III. Long Range Transportation Plan


(The planning process shall explicitly consider)…the likely effect of transportation policy decisions on land use and development and the consistency of transportation plans and programs with the provisions of all applicable short- and long-term land use and development plans. 

                                                                  23 CFR '450.316(a))


Text Box: T0

he Capital District’s population has been defined as relatively stable with only a modest amount of ethnic and racial diversity.[i]  The growth rate has varied between 2% and 4% each decade since 1980.  Much of the growth is occurring in Saratoga County, which CDRPC predicts to grow by almost 22% by 2030.  The other three counties are also expected to grow, but at a much lower rates[ii].   CDTC acknowledge that, although the region has the appearance that all is well (or almost all), the travel needs of the various populations of the Capital District differ greatly, are impacted by change differently, and may become more diverse in the years to come. 

The Capital region may experience significant growth due to its becoming a high-tech research and development hub.  In 2002, the Capital District was recognized by the Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report as having the potential to “…become the Silicon Valley for nanotech and even surpass it in economic importance.”[iii]  There are twenty colleges and universities in the Capital Region, many with engineering and science programs.  International SEMATECH, a consortium of the world's largest computer chip makers, is locating a new computer chip research facility at the University of Albany that may employ up to 500 people.  Redevelopment of Albany's Harriman State Office Campus into a private, high-tech research and development park may add up to $220 million annually and 8,000 new jobs to the Region's economy.  The proposed Luther Forest Technology Campus in Malta potentially represents one of the largest economic development initiatives in the Region's history, with hosting up to 2,500 new jobs in its first phase.

Figure 7:  Downtown Albany

The potential growth of the region presents a significant challenge to transportation, and we believe that CDTC is positioned well to meet that challenge. CDTC states that its approach to transportation planning can be characterized by two words: Stewardship and Vision.  It strives to “… answer questions such as: ‘How will the expectations and role of the transportation system be different in the year (2030) from what they are today? What type of future development pattern should be encouraged through strategic transportation investments? How can the transportation system be managed or improved to enhance the quality of life, protect the environment and sustain economic vitality in the region? What are the financial requirements to provide the desired system and how can they be secured?’"[iv]


The CDTC’s current plan, New Visions 2021, is a very noteworthy document.  It is a second installment in a series of “vision” plans, with the third major installment – New Visions 2030 – scheduled in late 2005.  In New Vision’s 2030, CDTC is delving deeper into the quality of life paradigms as transportation planning affects the Capital District.  In order to better understand the existing CDTC plan development process, some background is needed.



The New Visions Plan (1997)

        The New Visions approach to regional transportation planning is, as its name implies, visionary.  When it first embarked on the new approach in 1993, CDTC’s approach was novel among New York MPOs.  The traditional approach to developing a regional transportation plan was to forecast future travel and population growth and then attempt to accommodate them.  CDTC chose to step back and have a comprehensive, grass roots look at where the Capital District wanted to go in the next 25 years, and then estimate the financial resources necessary to get there.  It was a proactive plan rather than merely a reactive plan.  It was a holistic evaluation of regional planning and development, wherein transportation planning was an integral part of helping the region develop in the way the public wanted.  


        In stepping back from the reactive mode of transportation planning, CDTC still wanted to ensure mobility, achieve intermodal integration, and enhance economic development potential in the region.  CDTC established regional forums for the investigation of fundamental paradigms about how to achieve those goals. The process was not a “business as usual” approach.


        Early on, CDTC made a policy decision regarding the eventual allocation of resources:

·        Assure that basic system preservation needs are met first; 

·        Seek progress across all fronts whenever funding levels exceeds the basic system preservation level; and

·        Pursue funding levels sufficient to permit full implementation of the entire plan of reasonable actions.

Key to the regional consensus was a substantial and meaningful public input process.  Nine task forces were established and charged with five overriding considerations: safety, land use, environmental impact, resource efficiency, and social justice and equality.   These task forces were the heart of the New Visions effort. They were composed of interested parties (citizens and groups), CDTC staff, and Planning and Policy Board representation. Many of the participants were stakeholders who were not previously represented at the CDTC table. The task forces operated by consensus. The Task Forces made no specific recommendations on the suggestions – their charge was to develop facts, figures and realistic costs. 


        The plan development process resulted in several exceptional policy decisions that still guide the CDTC decision-making process.  

