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Project Prioritization

II. How Do I Prioritize Transporatation Projects?

There are five basic steps. We will discuss each in detail but first, here is a summary:

Project Prioritization is the method for listing transportation projects critical to the success of the tribal transportation program in order of importance for implementation purposes.

Step 1: Identify Projects.

Identify projects that are important to the tribe. Find them in the Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). Also search in other plans you have that may address transportation, such as education, economic development and housing plans. Search any past project list developed by the tribe. Conduct field work and data collection to update the information for each project.

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Step 2: Seek Public Input.

Meet with the tribal community. Explain what you are trying to do. Listen to their feedback and comments. Which projects are most important to them? Why?

A Project is an activity or service that will be funded and programmed to address the tribe’s transportation needs.

Step 3: Develop Criteria and Evaluation Measures.

Prioritize or list the projects in order of need or importance. The most needed projects should be first and the least needed should be last. Use criteria to do this. You may request

Step 4: Report Findings and Seek Consensus.

Return to the community and/or the tribal governing body. Seek consensus on the order of the project list. This may take several meetings and may result in changes to your initial list.

The Long-range Transportation Plan (LRTP) is a multi-year planning document that describes the tribe's transportation vision, goals, policies, and programs, usually over a 20-year period. Tribal Transportation Improvement Program (TTIP) is a list of funded projects to be started within 3 to 5 years. The Tribal Priority List is a wish-list of all funded and unfunded, long-term and short-term projects.

Step 5: Put It All Together.

Finalize the prioritized projects and insert them into the Tribal Priority List, the Tribal Transportation Improvement Program (TTIP) or both. Submit this to the tribal governing body. Ask that a Tribal Resolution endorse the list. Ask that the resolution and list be transmitted to agencies for funding. This may include FHWA, BIA, and the State DOT.

Should I develop both lists–the TTIP and the Tribal Priority List–or just one? That’s up to you. A federally recognized tribe has the option of developing one or both. Be aware though that the TTIP is the more formal of the two, in design and purpose. TTIP projects get funding consideration. The Tribal Priority List projects may or may not. Which ever format you choose, be sure the projects are discussed and referenced in the LRTP. Table 1 shows the differences between the two formats.

Table 1: Differences between the Tribal Priority List and the Tribal Transportation Improvement Program

Tribal Priority List

Tribal Transportation Improvement Program

A list of all transportation projects that the tribe wants to pursue.

  • May or may not identify projects in order of priority
  • Is not financially constrained, meaning the projects may or may not be funded
  • Is transmitted to BIA and FHWA by official tribal action, unless the tribal government submits a TTIP (1)

A list of short-term and funded transportation projects that the tribe wants to implement.

  • Must be consistent with the tribal LRTP
  • Must contain all IRR funded projects programmed for construction in 3 to 5 years
  • Must identify the implementation year of each project scheduled to begin in the next 3 to 5 years
  • May include other Federal, State, county, and municipal transportation projects initiated by or developed in cooperation with the tribal government
  • Will be reviewed and updated as necessary by the tribal government
  • Can be changed only by the tribal government
  • Must be forwarded by tribal governing body resolution or by tribally authorized action for funding to the BIA, which forwards to FHWA (1)

(1) If the tribe has entered into a Programmatic Agreement to work directly with FHWA, submission of the Tribal Priority List or the TTIP may bypass the BIA and be transmitted directly to FHWA.

OK, How Do I Start?

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Before you begin, understand that one size does not fit all. The process for prioritizing is as varied and diverse as tribal governments themselves. To ensure the process is successful, consider these five basic steps.

Step 1: Identify Projects

Begin with the LRTP, the most recent TTIP or Tribal Priority List and other important planning documents. In the LRTP and other documents, consider projects that are necessary to address the tribe’s transportation needs. These should comprise your project list.

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In the TTIP and/or Tribal Priority List, consider the status of each project listed. If any are completed, they should be removed. If any are still active, they should remain. Your objective is to update and add to this list, showing which projects are most needed, in descending order.

