Get to know the Transportation Planning Board

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Maybe you already know a lot about the TPB or maybe you’re new to us. The beginning of a new year is a good time to reacquaint ourselves. Here’s a primer on who we are and what we do.

There are three main roles the TPB plays: 1. It ensures that federal laws and regulations concerning transportation planning are followed; 2. provides an independent regional forum to develop a transportation policy framework and coordination among many independent jurisdictions, and 3. provides technical resources for transportation planning and programming decision-making. So, let’s go back to basics and explain who we are and why we’re here.

The TPB is an MPO. What does that mean?

The Transportation Planning Board serves as the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the region. So, what exactly is an MPO and what do they do? MPOs were created by the federal government because the construction of major transportation projects in and around urban areas needed to be coordinated with local and state jurisdictions. Urbanized areas with over 50,000 people must have a designated MPO.

MPOs are required to engage in a “continuing, comprehensive, and coordinated” transportation planning process. The TPB is the federally recognized organization to do this and brings key decision-makers together to coordinate planning and funding for the region’s transportation system.

The TPB’s planning area covers the District of Columbia and surrounding jurisdictions in Virginia and Maryland. (TPB)

TPB members include the transportation decision-makers of jurisdictions within its planning area. Representatives of the member jurisdictions include local officials like mayors, city council members, county board members, and others. Representatives from the state transportation agencies, WMATA, and the state legislatures also sit on the board. There are also non-voting members on the TPB including key federal agencies and the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

So, what exactly does the TPB do?

The TPB doesn’t have any direct control over funding to build, operate, and maintain the region’s transportation system. But, it does perform a range of activities that promote an integrated approach to the development, operations, and maintenance of the region’s transportation system. Federal law requires key transportation players in the region to work through the TPB process.

The TPB like other MPOs must fulfill federal requirements. There are two basic documents that all MPOs must produce: a long-range transportation plan—ours is called Visualize 2045—and a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The plan represents the collective approach to regional growth and the demand it places on the transportation system over the next 20 plus years together with the planned highway, transit, and bike and pedestrian projects and programs for this period.  The TIP documents the planned allocation of funding for projects and programs during the next six years. To receive federal funding or federal approval of a project or program, transportation projects must be included in the plan and the TIP.

Learn more about Visualize 2045.

Learn more about the TIP.

Aside from those two key documents, there are other federal planning activities the TPB must undertake. These include the congestion management process, freight, and safety plans.  Additionally, federal rules require that the TPB use a Performance Based Planning and Programming approach to develop its plan and TIP while ensuring these documents conform to the region’s air quality plan.

If you’re familiar with Visualize 2045, you may remember that it not only includes the projects that the region can fund but also an aspirational element—seven ideas that the region came together and agreed would help improve the transportation system. Visualize 2045 was based on earlier policy frameworks, to help guide transportation planning in the region. This policy framework was based on board members working together to guide the region’s transportation decision-making.

Learn more about the policy frame work for Visualize 2045.

TPB staff provide technical resources through data and analysis

The TPB also provides technical resources for decision-making. It is a technical resource for decision-makers and transportation planners in the region and beyond. Technical information and analyses are prepared on a variety of topics. These topics include collecting data on current travel patterns and conditions, congestion, and personal travel. Travel forecasting develops predictions about future travel conditions using a computer model.

TPB staff also collect data from across the region and produce maps and other reports working together with our member agencies. TPB staff maintain a clearinghouse of regional transportation data. [LINK] Staff also use Geographic Information Systems or GIS to conduct analysis and create maps linked to important regional transportation data.

TPB staff created an interactive companion to Visualize 2045 using GIS. (TPB)

The TPB also provides technical assistance to its members. The most well-known technical assistance program may be the TPB’s Transportation Land-Use Connections program. TLC helps local jurisdictions work through the challenges of integrating transportation and land use planning to create vibrant communities by providing technical assistance grants and through a peer exchange program.

Learn more about the TLC program.

The TPB administers grants

Additionally, the TPB administers the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP), a federal program that provides funding to projects considered “alternative” to traditional highway construction. Eligible projects include bike and pedestrian facilities, Complete Streets, and Safe Routes to School programs.

The TPB also selects projects for the Federal Transit Administration’s Enhanced Mobility of Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program. The program provides matching grants for non-profit organizations, local governments, transit agencies, and private for-profit providers to expand or increase access to transportation for older adults and individuals with disabilities.

TPB staff help people in the region improve their commutes

Transportation Demand Management (TDM) is intended to help people find and use alternatives to driving alone. It uses marketing, incentives, and employer-based programs to reduce congestion and improve air quality. Commuter Connections is the major demand management component of the TPB’s congestion management process and it helps support regional air quality goals. It promotes activities including ridesharing, using transit, bicycling, walking, teleworking, and employer services.

Learn more about Commuter Connections

Now, you’ve had a brief introduction to the TPB. Learn more at mwcog.org/TPB

Cover photo by Aimee Custis on Flickr

Many bus providers, one regional system
We've analyzed Visualize 2045 for how it may impact low-income and minority communities