·        Transportation investment is to be based on function and need, not upon facility ownership. Under this policy, all member agencies agreed to put all funds (NHS, CMAQ, STP) on the table; the best projects are selected according to CDTC investment strategy (and Federal eligibility guidelines), and then money is assigned. 

·        System preservation is defined in terms of maintaining existing facilities at the current conditions. The Plan drew a figurative 1996 “line in the sand” regarding the condition and benefits of the transportation system. Capacity and safety improvements and design upgrades carried out in conjunction with facility renewal are considered separately in the plan as discretionary improvements, similar to stand-alone capacity, safety, or bike/pedestrian actions.

·         CDTC will maintain an informed balance in transportation investments. The plan establishes a policy that, after system preservation needs are met, comparable progress is to be pursued across-the-board in 17 budget categories. If necessary, CDTC will steer federal funds to certain categories to ensure a balanced investment program in the TIP. 

·        The Region will build strong urban, suburban and rural communities, knitting them into a cohesive metropolitan area. 


      New Vision for the Capital District was adopted in March 1997 with a 2015 horizon period. The Plan was primarily a statement of principles, strategies and budgetary emphases to guide more detailed TIP project decisions, rather than a series of lines on a map.  It provided priorities and a budgetary framework for the 5-year TIP, and it served as the basis for legislative discussions regarding programs and elimination of institutional and jurisdictional barriers. It has been highly effective in shepherding transportation investment along regional desires.  The key to the plan’s effectiveness is that it is grounded in regional consensus, incremental changes, and fiscal constraint.  The strength of the plan is in the degree to which consensus on key principles was found, and in the affordability of the recommended actions. 


        Not unexpectedly, all issues raised during the plan development process were not resolved; some issues lacked a sense of urgency back in 1997 as compared to today; some decisions had to be postponed because of a lack of resources.  CDTC fully intends to revisit these issues in New Visions 2030, to strive for consensus strategies, and to identify resources before urgency becomes critical.





New Visions 2021

The New Visions Plan was a groundbreaking plan among the MPOs, but its production had been a very exhausting process for both the MPO and the public – it had taken the full three years to reach completion.  CDTC was faced, however, with the Federal requirement that the plan be updated every three years if an MPO was in air quality nonattainment area (like the Capital District).    Rather than starting another comprehensive update - a daunting task since so much effort went into the New Visions process – CDTC afforded itself of the flexibility under the planning regulations[v] and chose to do an incremental RTP update.  The next plan, New Visions 2030, would return to the more comprehensive level of effort.  


            The New Visions 2021 plan, adopted by CDTC in October 2000, continued to embrace the philosophies of original New Visions.   The updated document received a positive FHWA/FTA air quality conformity determination on February 9, 2001.



Quality Region Initiative

CDTC is now in the process of a major update of the RTP - New Visions 2030 (see next paragraph).  Although broad agreement was reached on many transportation and developmental issues in the existing plan, there were issues relating to the quality of life in the region upon which consensus was not obtained.  This included solutions to congestion in some major corridors, funding availability, and sometimes priority of need.  CDTC promised to revisit these issues in the 2030 Plan.


To better explore the issue of a quality region and what that might mean to the Capital District, CDTC and CDRPC created its Travel Task Force.  This initiative was a joint effort by CDTC and CDRPC that served two complementary needs: the update of CDTC’s New Vision’s transportation plan and the update of CDRPC’s Regional Development Plan.  The task force was a small group of individuals that were assembled to help identify the issues and investment decisions that must be considered in order to achieve a quality region.  It was not a policy group, and its mission was not to set policy or reach conclusions.  Instead, it researched what issues have been raised in the past and compiled draft technical papers to distribute to a more diverse set of interested parties and stakeholders for review. Hopefully, this will gain the benefits of the broader group’s insights.  Three general areas of inquiry were raised relating to the transportation needs of demographic market groups.  First, what will be the demographic, technologic, and societal changes over the next 30 years as they relate to transportation?  Second, what are the segments (market groups) of the regional population that have similar travel needs?  Third, what are the potential reactions to societal and technological changes by each of these market groups? 


