It's time again for transportation agencies in the Washington region to identify new projects or programs to include in the region's constrained long-range transportation plan, or CLRP, which goes out to the year 2040, or in the six-year transportation improvement program, known as the TIP.
The "call for projects" for the CLRP and TIP -- which kicks off an annual update process -- was approved by the TPB at its October 17 meeting. Now the individual counties, municipalities, and state, regional, and federal agencies that fund transportation improvements in the region have until December 14 to submit their proposed additions, or to propose changing or removing projects or programs that are already in either document.
Under federal law, transportation projects or programs must be included in the CLRP, and eventually in the TIP, before they can be built or implemented. New projects and programs, or changes to existing ones, must be approved by the metropolitan planning organization, or MPO, for a metropolitan area, which in the Washington region is the TPB.
Agencies are limited under federal law to submitting for inclusion in the CLRP only those projects or programs for which funding is "reasonably expected to be available" and that fit within federal and regional policy frameworks, which prioritize things like protecting environmental quality, minimizing adverse impacts on vulnerable populations, and ensuring adequate public participation in the transportation planning process.
Together, these requirements mean that the CLRP is the most realistic prediction of what the transportation system will look like by the year 2040 because it is based on current planning and funding trajectories.
Planners at the TPB use the CLRP both to evaluate how well the planned transportation system will meet the growing and changing transportation needs of the region through 2040 -- by predicting future levels of congestion or access to jobs from different parts of the region, for example -- and to determine what effect future travel patterns will have on the region's environment, especially its air quality.
The annual process for adding new projects or programs to the CLRP or TIP, or making changes to existing projects or programs, begins every October when the TPB issues the "call for projects." The process ends the following July when the TPB votes to adopt final updates.
During that nine-month period, agencies' submissions are reviewed by the TPB's Technical Committee, which includes transportation planners, engineers, and other technical staff from each of the transportation agencies in the region.
The TPB also performs an air quality conformity analysis of all the projects and programs in the CLRP and TIP, including the proposed additions and changes, in order to demonstrate that future emissions of vehicle-related pollutants will not exceed targets approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The emissions forecasts -- which are required by the federal Clean Air Act -- are usually prepared in March and April.
One other essential part of the process is two public comment periods that provide opportunities for individuals and advocacy organizations to comment on proposed additions or changes. One occurs soon after the December deadline for agencies to submit their initial proposals. The other occurs in June after a draft list of all the proposed additions and changes, as well as the results of the air quality analysis, are released by the TPB.
On October 17, the TPB invited transportation agencies in the region to propose new additions or changes to the constrained long-range plan and six-year transportation improvement program, kicking off the annual update process of both documents. The CLRP and the TIP are cornerstones of the TPB's work in the Washington region, bringing together planners, policymakers, and decision-makers from around the region to discuss and make decisions about the future of the transportation system.