VI. Transportation Improvement Program


The metropolitan transportation planning process shall include development of a transportation improvement program (TIP) for the metropolitan planning area by the MPO in conjunction with the State and public transit operators.” 23 CFR  '450.324(a)


Text Box: O0

ne of CDTC’s most important responsibilities is the development of a multi-year program of transportation improvements that implement recommendations of the planning process, particularly those in the New Visions Plan.  This program of projects is the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).  The TIP identifies the timing and funding of all highway, bridge, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian transportation projects scheduled for implementation over a five-year period using FHWA or FTA funding, and it also estimates said implementation’s effect on Regional air quality.  Federal regulations require that these projects be included on the TIP in order to be eligible for federal funding.  The TIP also includes, for informational purposes, non-federally funded projects, including 100% State funded projects (NYSDOT and New York State Thruway Authority) in the region.  The CDTC TIP for 2003-2008 lists $543 million in Federal and matched transportation projects.


There are certain federal requirements of the TIP document:

  • Covers at least three years
  • Updated at least every two years
  • Consistent with approved Transportation Plan
  • Conforms to air quality requirements
  • Identifies each project
  • Financially constrained by year; each project has an estimate of total costs and the amount of federal funds, state, and/or local matching funds
  • Identifies the responsible party for project implementation
  • Approved by MPO and Governor
  • Modifications during the year are subject to appropriate project selection procedures


Fortunately, transportation investment has broad support in the Capital District area.  It has been a non-partisan issue with bi-partisan support, and there are usually no significant disagreements over project selections.  However, we are troubled over the recent changes in types of projects being funded with Federal funds (see page 45). 






TIP Investment Principles

Figure 12:  Twin Bridges, I-87 Northway

        CDTC’s choice of what projects to place on the TIP is guided by several exceptional policy decisions that were agreed upon in the New Visions plan.   First, 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 then money is assigned.  This is noticeably different than how most MPOs approach the TIP or RTP: normally, Federal fund type determines project selection (e.g., NYSDOT owned facilities compete against themselves for NHS funding, and the locally owned facilities compete against each other for STP funding). 


        The Plan lays out a performance based management strategy (e.g., painting bridges before they corrode, building more durable pavements, matching design treatment to road function rather than ownership or funding category). CDTC also uses both “core” performance measures relating to aggregate system performance (e.g., extent of congestion) and “supplemental” performance measures relating to specific elements of the system (e.g., percentage of Interstate highway pavement in poor physical condition).  CDTC’s performance measures have been recognized as a prototype for improved processes elsewhere and have been the subject of several case studies.


      Secondly, 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.  CDTC required the Plan to maintain or improve the overall transportation service quality from 1996 conditions and enhance the quality of life in the region; it was to reduce per-capita resource requirements related to provision, operation, use and mitigation of the impacts of the transportation system from 1996 per-capita costs - especially in reducing the total costs of accidents (crashes).  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.


      Thirdly, CDTC will maintain an informed balance in transportation investments.  This was a shift from heavy emphasis on routine pavement, bridge and bus renewal and congestion mitigation to a carefully-structured balance among these traditional efforts and actions focused on travel safety, economic development and community enhancement, arterial management, bike and pedestrian accommodation, transit redesign and similar subjects.  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 funds to certain categories to ensure a balanced investment program in the TIP.  This same approach is taken with transit, where system preservation needs are defined in terms of maintaining the existing fleet and other equipment/facilities at current size and condition.  Upgrades and expansions are treated as improvements.  Funding priority is assigned to preservation, and transit improvements are advanced along with other desired improvements as funding permits.


Development Process for the 2003-2008 TIP

          Putting the TIP together is a little science and a little art.  The CDTC has developed a very sensible process for soliciting, evaluating and subsequently placing highway projects into the TIP.  Project selection for dedicated transit funds (FTA Sections 5307, 5309, 5310, and 5311) are considered separately.


Solicitation for Candidate Projects

Nine months prior to the 2003/08 TIP approval by the Policy Board, CDTC sent letters of notification to the chief elected officials throughout the Capital District, informing them of the commencement of the process to develop a new TIP.  Other agencies in the Capital District that are capable of sponsoring transportation projects (e.g., New York Thruway Authority, the Canal Corporation, private railroads, etc.) also received notification letters.  Applications are submitted as Project Justification Packages (CDTC’s template for providing project information).  In response to the 2003 solicitation, CDTC received applications for 55 candidate projects. 



