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State DOT and MPO Responses to Planning in Uncertainty


State departments of transportation (DOT), metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), and other planning agencies increasingly are facing the challenge of developing meaningful long-range plans during a time of uncertainty across the transportation industry. These uncertainties include a confluence of trends including changes in demographics, the economy and workforce, land use and development patterns, and other social, cultural, and geopolitical trends; the impact of rapidly changing technologies including automated, connected, electric, and shared vehicles; a growing number of risks ranging from extreme weather and climate change to cybersecurity concerns; and continued uncertainty about future funding for transportation.


The purpose of this project is to examine how state DOTs, MPOs, and other planning agencies are adapting their planning processes to account for potential uncertainties, disruptions, and risks. It is intended to fill a gap in prior research by identifying specific examples of how planning processes and products have changed, and whether these enhanced processes have supported more effective planning decisions.

The research should address questions such as:

  • Are DOT, MPOs, and other planning agencies changing the types of information they are providing to decision makers to reflect greater uncertainty and changing external trends? Specifically, are the strategic decisions listed in NCHRP Report 798 changing?
  • Are DOTs, MPOs, and other planning agencies changing their planning products and timelines to account for uncertainty? For example, are they changing the frequency or horizons of updates to long-range plans? Are they developing shorter-term strategic or implementation plans to bridge the gap between long-range plans and capital programs?
  • Are DOTs, MPOs, and other planning agencies implementing scenario planning processes, particularly at the exploratory level? How have these scenario planning processes been integrated into long-range plans and impacted investment decisions?
  • Are DOTs, MPOs, and other planning agencies changing the way they engage with partners and the public to account for uncertainty?
  • Are DOTs, MPOs, and other planning agencies changing the sources and uses of data for transportation planning to account for uncertainty? For example, looking at detailed information on emerging demographic characteristics, industry clusters, or business practices rather than standard forecasts? Are agencies looking at new types of leading indicators as signposts of potential change?
Related Research:

Prior NCHRP research, including the Report 750 Foresight series, has documented many of these long-range trends and uncertainties. Prior research, including Report 798: The Role of Planning in a 21st Century State Department of Transportation—Supporting Strategic Decision-making, has documented the changing management and customer expectations facing state DOT planning staff today. Prior research also has documented emerging tools and techniques related to topics like scenario planning and risk management.

NCHRP Report 750 Series, Informing Transportation’s Future, http://www.trb.org/NCHRP/NCHRPForesightSeries.aspx?srcaud=NCHRP

NCHRP Report 798, The Role of Planning in a 21st Century State Department of Transportation—Supporting Strategic Decisionmaking


NCHRP 08-36, Task 117, Sketch Tools for Regional Sustainability Planning,


NCHRP 08-36, Task 145, Scenario Planning Lite, https://apps.trb.org/cmsfeed/TRBNetProjectDisplay.asp?ProjectID=4499


Information may be collected through literature review, surveys of DOTs and MPOs, and follow-up interviews with selected agencies for the development of case examples.

Sponsoring Committee:AEP10, Transportation Policy and Processes
Research Period:6 - 12 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:John Kaliski (Cambridge Systematics), Jerri Bohard (Oregon DOT), Marc Williams (Texas DOT)
Source Info:ADA10 Statewide Multimodal Transportation Planning Critical Issues Subcommittee - working group members
Date Posted:03/31/2020
Date Modified:06/15/2020
Index Terms:Transportation planning, State departments of transportation, Metropolitan planning organizations, Disaster resilience, Long range planning, Innovation,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Planning and Forecasting
Transportation (General)

Please click here if you wish to share information or are aware of any research underway that addresses issues in this research needs statement. The information may be helpful to the sponsoring committee in keeping the statement up-to-date.