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Performance Based Planning and Programming Guidebook

3. Develop Goals and Objectives

Setting clear goals and objectives is a critical foundation for any successful planning effort. Transportation planning recognizes the critical links between transportation and other societal goals. The planning process is more than merely listing highway and transit capital projects. It requires developing strategies for managing, operating, maintaining, and financing the area's transportation system, and selecting investments in such a way as to advance the area's long-term goals. Consequently, the transportation planning process generally begins with the development of a vision and broad goals that provide a strategic direction for investment and policy decisions.

While a performance-based planning and programming process does not change this key step or element in any substantial way, a fundamental principle of PBPP is that actions taken by a transportation agency should be based on strategic direction, and performance should be measured toward the attainment of desired outcomes. As a result, it is important to establish goals and objectives with careful thinking about how they will be used as a foundation for developing performance measures and targets for investment decision-making and for measuring performance. Goals and objectives should be developed in conjunction with both internal agency and external stakeholders. This section highlights principles, and examples of setting goals and objectives as a foundation within a PBPP approach.

Developing Goals: Focus on Outcomes

In a PBPP process, goals should ideally be developed with a focus on outcomes, rather than on activities or policies. A useful definition is:

A goal is a broad statement that describes a desired end state.

In the transportation planning process, goals stem from the values inherent in the community's vision for the future. These outcome-oriented goals set the strategic direction for a PBPP process, answering the questions:

Goals should reflect agreed-upon system-wide priorities and should relate to outcomes that matter to the public, not just to the agency internally.

A key principle of PBPP is that each step in the planning process needs to be clearly connected to the next. This occurs from the initial goal setting phase. Often in planning, goal setting is thought of as a "feel good" activity where everyone gets to have their key issue represented in some goal statement. Under PBPP, when developing goals, it is important to think about:

The idea is to develop goals that will then form the basis for selecting investments, policies, or activities to help support the attainment of those outcomes, and that performance measures established in relation to these goals will carry through planning and programming decisions.

It is important to recognize that many factors influence transportation system performance, and transportation is only one component of a community: land use, housing, the economy, and natural resources also can play a role. As a result, outcomes may relate to aspects of the transportation system that are only partially under the control or influence of transportation agencies. Goals do not have to fall solely under the control the transportation agency, but the agency should consider its role in affecting outcomes, as well as the influence of factors such as land use decisions, the economy, vehicle technologies, and other issues.

As defined in this document, a goal itself does not have to include a measure or target but provides a focus on an issue that is important to a community. By elevating this issue as a goal, it takes on a critical role in the foundation in a PBPP process.

In addition to outcome-focused goals, an agency may have "guiding principles," "policies," or other statements that reflect values or priorities. These statements often are very important in setting priorities for investments and are used in the planning process to help guide decisions, but do not directly address an outcome for the transportation system that can be measured. These policy or action statements may reflect priorities of the public or be derived from analysis that reflects the role of certain strategies for meeting desired outcomes. Figure 2 shows examples of outcome-oriented goals in comparison to policy statements or principles.

Figure 2. Comparison between Policy/Action Statements/Principles and Outcome-Oriented Transportation Goals

Statements - These may be policies, actions, or principles, but do not focus on a transportation system or community outcome

Outcome-Oriented Goal

Prioritize safety first.

A safe transportation system.

Institute travel demand management strategies and provide alternatives to single-occupant vehicles.

Residents have multimodal choices.

Cost-effective operations strategies are preferable to highway capacity expansion.

Multi-modal transportation infrastructure and services are well-managed and optimized.

Transportation and land use decision-making should be linked.

Livable communities that provide a range of travel choices.

Goals may be developed that relate to the eight planning factors that are required to be considered in metropolitan and statewide and nonmetropolitan transportation planning under federal law.

