Defining Effective Regional Planning in Virginia

Report No: 07-R8

Published in 2006

About the report:

One of the most visible mechanisms for considering major transportation investments is the regional long-range transportation plan (LRP) (also referred to as the urbanized long-range transportation plan). With a typical cost of $3 to $5 million, Virginia's Transportation Planning Research Advisory Committee has asked how to assess the effectiveness of such plans. This study addressed this question by synthesizing the views of 16 planning professionals regarding what constitutes an effective plan and testing one aspect of their definition of effectiveness--implementation--with Virginia data. Interviewees represented regional planning districts, local public works or transportation departments, and a professional association. The data were used to examine the link between 25 years of LRPs and the corresponding highway investment programs for the Hampton Roads region. The interviewees defined planning effectiveness in three ways: the elements a plan contains, the objectives achieved by actions taken as a result of the plan, and the barriers the plan overcomes. An effective plan contains a vision statement, a link to land use in local comprehensive plans, a list of prioritized projects, a statement addressing how the community wants to grow, modal tradeoffs, accurate information, and measurable goals. An effective plan implements projects, garners support from local decision makers and the public, uses travel demand models appropriately, and considers alternatives. An effective plan moves past obstacles such as imperfect coordination, inadequate funding, and the federal requirement that plans be financially constrained. Because the interviewees generally indicated that a major measure of effectiveness is whether the LRP is implemented, the extent to which the regional LRP influenced the allocation of funds to specific projects in the VDOT Six-Year Improvement Program (SYIP) was examined. This implementation was measured in four ways in the Hampton Roads area: (1) percentage of LRP projects implemented, (2) number of implemented projects appearing in an SYIP prior to the LRP, (3) percentage of implemented projects started before the LRP was superseded by a successive LRP, and (4) for any given LRP, percentage of projects that appeared in a previous LRP. First, of the 664 projects proposed in the five LRPs studied, about 28% were implemented in an SYIP. Second, of 85 projects appearing in an SYIP from the four most recent LRPs, only 5 had appeared in an SYIP prior to the LRP; thus, for the universe of built projects, the LRP is influential. Third, 66% of implemented projects started while the current LRP was in effect. Fourth, of the 934 projects that appeared in an LRP, 61% had appeared in a previous LRP. Conclusions are that regional long-range planning effectively influences which projects are chosen but not if these projects are delivered; the relevance of any given LRP is limited by the fact that there is a large backlog of unbuilt projects; and LRPs are gradually becoming programming documents where a small proportion of projects are selected for investment but the selections are undertaken in the short term.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


Last updated: November 25, 2023

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