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Planning Horizons for Metropolitan Long-Range Transportation Plans

[Note: This document has been incorporated into and/or superseded by the FHWA/FTA Final Rule on statewide and metropolitan transportation planning and programming and congestion management processes / systems which was published in the Federal Register on February 14, 2007 and became effective on March 16, 2007. This Final Rule can be accessed at: HTML version: PDF version: (394KB). - ed.]

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SUBJECT: INFORMATION/GUIDANCE: Planning Horizons for Metropolitan Long-Range Transportation Plans
FROM: Gloria Shepherd, Director, Office of Planning
TO: Division Administrators
Federal Lands Highway Division Engineers
Directors of Field Services
DATE: April 12, 2005

TO THE ATTENTION OF: Division Office Planning and Air Quality Staffs

The purpose of this message is to provide updated and clarified information on the "planning horizon" requirement for metropolitan long-range transportation plans. This message was developed in coordination with FHWA's Office of Natural and Human Environment and FTA's Office of Planning and Environment.

An April 24, 1998 memorandum to FHWA and FTA field offices, jointly signed by FHWA and FTA, underscored the requirement for metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) to develop long-range transportation plans with at least 20-year horizons at the time of plan adoption, pursuant to statute (23 U.S.C. 134(g)(2) and 49 U.S.C. 5303(f)(2)) and regulations (23 CFR 450.322(a)). The memorandum also indicated that " would be "prudent" for MPOs to adopt plans with 23 to 25-year horizons (depending upon air quality status) so that (during the life of the plan) the plan would not fall below this 20-year threshold at any time." At the time of its issuance, the memorandum sought to provide guidance beyond the first round of long-range transportation plan updates (i.e., after December 18, 1994). Several FHWA/FTA field office planning staffs recently posed questions on the statutory and regulatory basis of that prior memorandum. This message supersedes the 1998 memorandum and other prior guidance on "planning horizons" for metropolitan long-range transportation plans.

As stated in current regulations (see 23 CFR 450.322(a)), metropolitan long-range transportation plans shall address "at least a 20-year planning horizon." For FHWA and FTA actions on STIPs/TIPs and associated amendments or transportation conformity determinations without amending the current transportation plan, a long-range transportation plan initially adopted with a minimum 20-year planning horizon is sufficient. However, if the long-range transportation plan is amended to add, delete, or significantly change a regionally significant project (in any metropolitan area), the transportation plan's horizon should be at least 20 years at the time of the MPO's action.

Also, in air quality nonattainment and maintenance areas, a new conformity analysis that covers at least 20 years is required for certain actions involving a regionally significant project (e.g., adding a regionally significant project to the transportation plan, deleting a regionally significant project from the transportation plan, significantly changing the design concept or scope of a regionally significant project in the transportation plan, or moving a regionally significant project between horizon years (a similar, but distinct term defined in the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's transportation conformity rule (see 40 CFR 93.106)). Moreover, the transportation conformity rule requires a new conformity analysis and determination whenever the "out-year" of a long-range transportation plan is extended.

For those metropolitan areas that routinely develop and adopt long-range transportation plans with planning horizons of greater than 20 years or for those MPOs considering such an approach, FHWA and FTA should continue supporting these efforts. Beyond the 20-year minimum, FHWA and FTA field office planning staffs are encouraged to work with each MPO to assess and identify the planning horizon most appropriate for each long-range transportation plan update. Additionally, MPOs are encouraged to contact the respective FTA Regional Office in the event that an Alternatives Analysis to support a future FTA New Starts funding request is being contemplated within the timeframe of the MPO's next long-range transportation plan update.

For questions and/or additional information on long-range transportation plan horizons, please contact Robin Smith, Planning Oversight and Stewardship Team, at (720) 963-3072. For questions and/or information on transportation conformity, please contact the Transportation Conformity Team in the Office of Natural and Human Environment: Gary Jensen at (202) 366-2048 or Emily Tait at (202) 366-9482.

Updated: 12/3/2012
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