Planning Factors to Be Addressed in Metropolitan and Statewide and Nonmetropolitan Transportation Planning

  1. Support the economic vitality of the United States, the States, nonmetropolitan areas, and metropolitan areas, especially by enabling global competitiveness, productivity, and efficiency.*
  2. Increase the safety of the transportation system for motorized and nonmotorized users.
  3. Increase the security of the transportation system for motorized and nonmotorized users.
  4. Increase accessibility and mobility of people and freight.
  5. Protect and enhance the environment, promote energy conservation, improve the quality of life, and promote consistency between transportation improvements and State and local planned growth and economic development patterns.
  6. Enhance the integration and connectivity of the transportation system across and between modes, people and freight.
  7. Promote efficient system management and operation.
  8. Emphasize the preservation of the existing transportation system.

23 USC Section 135(d)(1) and 23 USC Section 134(h)(1) - *refers to "the metropolitan area"

In addition, the law requires use of a performance-based approach to support seven national goals for the transportation system. These goals should serve as an important basis for developing goals that are integrated into the planning of States, MPOs, RTPOs, transit agencies, and other planning partners.

National Goals for the Federal-aid Highway Program (23 USC Section 150(b))

  1. Safety - To achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads.
  2. Infrastructure Condition - To maintain the highway infrastructure asset system in a state of good repair
  3. Congestion Reduction - To achieve a significant reduction in congestion on the National Highway System
  4. System Reliability - To improve the efficiency of the surface transportation system
  5. Freight Movement and Economic Vitality - To improve the national freight network, strengthen the ability of rural communities to access national and international trade markets, and support regional economic development
  6. Environmental Sustainability - To enhance the performance of the transportation system while protecting and enhancing the natural environment.
  7. Reduced Project Delivery Delays - To reduce project costs, promote jobs and the economy, and expedite the movement of people and goods by accelerating project completion through eliminating delays in the project development and delivery process, including reducing regulatory burdens and improving agencies' work practices.

While sometimes goal statements are thought of as too vague to be meaningful, the point in developing a goal is not that it should be precise. Goals set strategic priorities about what is important for a community, and serve as a basis for developing more detailed objectives, and corresponding performance measures and targets.

Examples of goals from various transportation planning documents are noted below.

Mississippi DOT: Focusing on Core Goals

In 2011, Mississippi DOT developed its MULTIPLAN 2035. The Plan identifies a series of outcome-driven goals as well as strategies to accomplish the goals. The goals are depicted in the table below.

Goal Description
Accessibility and Mobility Improve Accessibility and Mobility for Mississippi's People, Commerce, and Industry
Safety Ensure High Standards of Safety in the Transportation System
Maintenance and Preservation Maintain and Preserve Mississippi's Transportation System
Environmental Stewardship Ensure that Transportation System Development is sensitive to Human and Natural Environmental Concerns
Economic Development Provide a Transportation System that Encourages and Supports Mississippi's Economic Development
Awareness, Education, and Cooperative Process Create Effective Transportation Partnerships and Cooperative Processes that Enhance Awareness of the Needs and Benefits of an Intermodal System
Finance Provide a Sound Financial Basis for the Transportation System

These goals are then used as the basis for selecting performance measures for each goal area. For instance, under "Maintenance and Preservation" recommended measures include: percent of lane miles in "fair" condition or better; level of unmet bridge improvement needs; and percent of system airports with "good" pavement condition on their primary runways.

Source: Mississippi DOT, MULTIPLAN,

Consider Goals Broadly

When starting a planning process by looking at goals, it is useful to consider a wide range of possible goals and then narrow down to no more than a dozen.

Traditionally, MPOs and RTPOs, have focused on broad societal goals (e.g., economic vitality, mobility, environment) but have placed less emphasis on infrastructure preservation and operations, while some State DOTs and transit agencies have placed more emphasis on goals related to infrastructure, maintenance, and operations issues, reflecting their roles as owners of facilities and operators of services. Within metropolitan and statewide and nonmetropolitan planning, it is useful to consider the full array of goals that the public and stakeholders may have for the transportation system, including societal outcomes, such as economic development, livability, and sustainability. Complex situations often require input from many perspectives, including transportation planners, community leaders, citizens, environmental specialists, landscape architects, resource agencies, public works officials, design engineers, and elected officials. While a broad array of issues may be challenging to address in terms of collecting data or conducting analysis, identifying these issues in the goal setting stage is important to ensure that they receive attention within decision-making.