          After receiving the Project Justification Packages, CDTC employs a screening process to determine whether or not certain established requirements for inclusion in the TIP are met.  As described in the TIP[i], the screening criteria are:

·    Consistency with TEA-21’s planning factors, CDTC’s plans (e.g., New Visions, Metropolitan Congestion Management System, etc.), and local land use plans

·    Ability to provide local matching funds

·    Well defined project scope and timing

·    Meeting an identified need

·    Federal-aid eligibility


Of the 55 applications received for consideration, 7 failed the initial screening and 48 continued on to the Merit Evaluation stage.


Merit Evaluation

At this stage, the merits of every project are evaluated both quantitatively and qualitatively, with the information summarized on a one-page Project Fact Sheet (see Appendix E). 


The quantitative information reflects financial benefits of the project described as benefit/cost ratios ($/year) in the categories of safety (accident reductions), travel time[ii], energy/user costs, life cycle value[iii], and “other benefits”[iv].  The sum of these five categories divided by the annualized total benefit/cost of the project is the project’s total benefit/cost ratio.

The substantial portion of the space on the Project Fact Sheet is set aside for reporting a project’s additional impacts (pro and con).  This information, mostly supplied by the project sponsor, describes how the project will contribute to advancing the goals and implementing the strategies identified in New Visions.  Some of these impacts can be estimated (e.g., reductions in VOC emission, reduction in daily excess person hours of delay) and some only described (compatibility with local land use plans, contribution to economic development, benefits to bicycling, etc.)



Financial Plan and Fiscal Constraint

Federal regulations require that the TIP include a financial plan and that it be fiscally constrained by year.  The financial plan is to be developed by the MPO in cooperation with the State and transit operator.[v]


The TIP’s development process is coordinated with the development of the NYSDOT Region One program of projects.  The total Regional program of projects is a compilation of the programs in the urban and rural parts of the Region.  Region 1 covers two MPOs (Albany and Glens Falls) and several rural counties.[vi]  At the beginning of the program cycle, each NYSDOT Region receives a target-funding amount (Federal plus State funds) from the NYSDOT Main Office to clarify how much funding will be available.  The Region subsequently informs the MPOs and counties of their individual targets, and it then coordinates with the MPOs and rural counties to identify the best mix of projects with funds available.  Projects from MPO areas feed into the MPOsTIPs and subsequently the STIP, while projects in rural counties go directly into the STIP.


The extent of the openness of CDTC's TIP development process is unique in New York.  The prioritization for federal-aid projects occurs as an objective, plan-oriented, collaborative effort; nearly all fund sources are put on the table and the best projects chosen according to the policy guides of the New Visions plan.  We particularly commend NYSDOT Region One for this cooperative approach.  Based on many years of cooperation and trust, the NYSDOT has acted with even additional fiscal flexibility.  NYSDOT has wide latitude in balancing its total capital program both regionally and statewide.  NYSDOT, being a statewide agency with 11 Regions, is able to shift/trade STP-FLEX and NHS funds from one NYSDOT Region to another in order to both maximize the number of projects implemented annually and to implement the most needed projects.  In the 1997/2002 TIP, CDTC was thus able to consciously over-program STP fund sources (STP Urban and STP-Flex) and balance this by a conscious under-programming of NHS and other federal highway funds sources.  This approach and funding latitude has enabled CDTC and NYSDOT to have a very robust mix of projects in the Capital District.



Relationship to Transportation Plan

As noted previously, CDTC’s TIP is closely aligned to the goals and objectives of the New Visions Plan.  The following table illustrates how well the 2003/2008 TIP fits with the investment strategies enumerated in the New Visions 2021 Plan’s Full Implementation Budget (including all public source funds).  CDTC uses the plan's principles and strategies to guide the screening of TIP candidates.  Furthermore, the seventeen budget categories in the Plan play a central role in prioritizing candidate projects for funding. 



Table 2: Comparison of 2003-2008 TIP with Plan Goals




       New Visions






Highway Operations






Transit Capital & Service






Pavement & Bridge.






