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Institutional Arrangements

Institutional arrangements refer to agreements and organizational structures both within transportation agencies and between agencies. This can include forums that regularly bring together transportation planners and operations practitioners as well as agreements that promote involvement of management and operations practitioners in planning processes, or that promote a regional planning perspective within an operations environment. New institutional arrangements are created for a number of reasons. This can include the occurrence of a seminal event such as major national events or a disaster; the introduction of new programs; the response to new State or Federal mandates; or to take advantage of new funding sources.

Many regions have other types of institutional arrangements that focus on M&O more broadly, and can serve as a link to regional planning activities. Although the circumstances that lead to institutional innovation may differ across regions examples of arrangements that better tie together planning and operations include the following:

Getting Started: Building Institutional Arrangements

Some common strategies have emerged for building institutional arrangements that can better link planning and operations. Changing institutional relationships and behavior is a tremendous challenge and requires a sustained effort. But laying the groundwork for such change can begin immediately. The following approaches can highlight opportunities for existing institutions to better coordinate planning and operations and prompt leaders to consider where new institutional arrangements may be needed.

Designate an MPO Stakeholder Forum on Regional Management and Operations

An increasing number of MPOs support interagency committees that deal directly and regularly with the management and operations of regional transportation systems. In hosting such committees, the MPO facilitates a vital forum where interjurisdictional coordination, funding strategies, and data sharing can be addressed. In addition, the MPO can use the committee's diverse operations expertise to inform M&O issues in regional planning documents and in the MPO's annual work program.

Attract Stakeholders with Specific Regional Operations Programs

One way to achieve greater stakeholder participation in stakeholder forums is to focus discussions on specific operations concerns. This makes it clear to both operations practitioners and policy makers when the forum is within their area of expertise.

Freight transportation planning is an area where focused forums have been successful. Some regions have successfully developed forums or task forces specifically to address regional freight operations planning. Part of the success has come from a committing funds toward short-term freight corridor improvements and making clear that the committee input would influence actual freight management investments.

Involve Regional Operations Forums in the Planning Process

Regional transportation operations collaborations and traffic management centers (TMCs) increasingly offer forums for integrated operations that are independent of other regional bodies. They often provide a unique opportunity to bring together the public safety and operations management communities, and thus are well positioned to address broader operations issues.

Beyond offering a forum for coordination on operations issues, a growing number of regional transportation operations collaborations are taking the lead in ensuring coordinated interagency operations planning to address challenges over the longer-term. Specifically, the functions of these organizations have grown to cover:

Define an Organizational Structure for the MPO that Reflects the Importance of Regional Operations

MPOs have historically been organized around long-range planning and programming of capital projects. In recent years, many MPOs have expanded their role to include greater involvement in regional systems management issues. Some agencies have chosen fundamental restructuring to reflect a growing responsibility for regional management and operations. MPOs should consider the potential benefits of an institutional structure that reflects a heightened focus on managing the regional network.

One option for such a restructuring is to develop a division within the MPO that is specifically responsible for regional system M&O activities. An operations arm of an MPO may appear more accessible and carry more legitimacy with operations staff in the other bodies such as the State DOT, local jurisdictions, transit agencies, and private fleet operators.

Link Planning and Operations within State DOTs and Transit Agencies

Unlike MPOs, most State DOTs and regional transit agencies traditionally have included both planning and operations functions. They have an opportunity to better coordinate planning and operations without some of the interjurisdictional and interagency challenges faced by MPOs. The development of the statewide plan offers additional opportunities to link planning and operations. In some cases, an operations committee or operations division has led development of portions of the statewide plan. This is a valuable means for raising awareness of the planning process within the operations community, while bringing operations expertise into the planning process.

Reinforce Institutional Links by Integrating Operations into Project Design and Delivery

Operations practitioners should be involved in project design at the earliest possible stage in order to ensure that projects support, or at the very least, do not conflict with regional operations strategies. Institutional relationships between planning and operating agencies are supported when practitioners collaborate to accommodate ITS, transit, and operations flexibility into design during the early stages of the project development process. To ensure that operations strategies are embedded in capital projects, MPOs should take steps to ensure that appropriate operations stakeholders become part of the early stages of the project development and design process.

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