As an example, the Mid-America Regional Council, the MPO for the Kansas City metropolitan area, adopted its LRTP, called "Transportation Outlook 2040", in June 2010. An extensive public outreach process that spanned two years and involved thousands of elected officials, planners, businesses, community organizations and citizens across the region was utilized in the development of a regional vision statement and nine goals to serve as a foundation for the plan's content, identification of performance measures, and project evaluation and prioritization. The selected goals include several that have been used in the past - system performance, system condition, safety and security, accessibility, and economic vitality - as well as new goal areas - place making, public health, climate change/energy use, and the environment.[25]

Plan Bay Area Goals Tied to Sustainability Principles

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the MPO for the San Francisco Bay Area, and its sister agency, the Association of Bay Area Governments, released its performance targets for Plan Bay Area in January 2011. Adopted in July 2013, Plan Bay Area is the next step in a progression of decades of regional planning. New requirements from a 2008 California Senate Bill called for a reduction of GHG emissions caused by cars and light trucks. Achieving these reductions will be led by a Sustainable Communities Strategy that if successful will result in more transportation choices, create more livable communities, and help to reduce the pollution responsible for climate change. Plan Bay Area is based on the "three E's" principles that underlie sustainability: economy, environment, and equity. But the plan acknowledges that these are not mutually exclusive and the plan identifies goals that relate to each. Performance targets below help to measure and evaluate the successfulness of the various land use scenarios, transportation investments, and policies being implemented in Plan Bay Area, and many are adapted from other plans such as California's SHSP.

Plan Bay Area Goals and Targets



Climate protection

Reduce per-capita CO2 emissions from cars and light-duty trucks by 15%*

Adequate housing

House 100% of the region's projected growth by income level (very-low, low, moderate, above-moderate) without displacing current low-income residents*

Healthy and Safe Communities

Reduce premature deaths from exposure to particulate emissions:

  • Reduce premature deaths from exposure to fine particulates (PM2.5) by 10%
  • Reduce coarse particulate emissions (PM10) by 30%
  • Achieve greater reductions in highly impacted areas

Reduce by 50% the number of injuries and fatalities from all collisions (including bike and pedestrian)
Increase the average daily time walking or biking per person for transportation by 70% (for an average of 15 minutes per person per day

Open Space and Agricultural Preservation

Direct all non-agricultural development within the urban footprint (existing urban development and urban growth boundaries)*

Equitable Access

Decrease by 10% the share of low-income and lower-middle income residents' household income consumed by transportation and housing

Economic Vitality

Increase gross regional product (GRP) by an average annual growth rate of approximately 2%

Transportation System Effectiveness

Increase non-auto mode share by 10% and decrease automobile vehicle miles traveled per capita by 10%
Maintain the transportation system in a state of good repair:

  • Increase local road pavement condition index (PCI) to 75 or better
  • Decrease distressed lane-miles of state highways to less than 10% of total lane-miles
  • Reduce share of transit assets past their useful life to 0%

Developing Objectives

Once goals have been identified, the next component of a PBPP process is developing objectives. Although in transportation planning, developing objectives has often been discussed together with goals (i.e., "developing goals and objectives"), it is important to make a critical distinction between goals and objectives within a PBPP approach.

Whereas goals relate to the "big picture" or desired end-result, objectives should be specific and measurable. An objective is not just a sub-goal, but provides a level of specificity necessary to fully implement broader based goals.

An objective is a specific, measurable statement that supports achievement of a goal. A good objective should include or lead to development of a performance measure in order to support decisions necessary to help achieve each goal. Objectives that include specific targets and delivery dates (e.g., reduce pedestrian fatalities by 15 percent from 2010 levels by 2018) are commonly called "SMART" (specific, measurable, agreed-upon, realistic, time-bound).

Initially, a State, region, or agency may start out by developing a general objective, which identifies an issue of concern or focus area under a goal area through public and stakeholder outreach. Data and analysis tools used as part of CMP, Transportation Asset Management Plan (TAMP), SHSP or other processes are helpful in first identifying focus areas (understanding what factors are most important in attaining goals).