Conduct field work and collect data. Go to the project locations identified in the LRTP, TTIP, and other documents or lists. Document, through field notes and photography, the seriousness and the extent of the deficiency or need. Request supporting data and information from Federal, State, regional, and local sources to help describe the need. For example, if the LRTP identifies a deficient roadway, does the BIA or State DOT have a conditions survey to verify this? For each deficient location, collect as much information as possible. This will be invaluable further down the line.

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Assemble your findings. Create a Project Data Book. Fill it with information (collected from your research) for each project. Organize the projects by function. For example, if there are roadways that are deficient, they could be placed in the category of “deficient roads” with photographs and descriptions for each project. If a project is intended to correct a safety problem, it could be placed in the “transportation safety” category. Continue this until all of the projects discussed in the LRTP, the TTIP, Tribal Priority List, and other important documents are categorized by topic. Use the Project Data Book as the go-to resource for any information on any project. A suggested example of a project sheet in the Project Data Book is provided in Appendix E.

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Collect preliminary cost and funding information. Contact the BIA, the State DOT, or others such as the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) and your Tribal Technical Assistance Program (TTAP). Request assistance for estimating the cost to improve each project. Explain these are needed as planning estimates and do not have to be exact. Record the estimates for each project, and their source in the Project Data Book. In these discussions, ask about funding eligibility. Is the project eligible for tribal, regional, State, and/or Federal funding? What are the application requirements? When will funding be available? Will there be enough to cover every phase of the project? Would any of the transportation agencies consider partnering (sharing responsibility and cost) on the project?

Summarize your findings. Prepare a Project Summary Sheet, with columns and rows. The summary table should be a snapshot of all of the projects from the Project Data Book. Each column should be a topic. Each row should be a project. A sample is shown in Table 2 and a blank Project Summary Sheet is provided in Appendix E.

Table 2: (Example) Project Summary Sheet

Project Name Location/ Description Improvement Needed LRTP Pg. # Est. Start Year/ Duration Status Expected Funding Source Est. Cost
Category: Public Transportation
1. Bus Shelter 455 20th Street. Weather protection at bus stop. Site grading. Concrete slab. Shelter installation. Signage. 25 Start: 2012
Duration: 10 Months
Design: 2 months
Environmental review:
5 months
Construction: 3 monhts
On list for 5 years with no funding. FTA 5311(c) grant $4,500
Category: Transportation Safety

Description of Table 2 Column Headings:

Practice While You Learn!
Create a Project Data Book and Project Summary Table for the projects on page 3.
Do you have enough information? Where will you go for any missing data?

Step 2: Seek Public Input

Listen to the Community. Once you have collected as much information as possible for each project, it is time to inform the tribal community of your intention to prioritize. Set meetings dates, locations, and times. Invite the community and tribal leadership, such as the planning commission, housing authority, tribal governing body, and police officials. Use community media such as radio, newsletters or flyers to convey this information. Talk it up! Express enthusiasm in hearing the community point of view.

Practice While You Learn!
Prepare a meeting handout for the projects on page 3.
How detailed should it be? What words or images will inform and motivate the community?
Be creative!

Conduct Organized and Informative Meetings. You should be prepared and knowledgeable in these forums. Transfer the key points from your work in Step 1 onto a simple, easily understood meeting handout. Use wall maps to pinpoint project locations. After you have explained your work, spend the remaining time listening to the community. Which projects are important and why? Should other projects be on the list? Conclude with a brief overview of your next steps.

Tip #1 If it is too difficult to bring the community to you—go to it! Set up a booth at a popular community festival or event. As tribal members pass by, have copies of the draft project list. Explain your work, and ask them to check the projects they most favor. Be sure to ask why a project is preferred over another. Tally the results.

Tip #2 Instead of a community event, consider a scheduled tribal governing body or planning commission meeting. Once permission is granted, advertise the event. Ask the governing body or commission members to invite the community. Summarize the discussion in the tribal newsletter, for example. Request feedback.

Step 3: Develop Criteria and Evaluation Measures

You now have a list of projects with full descriptions resulting from your field work and information gathering in Step 1. You also know community preferences from Step 2. Next, you need to devise a method that:

The end result is a list of projects that are prioritized that reflect the community's values and are supported by the vision and policies that have been adopted in the Long Range Transportation Plan.