Other (below)






۰ Intermodal






۰ Technology (ITS)






۰ Congestion Relief






۰ Community/Economic







۰ Supplemental Actions (stand alone Goods Movement, Bike & Ped, Access Management, and Safety projects not included in other projects)








Complications in 2003-2008 TIP Development

The development of the 2003-2008 TIP saw some last minute complications in what is normally a very smooth process.  These complications involved NYSDOT’s revision of the amount of funds available and a NYSDOT request to limit the TIP to a three-year maintenance document.


New York State’s economy was hit hard following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the stock market’s subsequent decline.  The 2003 State Budget reflected the declining tax revenues, and NYSDOT funds were not immune to the tight controls.  There was a $100 million per year cut the State funding for highway and bridge projects. 


In February/March 2003, NYSDOT wrote to all New York MPOs requesting that the upcoming TIPs be limited three-year documents rather than the normal five-year TIPs.  NYSDOT cited the uncertainties in the Federal reauthorization levels[vii], the reduction in State dedicated funding, and new emerging issues (e.g., transportation security).  It requested that the TIPs be limited to updating the existing TIPs to reflect changes in schedules, costs and scopes in projects already committed, refraining from any new commitments.


Most of the MPOs agreed, with varying degrees of enthusiasm, to NYSDOT’s request for a limited three-year TIP.  CDTC was one of the few that decided otherwise.  CDTC did appreciate that estimates of future Federal funding were speculative, and that State and local budgets were in flux.  However, project solicitations had already gone out, the first time in six years.  CDTC has made a significant investment in community support over the years, and they were mindful that another period without solicitation would almost certainly undermine that support.  Therefore, CDTC decided to pursue the traditional five-year TIP, while acknowledging the cited uncertainties.


Of the 48 candidate projects that passed to the Merit Evaluation stage, 34 were included in the 2003/08 TIP.  But, fiscal problems arose after the release of the draft TIP.  As stated previously, the draft TIP had been developed using NYSDOT’s fund source latitude, albeit to a lesser extent than in the past.  During the public review period on the draft TIP, however, NYSDOT notified CDTC that its previous estimate of available revenue had to be revised.  The strong demand across the State for access to STP funds meant that the previous shifting of funds by NYSDOT was not possible this year.  Consequently, the final 2003/08 TIP reflects a strict balance of STP commitments within the first three years, with a modest over-programming in years four and five. 


In an attempt to address both the State’s request and its own project development considerations, CDTC did something unique.  Although it had developed a five-year TIP, CDTC’s TIP approval resolution only approved forwarding the first three years of the TIP to NYSDOT for inclusion in the STIP.[viii] Thus, CDTC approved both a three-year and a five-year version of the TIP.  Since the fourth and fifth years of a TIP are informational in any case, and the STIP only includes the first three years, this resolution was a semantic – although important – concession to NYSDOT’s wishes.  It did not go against federal regulations, as the Federal agencies made a positive air quality determination on the 2003-2008 version.  It was an awkward situation, but it worked out amicably.


During the certification review, Mr. Poorman said that he is anticipating some form of normal TIP process next time.



Amendments and Project Selection

Project selection is a process for advancing projects to implementation from the approved TIP, either in the first year as an “agreed to” list or in later years as a means of moving projects from year to year.  Selection is essentially a joint activity involving the State, MPO and the transit operator, since all agencies are affected by the actions of one another.  Language was incorporated into the implementing regulations (23 CFR 450: Statewide Planning; Metropolitan Planning) allowing for the simplified movement of projects in the second or third year of the TIP to the first year subject to procedures agreed to by the cooperating parties.  CDTC adopted “Project Selection from an approved TIP” in 1994, supplemented by a revised set of TIP amendment procedures in conjunction with the release of CDTC’s Public Participation Procedures in December 1994.  We note that CDTC has established and continually refines a set of guidelines for TIP amendments, with scope, cost and percentage cost thresholds to ensure the appropriate level of review and approval.



Future Direction of Investment Strategies? 

