Transportation planning: stages and challenges

Highway construction goes through multiple stages of transportation planning.

Transportation planning is a collaborative process that involves users, including businesses, community groups, motorists, environmental organizations and freight operators, of the transportation system. Whether planning for the short or long term, transportation forecasting is integral to transportation planning. The better the transportation planning process, the more accurate the information on developing alternative strategies to improve transportation system performance.

Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), the state Departments of Transportation transit providers and local agencies conduct transportation planning for urban areas. Transportation planning processes in rural areas are carried out by the state, along with local officials in nonmetropolitan areas with input from transit providers.

Irrespective of the type of planning processes, demographics and travel patterns, transportation planning involves various stages, each posing specific challenges.

Stages of the transportation planning process

Federal transportation planning across urban and rural areas is governed by the Three C's. They are:

  • Comprehensive. Consideration of a wide range of strategies and investments.
  • Cooperative. Participation and collaboration among stakeholders, including relevant agencies, organizations and the public.
  • Continuing. Inclusion of an ongoing performance-based evaluation, monitoring and updating process.

Transportation planners undertake a comprehensive analysis and evaluation of transportation strategies and programs while addressing the community's goals and concerns. The historical and future traffic trends are examined while considering the demand for the movement of people, goods and information at local, rural, statewide, national and international levels.

The following five aspects of transportation planning should define the various stages of the planning process for upgrading your community's transportation system.


Transportation planning: aspects and stages



Where are we now?

Evaluating conditions, performance and issues of the transportation system. 

Where do we want to go?

Defining the goals and objectives of the transportation system and projecting future conditions, including land use. 

How are we going to get there?

Determining strategic directions — evaluating alternative plans based on costs, sustainability and benefits. 

What will it take?

Securing funding through local funds, loans and grants programs.

How did we do? 

Evaluating performance measures and targets and revisiting strategies and investments. 

A streamlined, performance-based process of transportation planning, implementation and evaluation is further governed by federal requirements that focus on:

  • Safety. Significantly reducing accidents, traffic fatalities and severe injuries on all public roads.
  • Infrastructure. Maintaining the transportation system infrastructure assets in a state of good repair.
  • Traffic congestion. Significantly reducing traffic congestion on roadways and highways.
  • Freight movement. Ensuring uninterrupted freight movement between rural and urban areas to support regional economic development.
  • Environmental sustainability. Protecting the natural environment while enhancing the performance of the transportation system.

When developing plans to strengthen your community's transportation system, you must also be aware of the challenges of transportation planning and how to address them.

Challenges of transportation planning

Developing transportation plans is challenging. It is difficult to project future traffic trends based on the economy, population growth, fuel prices and more. Analytical limitations such as the accuracy of traffic forecasts and evaluation of performance measures further complicate the transportation planning process. Some key challenges you might face during transportation planning for your community include:

  • Sudden population growth. A sudden increase in people, particularly in the urban and semi-urban areas, puts more significant pressure on public transport infrastructure, affecting traffic forecasts.
  • Redevelopment and change of land use. Land use decisions may save or add time and costs to any transportation project. This is why Traffic Impact Studies are critical to redeveloping and changing land use to better address the volume of travelers using a particular road or transit route.
  • Changing demands for pedestrians and alternative modes of transportation. Estimating future travel demand depends on employment projections that might influence changing demands for pedestrians and alternative modes of transportation.
  • Traffic congestion, longer commute times and rising road safety problems. Sudden population growth leads to longer commute times and traffic congestion. All of this, in turn, affects an ongoing transportation planning process.
  • Differences in actual and projected traffic volume forecasts. Statistical tools such as a sequential travel demand model help with projecting traffic volume forecasts. However, differences in actual and projected traffic volume forecasts hinder the transportation planning process.
  • Sustainability in terms of motorized vehicle emission and related energy consumption. Pollution concerns about motorized vehicle emissions and how they affect environmentally sensitive areas also influence the development of transportation plans in a community.

With multiple stages of transportation planning, along with different challenges, partnering with a team of experts can help you develop accurate and effective traffic plans for your community.

Partner with an experienced team of transportation engineers

At Fehr Graham, we are experienced transportation engineers developing custom transportation planning for communities across Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin and beyond. Our expertise and experience in transportation engineering have won us many accolades, including a feature in Roads and Bridges magazine. From developing cost-effective transportation plans and Traffic Impact Studies to securing funding assistance and overseeing construction, we help transform transportation networks to minimize accidents and traffic delays.

To learn more about transportation planning and how Fehr Graham can help you develop custom and cost-effective transportation plans, contact us or call 815.562.9087.