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Seek Technical Assistance. Assistance may be needed to avoid working in a vacuum. One common technique is to create a Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) or an informal working group comprised of tribal officials and/or representatives from outside agencies. This may include officials in public works, engineering, transit, policy planning, and/or police; and outside agency officials from FHWA, BIA, the State DOT, MPO, and/or a TTAP. The members should be knowledgeable about the transportation planning process. Your charge to this group—of no more than 10 members—is to assist in identifying criteria for prioritizing.

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Develop Criteria. Criteria are community values and preferences. They are often used to determine the ranking order of transportation projects. Generic criteria cannot be applied because the needs of one community differ from those of another. For your work, the best strategy is to use the transportation policies in the LRTP

Criteria are values that reflect community or user preferences and needs.

as a starting point. Also use the policies from other relevant documents such as the land use, housing, education and economic development plans. Consider a mix of values:

For the purpose of this training, one possible set of criteria, representing a mix of values, could be:

Quantitative Values are measured or quantifiable. They are usually numerical values, like degrees of temperature or amount of money. Qualitative Values are descriptions or distinc-tions that describe the quality of a condition and its characteristics, such as type of weather on a certain day - sunny, windy, etc.

Quantitative Values

Qualitative Values

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Transportation Planning Values

To help with scoring the projects, here is a sample of questions that may be asked for each criterion.

Quantitative Values

Improve Safety:

  • Is the project located in a high-accident location with a higher number of accidents than for similar facilities on the reservation?
  • Will the project improve safety by reducing the number or severity of accidents on reservation roadways?

Rebuild the Transportation Infrastructure:

  • Will the project maintain or improve a critical link in the transportation system?
  • Does the project support an infrastructure improvement policy or goal in the LRTP?

Enhance the Environment:

  • Will the project protect lands and the environment?
  • Does the project promote public transit and ridesharing; or improve or expand pedestrian and bicycle opportunities?
  • Will the project require extensive environmental reviews and documentation, which may result in a protracted and expensive start up?

Increase Mobility:

  • Will the project serve members of the public without an automobile?
  • Will the project facilitate access to jobs and/or health and community services?

Transportation Planning Values
Funding Eligibility:

  • Is the project eligible for Federal, State, regional, and/or tribal funding?
  • If a local match is required, does the Tribal government have it?

Discussed in the LRTP:

  • Is the project critical to achieving a LRTP goal or policy?
  • Is the project tied to a planned action in the LRTP?

Qualitative Values
Supported by the Community:

  • Has the community expressed support for (or opposition to) the project?
  • Is the project critical to community well-being and quality of life?

Apply Evaluation Measures. To help determine the degree to which the project meets the criterion you’ve just selected, a numerical scale could be used with:

1 = Does not Meet Criterion

Evaluation Measures determine the degree to which the project meets or measures up to a specific criterion.

2 = Meets Base Criterion

3 = Meets and Exceeds Base Criterion

While numerical ratings are often used, there are other defensible methods for decision making. Plus (+) and minus (-) symbols could be used or, for example, a show of hands may suffice.

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Whichever method you select, it should be easily understood and not subject to unintended interpretations. To be certain of this, put the rating system in writing. Be sure each TAC or advisory group member agrees to and understands the method before proceeding. It must be applied consistently by everyone. An example of how to document a numerical system is shown in Table 3.

Table 3: (Example) Defining the Rating System


Rating Definition
1 Does Not Meet Criterion The project does not address the issue or problem to be solved
2 Meets Base Criterion The project solves a specific problem at a specific location
3 Meets and Exceeds Base Criterion The project solves a specific problem at a specific location and significantly strengthens other elements of the tribal transportation system or program

Rate Each Project Then Sum the Results. Assuming use of a numerical system, each TAC or advisory group member may rate each project (assign a 1, 2, or 3 for each criterion for each project) or it can discuss its preferences collectively and achieve majority rule with a show of hands. For a numerical system, once the ratings are done, each project has a numerical value for each criterion. The next step is to add up the values. This is shown in Table 4 for Bus Service which has a total value of “15.”