Identify Focus Areas

A first step in developing a set of objectives is to identify key issues or concerns that are related to the attainment of a goal. For instance, under a goal related to asset condition, focus areas may include bridges, tunnels, highway pavements, transit facilities (i.e., rail stations), and highway facilities (i.e., highway rest stops). Under a goal related to the environment, focus areas may include air quality, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality, and noise, among others. Each of these focus areas may become the basis for its own objective, or some topics may be combined or dropped.

Public and stakeholder involvement are key inputs for identifying and defining objectives that help to support goals. A key question to ask stakeholders is "what does X goal mean to you?" In addition, baseline data and an understanding of past conditions and future needs are typically very important in order to help define objectives. Baseline information helps to provide context about key issues, problems, or positive trends, as well as the sources of problems or explanation of trends. Objectives may also address ways in which transportation supports broader societal goals, such as enhance economic vitality by improving freight connectivity.

A Hierarchy of Objectives: Outcomes, Outputs, Activities

In developing objectives, it is helpful to consider a hierarchy of different types of objectives as shown below:

Table 1. Outcome, Output, and Activity-based Objectives

Type of Objective




Reflect concerns of the public, customers, or stakeholders; these objectives are often the most meaningful to the public and relate most directly to system goals; however, they may be influenced by a range of factors beyond the control of transportation agencies.

Reduce hours of incident-based delay experienced by travelers


Reflect quantity of activities that affect outcomes, and may be more directly influenced by a transportation agency (although they also may not be entirely in the control of the agency)

Reduce the clearance time for traffic incidents

(For incident clearance the transportation agency would need to work with law enforcement, etc.)


Reflect actions that are taken by transportation agencies. These are less directly tied to the outcome, and often directly relate to a strategy being implemented.

Increase the number of cameras tracking system conditions

Source: Derived from FHWA and FTA, "Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: The Building Blocks of a Model Transportation Plan Incorporating Operations - A Desk Reference," April 2010.

Multiple types of objectives may be useful. Objectives that guide decisions in a LRTP should preferably be described in terms of system performance outcomes experienced by users (e.g., travel times, reliability, access to traveler information, fatalities, serious injuries, bridge conditions, etc.). These outcome objectives are more relatable to the public. However, it is also appropriate to select output or activity-based objectives. These activity-based objectives are appropriate for specific sections of the LRTP (such as a discussion of planned strategies), and to align with supporting documents that go into greater detail (such as an investment plan, SHSP, TAMP and CMP). All activity-oriented objectives should support outcome-oriented objectives, providing a simple check to make sure that they support a system performance outcome.

Other dimensions that may be considered in developing objectives include:

Using an Objectives Decision Tree

One approach that can be used in strategic planning is to use a decision tree to define key issues of concern. An example is illustrated in Figure 3. An "objectives tree" illustrates the logical hierarchy that exists between outcome-based objectives and activity-based objectives. It can be used to connect regional goals to objectives and ultimately objectives to strategies in the transportation decision-making process.

An objectives tree begins with a broad goal or high-order outcome-based objective relating to the performance of the transportation system. This objective answers the question, "What do we ultimately want to achieve?" In the example shown in Figure 3, the tree begins with the broad goal, "Improve system reliability." Based on that goal, the higher-order, outcome-based objective, "Reduce nonrecurring delay" is formed. This is how the region aims to achieve its goal of improving system reliability, and this objective may serve as a focus for the performance measures that are used for planning. To achieve this objective, two issues are identified: scheduled nonrecurring delay (associated with work zones and special events) and unscheduled nonrecurring delay (associated with incidents, weather conditions, and other emergency events). These two objectives are further refined to address the identified sources of delay. As the tree is developed, the objectives move from being outcome-based (focused on traveler experience) to a focus on outputs and activities (e.g., effective work zone management, incident management).

It may be challenging to collect data for an outcome objective, or there may be a need to develop more specific and detailed areas of focus, particularly for detailed planning processes. These detailed or lower order objectives as illustrated in the objectives tree were developed building on the higher order objectives. This process can be repeated for each goal or high-order objective until the developers reach the point where the objective is measurable and is viewed as a worthwhile point for use in guiding planning decisions. These may include activity-oriented objectives in some cases.