The six market groups were identified as follows:

  • Retired elderly dependent upon others for transportation
  • Retired elderly independent of others for their transportation needs
  • Single individuals with dependents that are working households
  • Single individuals without dependents that are working households
  • Couples with dependents that are working households
  • Couples without dependents that are working households

After identification of the groups, the transportation impacts on each of the groups over the next 30 years were analyzed, and four draft technical papers were issued:

-       Demographic Market Groups in 2030

-       Market Group Travel in a Changing Economy

-       Land Use Impacts on Market Group Travel

-       Public Transportation and Technology Impacts on Travel


In September 2002, CDTC and CDRPC issued “Pursuing Quality in the Capital Region”, a draft discussion document to begin the regional dialogue. Some of the topics for discussion were: the current and future prospects for job growth, settlement patterns, government structure, migration patterns and community stability even apart from transportation issues. This was revised based on the comments received and finalized in Aril 2003.

The products of the Quality Region initiative will then be woven into the policies of the New Visions 2030 Regional Transportation Plan. 



New Visions 2030 – New Visions for a Quality Region

   New Visions 2030 is the next step in CDTC’s continuing evolving approach that produces truly comprehensive and visionary plans   CDTC will revisit and expand the in-depth examination of overarching topics for the Capital District that was the mark of the original New Visions plan.  As noted above, particular attention will be made of information gathered through the groundbreaking work of the Quality Initiative. 


As with the original New Visions effort, Task Forces will again be crucial for exploration of data and attitudes.  Three task forces are identified: 

Ø      Quality Region Task Force: how can the region address strong local interest in aesthetics; explore the unresolved issues related to regional settlement patterns and their relationship to quality of life and "visionary" transportation investments.  (Note: The Travel Task Force has now been folded into the Quality Region Task Force).

Ø      Travel Futures Task Force: explore future demands on the transportation system. 

Ø      Finance Task Force: the funding needs of CDTC's plan.


In support of the effort are five working groups.  The discussions surrounding the issue of regional development has brought new players to the table. A Regional Initiative to Support Empowerment (see Title VI/EJ portion of this report), the Business/Higher Education Roundtable and the Center for Economic Growth are some of the groups.


CDTC originally planned to complete the New Visions 2030 plan sometime in 2002.[vi] However, this date was not realized (see below); CDTC reconfirmed the status of the 2021 plan in July 2003; FHWA/FTA concurred with a positive air quality conformity determination on October 20, 2003.



Albany Corridor Study

The prime characteristic of CDTC’s approach to decision making is the consensus buy-in of the participants following a full exploration of alternatives.  Recommendations that come out of the New Visions process are well received because they are developed as part of an overall evaluation of regional needs as viewed through regional goals.  There appears to be somewhat of a movement away from this approach with the Thruway Authority’s Albany Corridor Study. The Corridor Study is from Interchanges 21A (Berkshire Connector) and 25A (Schenectady, I-88).  “The purpose of this study is to develop a prioritized Capital Improvement Plan to address structural, safety, capacity and operational needs for this portion of the Thruway over the next 20 years… it will identify improvements to meet increasing traffic demands and projects that could be developed independently.”[vii]  A Project Advisory Committee (PAC) has been formed to provide input to the Project Team. The members of the PAC include representatives from agencies, cities, towns, counties and CDTC staff. CDTC staff is conducting the traffic forecasts for this study, and the Project Team reports to the CDTC on a regular basis.  Public hearings began in June 2003 and are still continuing, but the Authority is indicating that it anticipates the addition of a third lane in each direction plus additional projects[viii]. 


The Corridor Study’s approach to evaluating alternatives and choosing a course of action differs from the CDTC approach.  The PAC will undoubtedly provide very useful advice to the Project Team, but the engineering solutions selected by the Thruway may not be the consensus choices of all participants. The Study is essentially the historic approach to project development, the end product of which is a capacity project that comes fully developed to the MPO table with a request for funding.   


Funding sources have not been identified as yet, while the preliminary estimate of construction costs range between $300 to 400 million. Thruway projects traditionally are funded with a large percentage of Thruway funds; however, the recent State budgetary problems (discussed on page 43) suggest that significant federal funding resources may be needed.  Unless a Congressional “earmark” is obtained to fund the reconstruction, the Study’s recommendations will probably be in competition with other Capital District projects for the limited federal funds (the CDTC Policy Board, of course,  will eventually have to endorse any federal funding before these projects get on the TIP).   Even if there is no competition for federal funds, the Thruway’s recommended solutions may not be the consensus choices.  For example, solutions to the congestion on the I-87 Northway – the heaviest congested corridor in the Capital District - were analyzed during the New Visions process, and the consensus reached was not to pursue any physical expansion in the immediate future.


