In a region as complex as ours, it can be difficult to understand how and where transportation decisions are made. We hope this Information Hub website can help.
The Transportation Planning Board at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments has developed this site to explain the different planning processes that are happening every day at the state, local, and regional levels, and the unique role that the TPB plays in pulling it all together.
What is the TPB?
The TPB is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the region, and plays an important role as the regional forum for transportation planning. The TPB prepares plans and programs that the federal government must approve in order for federal-aid transportation funds to flow to the Washington region.
Members of the TPB include representatives of local governments; state transportation agencies; the Maryland and Virginia General Assemblies; the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority; and non-voting members from the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority and federal agencies. The TPB has an extensive public involvement process, and provides a 30-day public comment period before taking action on plans and programs.
The TPB's planning area covers the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions. In Maryland these jurisdictions include Charles County, Frederick County, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County, plus the cities of Bowie, College Park, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Greenbelt, Rockville, and Takoma Park. In Virginia, the planning area includes Alexandria, Arlington County, the City of Fairfax, Fairfax County, Falls Church, Loudoun County, the Cities of Manassas and Manassas Park, and Prince William County.
History of the TPB
The TPB was created in 1965 by the region's local and state governments to respond to federal highway legislation in 1962 that required the establishment of a "continuing, comprehensive and coordinated" transportation planning process in every urbanized area in the United States. Federal Highway and transit legislation required the establishment of planning bodies, which later became known as Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), when it became clear that the construction of major transportation projects through and around urban areas needed to be coordinated with local and state jurisdictions.
The TPB is today one of the 341 MPOs across America. According to federal law, an MPO must be designated in every urbanized area with a population over 50,000. The TPB is designated as this region's MPO by the governors of Virginia and Maryland and the mayor of Washington based upon an agreement among the local governments.
The TPB became associated with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) in 1966. COG was established in 1957 by local cities and counties to deal with regional concerns including growth, housing, environment, public health and safety - as well as transportation. Although the TPB is an independent body, its staff is provided by COG's Department of Transportation Planning.
The TPB's Major Roles
The TPB does not exercise direct control over funding and does not implement projects, but it does perform a range of activities that promote an integrated approach to transportation development. The requirements of federal law compel the key transportation players in the region to work through the TPB process. The TPB exercises its basic role as a coordinating agency in several ways:
- The TPB ensures compliance with federal laws and requirements. Federal requirements inject consistency and coordination into regional transportation decision-making. The federally mandated metropolitan planning process requires all MPOs across the country to produce two basic documents—a long-range plan, which in the Washington region is called the Financially Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan (CLRP), and a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), which lists projects and programs that will be funded in the next six years. Since 2000, the CLRP has used a planning horizon of 25 years. In order to receive federal funding, transportation projects must be included in the CLRP and the TIP.
Federal law also requires the TPB to show that the region will have adequate funds to build the projects listed in these two main planning documents. The funding for the CLRP and TIP must be “reasonably expected to be available,” according to federal transportation law enacted in 1991. This financial constraint is intended to make sure the different partners in the region’s transportation system are realistically planning for the future.
In addition, the TPB must make sure that the projects in its CLRP and the TIP, taken collectively, contribute to air quality improvement goals for the region. This is a requirement of the federal Clean Air Act. The TPB must also comply with federal laws, regulations and policies stipulating that regional transportation plans must not disproportionately affect low-income or minority communities in an adverse way.
- The TPB provides a regional transportation policy framework and a forum for coordination. While federal law and regulations drive much of the region’s regular transportation planning activities, the TPB has also developed a policy framework—known as the Vision— that is intended to guide the region’s transportation investments in the new century.
Approved in 1998, the Vision is a long-range document laying out key goals and strategies that will help the region to develop the transportation system it needs to sustain economic development, environmental quality and a high quality of life. The agencies that implement transportation projects—the states, the District of Columbia, the regional transit authority and others—must show that the goals of their projects are consistent with the Vision.
- The TPB provides technical resources for decision-making. Finally, the TPB is a technical resource. The TPB staff is continually working in close coordination with the staffs from the local and state jurisdictions and WMATA, as well as with outside consultants, to produce numerous studies and analyses. This technical information is essential for the decisions made by the TPB itself and for the decisions of the jurisdictions comprising the region.
Technical information and analysis are prepared on a variety of topics, most of which fit into a few broad categories. Travel monitoring activities gather information on current travel patterns and conditions. For example, data is collected on transportation facilities throughout the region to assess the performance of highway and transit facilities. Congestion levels are calculated based upon measures of the average number of cars per lane-mile of highway. Personal travel patterns are also surveyed to determine how people are traveling, for what purpose and how far.
Travel forecasting develops predictions about future travel conditions. The TPB staff develops these forecasts using computer programs (“models”) whose inputs include assumptions about the future, including projected population and job growth, data about planned or potential improvements in the transportation system, and assumptions about future travel demand. The model’s outputs produce travel forecasts that inform a variety of decisions, such as helping to determine how various transportation investments will affect mobility in the region. Information about current and future travel conditions is used for a number of purposes—especially for the regional air quality analysis required by the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, as amended. Technical data produced by the TPB staff are also used by other jurisdictions and agencies. The states, the District of Columbia and WMATA (the regional transit authority) use TPB data on a regular basis to plan and operate their services and facilities.