A transportation agency can select which objectives in the objectives tree are most important to be included in the LRTP or other planning documents based on the anticipated outcomes. Outcome-oriented objectives such as those that may be near the top of an objectives tree can be used to guide investment planning, and are often used for long range planning. Activity-based objectives are often used at a more detailed level in analyzing strategies and could form the basis for more detailed discussion in other performance-based plans, such as an SHSP, CMP, TAMP, or modal plan.

Figure 3. Example of an Objectives Tree

This figure contains a work flow process for making decisions. Step 1 contains the goal for the decision process. Steps 2 and 3 are Broader, Outcome-Based Objectives, while steps 4 and 5 are categorized as Detailed, Action-Oriented Objectives. The number below corresponds to the step in the objective tree, in order to direct the flow of the process. Each level progresses downward, with 1 at the top and 5 at the bottom. Letters are used below when there is more than one box or step per level. 1. Improve System Reliability 2. Reduce Non-Recurring Delay Per Person 3.a Reduce Scheduled Non-Recurring Delay Per Person 4.a. Improve Work Zone Management b. Improve Special Event Management 3.b Reduce Unscheduled Non-Recurring Delay Per Person 4.c. Improve Transportation Incident Management 5.a. Reduce Time to Post a Traveler Alert on Dynamic Message Signs b. Increase the Number of Corridors in the Region Covered by Regional Coordinated Incident Responses Teams c. Increase Number of Traffic Signals Equipped with Emergency Vehicle Preemption and Transit Signal Priority. 4.d. Improve Travel Weather Management e. Improve Emergency management

Source: Derived from: FHWA and FTA, Advancing Metropolitan Planning for Operations: The Building Blocks of a Model Transportation Plan Incorporating Operations - A Desk Reference. Prepared by SAIC, Kittelson Associates, and ICF International, April 2010.

Evolution of Objectives

In practice, objectives may start out somewhat general (e.g., improve system reliability), but over time the objectives may be revisited and defined to be more specific, measurable, and time-bound (e.g., reduce the person hours of total delay on highways and major arterials associated with traffic incidents by X percent over Y years.). As shown in the objectives tree above, by analyzing the sources of problems, one can define more specific objectives; moreover, as data are collected and analyzed, one can come up with specific targets in relation to these objectives.

Numerical targets can be incorporated into an objective statement to create what is often referred to as a "SMART" objective, which has the following characteristics:

Developing "SMART" objectives is more commonly becoming recognized as a best practice as part of an objectives-driven, performance-based approach to planning, and can be applied with the LRTP and other related planning efforts. As an example, within a Congestion Management Process, a typical progression for developing SMART objectives may be as follows:[26]

Examples of a Progression in the Development of SMART Objectives: Moving from Desired Trends to Targets

By selecting appropriate measures of performance and analyzing available baseline data, trends, and expected performance, a basic objective can become more "SMART."


Initial objectives (identifying desired trend)

SMART objectives (identifying specific numerical targets)


Reduce pedestrian fatalities

Reduce intersection crashes

Reduce pedestrian fatalities by 15 percent from 2010 levels by 2018.

Reduce serious (fatal/incapacitating injury) intersection crashes 10% by 2015.


Reduce traffic delays

Reduce hours of delay per capita by 15 percent by 2030.

CUUATS: Developing SMART Objectives

The Champaign-Urbana Urbanized Area Transportation Study (CUUATS), the transportation planning division of the MPO for the Champaign-Urbana region in central eastern Illinois, developed its LRTP, titled Choices 2035, which includes a set of goals tied to each of the Planning Factors. For each goal, the plan identifies objectives and performance measures. Many of these objectives include specific targets. The plan directly ties these objectives to priorities in the plan, identifying strategies to be implemented and responsible parties, which may include the Illinois DOT, CUUATS, cities and villages, or other entities. The table below shows an example of one goal, along with the supporting objectives, and measures of effectiveness (corresponding to performance measures). CUUATS also has developed annual LRTP report cards that provide an assessment of progress toward meeting each of the objectives.