We are not specifically criticizing to the Thruway for taking this approach, as this is the traditional approach used in all other New York MPOs and in the vast majority of MPOs nationwide.  Furthermore, we recognize that the implementing agencies (Thruway Authority, NYSDOT, City of Albany, etc.) have the prerogative of how their respective projects come to the MPO table for consideration.  Still, we consider the CDTC process to be singularly unique in its approach to comprehensive decision-making, and we recommend that the New Vision philosophy be encouraged whenever possible. 


Recommendation:  In order to support CDTC’s New Vision approach to developing consensus solutions, we recommend that the CDTC evaluate how this study can best be folded into the overall CDTC philosophy of infrastructure and capacity investments.




Need for an Interim Plan Update

The Federal transportation regulations require an MPO in a nonattainment area to update its regional transportation plan on a schedule determined by the Secretary of Transportation.   The current established schedule is every three years measured from the time of the FHWA/FTA joint air quality conformity determination on said Plan’s air quality analysis.  Every update is required to have a 20-year planning horizon.  The current CDTC Plan - New Visions 2021 - received a positive FHWA/FTA conformity determination in February 2001, and therefore an official update of the CDTC Plan with a new 20-year planning horizon should have occurred in February 2004.  It didn’t occur for several understandable reasons.


As noted previously, CDTC expected to complete the New Visions 2030 in 2002 but were delayed.  Additional issues arose, such as the pending Congressional reauthorization of the transportation legislation (which would have substituted a five year update cycle), the uncertainty with the new level of Federal resources, the uncertainty with the State budget resources, and the uncertainty of what the NYSDOT’s Transformation process will have on existing MPO relationships and Statewide strategic initiatives.  All the above contributed to the lack of interim Plan update by February 2004.  CDTC did take the interim step of reconforming the 2021 Plan’s validity in October 2003 along with the new TIP, but that action did not revise the horizon date of the plan. 


The transportation regulations require that the plan be reviewed and updated every three years to confirm the consistency of the current and forecasted land use and transportation conditions and trends.[ix]  CDTC did internally review the changes from the 2000 Census, the trends in the area, and the current traffic data, and concluded that the changes do not cry out for immediate major revamping of the Plan.[x] The only sticking point, as far as the regulations, is that the CDTC plan’s horizon date does not now cover a 20-year period.


CDTC expressed its willingness to perform an interim update if we (FHWA and FTA) believed it necessary.   We, conversely, did not want to automatically mandate what could be seen as merely a ceremonial update.  Being that the 20-year horizon was the main sticking point, we evaluated several approaches to bridging the gap until the New Visions 2030 plan is available.    However, given that this gap would be approximately 20 months, we have concluded that CDTC did need to have an interim update of the Plan in order to protect its capital program.  On May 4, 2004, the CDTC Planning Committee agreed to develop an interim Plan this summer.


It should be noted that the lack of an interim plan update at this date (June 2004) does not now have a negative impact the CDTC capital program.  The projects in CDTC’s 2003/2008 TIP are included in New York’s 2004/2006 Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), which was approved by FHWA and FTA on December 22,2003.  Therefore, CDTC’s projects may still proceed; however, until there is an interim update of the plan (or a new plan) from which to draw new TIP projects, CDTC cannot add new projects (or make major modifications thereto) to the TIP.    



Recommendation:   CDTC is to complete its interim update the Plan to a 2025 horizon, with the major update - 2030 New Visions - occurring in the latter part of 2005. 


[i] Travel Task Force Report - Demographics Market Groups: Capital District Transportation Needs in 2030


[ii]   Albany County by 5.8%, Schenectady County by 1.5& and Rensselaer County by 4.5%, according the CDRPC projections.


[iii]  Forbes/Wolfe Nanotech Report, October 2002


[iv] “What is CDTC”, from website:  http://www.cdtcmpo.org/whatcdtc.htm


[v] The flexibility can be found in the preamble section (under 23 CFR section 450.322) is follows: “Formally updating a plan does not require an entirely new plan but does require a review of plan assumptions, transportation trends, the development of the area, air quality considerations, systems characteristics, and extension of the forecasts to maintain a twenty year horizon.   This will ensure that fundamental forces and factors affecting the operation, maintenance and development of the transportation system are adequately addressed.”


[vi]  The October 19, 2000 CDTC resolution adopting the 2021 plan stated CDTC’s intention to adopt a 2030 version by 2002


[viii]  ibid, “Mainline Capacity” discussion


[ix]  23 CFR 450.322(a)


[x]  e.g.; CDTC’s Preliminary Analysis of 2000 Census Journey-to-Work, September 2003