting scenario planning, particularly regarding ways to establish trust and credibility early on, to build support from the community:


4 The guidebook is available at www.fhwa.dot.gov/planning/scenario_and_visualization/scenario_planning/scenario_planning_guidebook/.

5 For additional information on SLOCOG's effort, see www.slocog.org/cm/Community2050/Home.html.

6 For additional information on BMTS' effort, see www.transportationforcommunities.com/shrpc01/case_study/12/lrtp.

7 For additional information on TJPDC and EPI, see www.tjpdc.org/community/epi.asp.

8 Detailed information on the 1997-1999 Envision Utah scenario planning process for the Wasatch Front region is available at http://envisionutah.org/historyenvisonutahv5p1.pdf.

9 For additional information on the Quality Growth Strategy, see www.envisionutah.org/eu_about_eu_qualitygrowthstrategy_main.html.

10 After participating in the Envision Utah's initial scenario planning process, the community voted in favor of a proposed tax to fund transit throughout Salt Lake County, which it had rejected prior to the process.

11 Additional information on Envision Utah's efforts outside of the Wasatch Front region is available at www.envisionutah.org/eu_projects_regionalvisioning.html.

12 See http://envisionutah.org/historyenvisonutahv5p1.pdf.

13 For example, scenario planning costs can range from $50,000 or less for a small effort to $5 million or more for a large effort coordinated by several agencies. Statistics from FHWA Scenario Planning Guidebook and from Cambridge Systematics' report titled “State-of-the-Practice Alternative Land Use and Transportation Scenario Development: A Review of Eight Metropolitan Planning Organization Case Studies".” (2009). Available at www.oregon.gov/ODOT/TD/TP/docs/HB2186page/USScenarios.pdf.

Updated: 05/14/2014
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000