Planning Process Level



1. Non-single occupancy vehicle travel will be a principal consideration of the transportation planning process to make the urbanized area more sustainable,efficient,and provide a higher quality of life for residents


Increase the miles of dedicated bicycle facilities and signed bike routes in the metropolitan planning area by 15% by 2014

Provide transit service within a 1 /4 mile for 90% of residential development (new or existing) within the CU- MTD transit service area by 2014

By 2014, ensure that 100% of new development within the municipal boundaries or land annexed into a municipality provides sidewalks along roadway frontages through construction or a reservation of land and funds for construction, unless an acceptable alternative pathway is provided. Sidewalk connectivity must be analyzed with each new development proposal.

Measures of Effectiveness

Miles of Dedicated Bike Facilities

1 /4 Mile Coverage Analysis

Miles of New Sidewalk Constructed

Miles of Signed Bike Routes

Number of Transit Routes

Source: CUUATS, "Choices 2035,"

Involve the Public in Developing Goals and Objectives

Public engagement and processes to collect input from a variety of stakeholders, community leaders, and the public are important in defining goals and objectives. In a PBPP process, goals should be developed cooperatively with the community by identifying shared values and understanding of existing challenges. Utilizing visualization techniques for incorporating data on existing conditions (from on-going monitoring of system performance), into public and stakeholder engagement activities working collaboratively with policy-makers can provide for an open process for setting strategic directions. Public input should then be carried through the process to help inform development of objectives and performance measures.

One example of using public involvement to shape the direction of investment priorities and goal setting is Kansas DOT (KDOT), which embarked on a multi-year effort to reinvent its transportation planning and project selection processes to achieve greater public support, from 2003 to 2011. This effort involved a broad range of stakeholders, starting with administering more than 900 stakeholder satisfaction surveys across the state. Based on these results, KDOT recognized that the public wanted the agency to broaden its goals. The survey results indicated that KDOT's customers perceived the department as too focused on engineering considerations (e.g., percent pavement in good condition). As a result, KDOT developed a new Highway Selection Program methodology that incorporates economic benefit, along with engineering factors, and regional priorities. Economic benefits are calculated using empirical data and account for 25 percent of a project's overall score. KDOT is also adopting performance measures in each of six strategic areas including: pavement preservation and maintenance; safety; program and project delivery; economic impact; system modernization; and workforce priorities.[27]

Similarly, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) undertook a unique effort in 2010 to solicit community input in determining its goals and the indicators to use in evaluating system performance. The agency worked with local organizations to facilitate public workshops in the seven counties that make up the Greater Chicago region. In total nearly 20,000 participants were engaged though public workshops, online tools, free-standing kiosks, and at fairs and festivals across the region. This input, combined with the agency's research has shaped the draft "preferred regional scenario."[28] In the resulting Go To 2040 Plan, each chapter on a specific performance area (livable communities, human capital, efficient governance, and regional mobility) contains a list of key priorities that were identified through this thorough public engagement process.

We Move Massachusetts: Public Engagement

Massachusetts DOT (MassDOT) is currently in the process of completing "We Move Massachusetts" (WMM), the state's multimodal strategic planning process. WMM is the state's first comprehensive, data-based effort to prioritize transportation investments and in order to develop it, MassDOT undertook an extensive public outreach process aimed at identifying the priorities of Massachusetts residents in order to ensure that project selection occurs to address them. To conduct outreach, the DOT undertook "youMove Massachusetts," a public outreach effort involving emails, targeted outreach to Environmental Justice and Title VI communities, media releases, social media and a blog, postings on community organization websites (in various languages), discussions with health and legislative stakeholders, and a review and revision of contacts to ensure equitable geographic representation. Through these efforts, which included a questionnaire that was available in five different languages that asked questions about travel choices, key issues, and attitudes toward different modes of travel, MassDOT identified ten core themes that articulated the expressed concerns, needs, and aspirations of Massachusetts residents: reliability, maintenance, design, shared use, capacity, user friendly, broaden the system, funding and equity, environment and access.

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Updated: 10/20/2015
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