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Legislation & Regulations

Planning Policy & Guidance

Statewide and metropolitan transportation planning processes are governed by Federal law (23 USC 134 and 135). Applicable state and local laws are required if Federal highway or transit funds are used for transportation investments. Federal planning regulations are codified in 23 CFR 450. The local consultation rule and the correction are available at the Office of Environment, Planning, and Realty's Legislation, Regulations, and Policy Web page.

Federal Requirements Related to the Formation of New MPOs

Since the 1962 Federal-aid Highway Act, federal authorizing legislation for expenditure of surface transportation funds has required metropolitan area transportation plans and programs to be developed through a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive (3-C) planning process. Over successive authorization cycles leading to the passage of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) in July 1998, Congress has added and revised the substantive content expected from the 3-C planning processes.

Transportation planning processes are required to be organized and directed for all urbanized areas by metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs). Frequently Asked Questions and answers provide information on applying the 2000 Census Data to Urbanized and Urban Areas in the FTA and FHWA Programs. The Census Bureau defines urbanized areas (UZAs), and transportation regulation requires MPOs to be established in urbanized areas. UZAs are defined as areas with a population of at least 50,000. MPOs are established for a metropolitan planning area that must contain, at a minimum, the Census Bureau defined urbanized area and the area expected to become urbanized in the next 20 years. The metropolitan planning area may extend to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) defined metropolitan statistical area.

In the March 27, 2012 Federal Register , the US Bureau of the Census designated new urbanized areas. Designation as a new urbanized area does not mean the area must form a new MPO. Instead, the new urbanized area could be integrated into an existing MPO. An MPO, its planning boundaries and membership and voting structure are established and designated by agreement between local officials and the Governor ( 23 CFR 450.310). This is a State and local choice. Governors' and local officials have been encouraged to establish new MPOs or incorporate new urbanized areas within an existing MPO within twelve months of designation (the same time period allotted after the 1990 and 2000 Census). This does not mean that a transportation improvement program (TIP) or plan needs to be in place in 12 months. An initial MPO work plan ( 23 CFR 450.308) should include the tasks and schedule that will lead to a plan and TIP.

Transportation planning provides the information, tools, and public input needed for improving transportation system performance. Transportation planning should reflect the community's vision for its future. It should also include a comprehensive consideration of possible strategies; an evaluation process that encompasses diverse viewpoints; the collaborative participation of relevant transportation-related agencies and organizations; and an open, timely, and meaningful involvement of the public. Transportation planning requires a comprehensive, holistic look at the needs and the future of the region and its inhabitants.

Review of State DOT Approaches to Distribute Federal Metropolitan Planning (PL) Funds to MPOs

Metropolitan Planning Funds (PL funds) are provided from the Federal Highway Trust Fund and distributed by State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) to conduct the planning activities required by Title 23 of the U.S. Code 134. Each MPO is responsible for planning to meet the transportation needs within its metropolitan planning area. PL funds are distributed to States based on a ratio of urbanized-area population in individual States to the total nationwide urbanized-area population. State DOTs then distribute this funding to the MPOs in their State based on a formula, agreed to by the MPOs, and approved by their FHWA Division Office. This report describes a range of different approaches to distribution formulas, and provides observations drawn from the DOT and MPO contacts and the study team's analysis of the merits of the different approaches.

Understanding the Communications and Information Needs of Elected Officials for Transportation Planning and Operations

The objective of the Understanding the Communications and Information Needs of Elected Officials for Transportation Planning and Operations document is to enhance FHWA's communications capabilities and approaches with local elected officials (as well as senior appointed officials), with an emphasis on the linkages between transportation planning and transportation systems management and operations.


MPO SAFETEA-LU Listening Session Web Conference

FHWA and FTA conducted a MPO SAFETEA-LU Listening Session Web Conference for Metropolitan Planning Organizations on November 29, 2005. The purpose of the listening session was to solicit feedback and input on the planning provisions in SAFETEA-LU that Metropolitan Planning Organizations thought needed regulation, guidance, or clarification. The Listening Session was devoted to listening to participant thoughts on how FHWA/FTA should proceed to implement SAFETEA-LU.

Updated: 9/21/2016
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