Table 4: Numerical Ratings for Bus Service

Evaluative Criteria Rating
Improve Safety 3
Rebuild Transportation Infrastructure 2
Enhance the Environment 2
Increase Mobility 3
Funding Availability 1
In the LRTP 1
Supported by the Community 3


In this example, the criteria with the highest ratings are Improve Safety, Increase Mobility, and Supported by the Community. The Bus Service project received a “3” meaning its responds to a specific problem and also offers an even greater benefit to the transportation program as a whole. For other criteria such as Rebuild Transportation Infrastructure, the Bus Service project received a “2,” meaning its benefit is limited to the specific location. For Funding Availability and In the LRTP, the project received a “1.” This suggests the Bus Service project is not in the plan and funding looks bleak.

Once all of the projects are rated, those with the highest scores are at the top of the list, in descending order. This is shown in Table 5. The score for the Bus Service project example puts it at the bottom.

Table 5: Numerical Rating for Bus Service compared to other Projects

Project Priority List All Ratings

Project A


Project F


Project H


Project K


Project M


Bus Service


Tip #3 Consider weighted values when ranking projects. Sometimes, the value of one criterion may be of greater importance to the community than another.
Treating each criterion equally, as we did above, may not fully reflect community values. Consider adding more weight to criterion of greater or greatest importance. For example, if Improve Safety, Enhance the Environment, and Funding Availability are of utmost importance, you could double their weight by a factor of 2. When this was done for the Bus Service project its standing increased in the list, shown in Tables 6 and 7.

Table 6: Weighted Numerical Ratings for Bus Service

Evaluative Criteria



Final Rating

Improve Safety


x 2


Rebuild Transportation Infrastructure


x 1


Enhance the Environment


x 2


Increase Mobility


x 1


Funding Availability


x 2


In the LRTP


x 1


Supported by the Community


x 1






Table 7: Weighted Numerical Rating for Bus Service compared to other Projects

Project Priority List


Project A


Project F


Project H


Bus Service


Project K


Project M


Knowledge of the community, guidance from tribal leadership, and professional judgment will dictate whether weighting is required and how much should be attributed.

Practice While You Learn!
What rating system should be used to rank the projects on page 3?

Step 4: Report Findings and Seek Consensus

Now that you have prioritized the transportation projects (Step 3), return to the community and report this work. Ask for feedback and agreement. Once comments are received, the prioritizations should be adjusted accordingly. Depending on the extent of these changes, other public meetings could be scheduled to ensure they reflect community preferences.

Step 5: Put It All Together

Use the final prioritized projects as the Tribal Priority List, the TTIP, or both. The TTIP should be financially constrained, meaning the first three years and all of the IRR projects have committed and verifiable funding. Be sure any funding or grant commitments for the project are in writing. Share this information when project prioritizations are reviewed. Submit the list to the tribal governing body. Ask for a Tribal Resolution endorsing it. Request the list and resolution be transmitted to funding agencies for inclusion in their TIPs. These may be the BIA, FHWA, State DOT, MPO, or other agencies with a stated interest.

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Financially Constrained TTIP means the first three years of projects should have verifiable and committed funding sources. All of the IRR projects must have this.

Tip #4 Before approaching the tribal governing body, make sure the projects are supported in the LRTP and their descriptions are accurate. Also check with legal counsel to ensure projects on the TTIP or Tribal Priority List do not compromise tribal sovereignty.

Tip #5 Before approaching the tribal governing body, confirm the IRR projects are fully funded and the non-IRR projects are funded for the first three years. Be sure any funding or grant commitments for the project are in writing. Share this information when the project prioritizations are reviewed.

Tip #6 Any actions should be recorded in the Project Data Book. Keeping the journal current will assist in day-to-day management. The information, for example, will help with grant applications

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Tip #7 Did you know other transportation agencies and tribes also prioritize? If you have similar projects, consider partnering with them. Refer to the Partnering and Leveraging and the Funding Resources modules.

Updated: 5/8/2015
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