The State’s budget predicament has added significant fiscal complications to State agency capital programs.  Within CDTC, this initially affects both NYSDOT and the Thruway capital budgets, but ultimately, it affects the entire Capital District.  It is a situation that is not unique to CDTC – it is affecting all MPOs statewide.  We do have some uneasiness over the types of projects now being federally funded. 

In an attempt to keep their capital programs whole and address pressing State infrastructure needs, NYSDOT Regions have recently submitted TIP amendments to shifted some 100% State funded projects to federal funds (usually STP).  Most of the projects are for the traditional bread and butter type activity  – routine maintenance projects such as joint repair, minor overlays, and so on.  The Thruway is doing the same, often using STP enhancement funds (e.g., Canal projects).  Since the approved TIPs are fiscally constrained, the projects are often offered as advanced construction (AC) projects.  Advanced construction is a cash management tool supported by FHWA that permits a State to begin a project (either State or local project) even if the State does not currently have sufficient Federal-aid obligation authority to cover the Federal share of project costs.[ix]  

There is nothing wrong with using AC provisions on eligible projects.  Our uneasiness over the recent project actions relates to the potential negative impacts on two traditional programming concepts:


TIP Amendment process:  Because of the before mentioned State capital revenue shortfall, NYSDOT proposed amendments to the approved 2003-2008 TIP that would change some 100% State funded to federally-funded projects.  When 100% State or local projects are first put on the TIP, there is no competition per se, as these projects are primarily for informational purposes.  When amendments are subsequently proposed by any member to switch from 100% non-federal to federally-funded, the MPO is essentially being asked to direct federal funds to certain projects without any evaluation of relative priority.  Since these discussions are out of cycle of TIP, a project’s merits are not weighed against all candidates for the funds.  This appears to be a retreat of a couple of generations in financial management of the TIP because the MPO is not deciding between alternate possibilities/projects.


Types of Projects being funded:  This development has the potential to change the focus of long range planning.  Traditionally, federal funds are directed toward strategic projects, not routine maintenance.  The erosion of State funded capital investment in routine maintenance activities is a significant change from past practice.  MPOs normally reject such projects during the merit evaluation stage of TIP development.  Since CDTC has been jurisdictionally blind when it comes to project selections, how can CDTC tell the other members that they cannot use federal funds on routine maintenance projects?  Furthermore, if this situation persists, the MPO may not have sufficient federal funding for even a modest “reach” of its long-range plan.


Hopefully, the situation is a short term one.  With higher level of federal funding in new legislation, the situation should be somewhat ameliorated.  We don’t know about long term 100% State funding, which apparently will be fairly flat in the near term.



·        CDTC should evaluate what impact the continued use of federal funding on routine infrastructure projects will have on the build out of the RTP.


·        CDTC should revisit the issue of how to evaluate TIP amendments that switch 100% non-federal projects to federally funded projects.



[i]  Appendix


[ii] The average value of travel time is set at $8.18 per vehicle hour used, as per NYSDOT’s Higher User Cost Accounting Microcomputer Package (1981), adjusted to reflect inflation and increased minimum wage.


[iii] Life cycle costs savings are a product of the percent-extended life of the facility and the mobility benefits that result from keeping the facility usable.


[iv]  Additional monetary impacts not included in the previous benefit/cost categories but contained in the New Visions Core Performance measures.  Only those projects that are significant enough to affect system-level measures have these benefits calculated.


[v]  23 CFR 450.324(e)


[vi] NYSDOT Region One covers the four counties in the Capital District plus four other counties (Essex, Greene, Warren and Washington).


[vii]  The federal authorizing legislation, TEA-21, was to expire on September 30, 2003.  Some versions of the new legislation had New York receiving less than under TEA-21.


[viii]  CDTC Resolution #03-3

[ix]  Under AC, States can begin projects with their own funds and only later convert these projects to Federal assistance.  Thus, AC allows a State to receive approval to construct Federal-aid projects in advance of the apportionment of Federal-aid funds.  Under normal circumstances, States "convert" advance-constructed projects to Federal aid at any time sufficient Federal-aid funds and obligation authority are available, although particial conversions are allowed in stages.  Why would a State elect to use this technique?  This technique allows a State to initiate a project using non-Federal funds, while preserving the projects eligibility for future Federal-aid funds.  Thus, more projects can get “on the street” now than would otherwise be possible.