Designing for Transportation Management and Operations: A Primer

US DOT TDM Primer graphic


This primer from the US Department of Transportation  is focused on the collaborative and systematic consideration of management and operations during transportation project design and development. This is termed “designing for operations.” Effectively designing for operations involves the development and application of design policies, procedures, and strategies that support transportation management and operations.

The consideration of operations needs during the design process requires transportation design professionals to work closely with those with expertise in transportation operations, intelligent transportation and transportation technology staff, planning, transit, freight, traffic incident management, and other practitioners from multiple agencies to fully identify, prioritize, and incorporate operations needs into the infrastructure design. This primer introduces the concept for designing for operations and describes tools or institutional approaches to assist transportation agencies in considering operations in their design procedures as well as pointing out some specific design considerations for various operations strategies

Introduction to Designing for Operations

Transportation agencies across the United States are looking for ways to provide safe, efficient, and reliable travel across modes and jurisdictions under increasingly constrained fiscal environments. The public, business leaders, and elected officials want reliable goods movement, timely and accurate traveler information, safe and quick incident clearance, and greater options in transportation modes, routes, and services. To address the need for mobility, safety, and security, many transportation agencies have integrated management and operations into their set of solutions. Management and operations strategies can often improve transportation system performance significantly and be deployed more quickly and more cost-effectively than traditional capacity expansion projects. Management and operations (M&O) strategies focus on getting the most efficient and safest use out of existing or planned infrastructure through activities such as traffic incident management, traveler information dissemination, traffic signal coordination, and work zone management.

M&O strategies are funded and implemented as stand-alone projects or combined with larger projects such as highway reconstruction.

The effective management and operation of the transportation system often requires traditional infrastructure (e.g., roadways and other civil infrastructure) to be designed to support M&O strategies. This includes roadway design for freeways and arterials, transit system design, as well as strategic integration of intelligent transportation systems (ITS) on roadways and rail systems. For example, a high volume highway segment with a full-depth shoulder sufficient to support traffic is needed for bus-on-shoulders, an M&O strategy in which only public buses may use the shoulder to minimize delay during peak congestion periods.

Additionally, the installation of variable message signs (VMS) in locations prior to significant route or modal decision points for travelers or common incident areas supports relevant, actionable traveler information to the public. Other examples of roadway design treatments that are important for improving the management and operation of the facility include:

  • Median crossovers, which allow for incident responders to quickly access the opposite side of the road;
  • Crash investigation sites, which reduce impacts associated collecting incident information;
  • Snow fences, which reduce blowing snow and drifts on the road; and
  • Emergency access between interchanges, which decrease response time to incidents; and
  • Bus turnouts, which ease arterial congestion.

An example of a design treatment to improve the operations of a roadway is B D snow fences that reduce blowing snow and drifts on the road. Shown are the simple design guidance and an image of the corresponding implementation in Minnesota. Traditionally, the needs of M&O strategies have not been fully considered in roadway infrastructure design, including major projects such as road, bridge, and tunnel construction, roadway expansion or extension, bridge restoration, tunnel rehabilitation, and re-paving. Roadway design processes take into consideration some aspects of how the facility will operate by considering peak hour design traffic volumes, expected truck volumes, signing, striping and pavement marking needs, desired design level of service, and design speed. However, critical M&O considerations that support the broad array of strategies listed in Section 1.2 are often addressed in an ad-hoc manner or are given insufficient consideration during project development.

This means that the operations needs of the system are either not sufficiently addressed or agencies must retrofit roadways after they are constructed or reconstructed. This latter approach is usually less effective and more expensive in terms of construction, user, and right-of-way costs than including operational needs in the original design. At times, retrofitting the roadway for operations forces the need for design exceptions that may raise safety concerns. These are issues that typically can be eliminated if operations is considered during the design and preliminary engineering stages.

This primer is focused on designing for operations; i.e., the collaborative and systematic consideration of management and operations during transportation project design and development. Effectively designing for operations involves the development and application of design policies, procedures, and strategies that support transportation management and operations. Considering operations needs during the design process requires transportation design professionals to work closely with those who have expertise in transportation operations, intelligent transportation, and transportation technology. Design professionals should also anticipate working with practitioners from planning, transit, freight, and TIM as well as staff from other agencies in order to fully identify, prioritize, and incorporate operations needs into the infrastructure design.

There are several entry points for integrating M&O strategies into the traditional project design process, as described in this primer. Designing for operations is typically reflected in increased or formalized collaboration between designers and operators and the development of design guidelines and procedures that reflect a broad range of operational considerations. Successful integration of M&O considerations into the design process means that:

  • Roadway and transit system infrastructure is designed to facilitate the needs of day-to-day system management and operations and meet transportation system performance targets for efficiency, reliability, travel options, and safety.
  • ITS deployments are designed using systems engineering, and existing and future operational uses of ITS are incorporated into transportation facility design.
  • Operational strategies are considered as credible alternatives to infrastructure expansion during project design. The relatively low-cost, high-impact, and flexible nature (i.e., scalable to changing demands) of M&O strategies makes them attractive deployment options.

There are regions and States across the United States that are moving forward with the incorporation of operations needs into project design because they recognize the benefits in terms of cost savings and system performance. For example, the published policies and procedures of the Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Southern Nevada require all projects to be designed to the standards of the Regional Intelligent Transportation Systems Architecture adopted by the RTC.1 Additionally, copies of all project plans must be provided to the Freeway and Arterial System of Transportation (FAST) organization for review. The policies and procedures also require the consideration of raised medians to reduce left turn conflicts and pedestrian refuge during project design. Also, installing conduit should be considered during project construction if traffic signals are anticipated in the future. Another example is from the Delaware Department of Transportation where there is a review of M&O requirements in each design phase of every capital transportation project.

The congestion management process (CMP) has also served as a motivator for designing for operations. For example, the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) requires as part of its CMP that any project that adds major capacity for single-occupancy vehicles (SOV) includes supplemental strategies to reduce congestion and get the most from infrastructure investments. The final engineering for a major SOV capacity adding project must include a list of supplemental strategies to be included in the transportation improvement program (TIP) for funding. These supplemental strategies — such as traffic signal improvements, signal preemption for emergency, park-and-ride lots, and engineering strategies to improve traffic circulation ― work to improve the overall management and operation of the facility.

Other examples of designing for operations practices can be found in Section 1.5.

Management and Operations Overview (Section 1.2)

Systematic consideration of M&O strategies during the design process is at the core of designing for operations. Transportation systems management and operations is defined by the legislation “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century” (MAP21) as the use of “integrated strategies to optimize the performance of existing infrastructure through the implementation of multimodal and intermodal, cross-jurisdictional systems, services, and projects designed to preserve capacity and improve the security, safety, and reliability of the transportation system. ”3 M&O strategies encompass many activities, such as:

  • Active transportation and demand management.
  • Automated enforcement.
  • Commercial vehicle operations.
  • Congestion pricing.
  • Coordination of highway, rail, transit, bicycle, and pedestrian operations
  • Corridor, freeway, and arterial management.
  • Emergency management.
  • Freight management.
  • Parking management.
  • Road weather management.
  • Traffic control.
  • Traffic detection and surveillance.
  • Traffic incident management.
  • Traveler information services.
  • Work zone management.


Management and operations also includes the regional coordination required for implementing operational investments such as communications networks and traffic incident management in an integrated or interoperable manner. Successful M&O practices positively impact mobility, accessibility, safety, reliability, community life, economic vitality, and environmental quality and help transportation agencies meet their customers’ needs.

In addition, many agencies have found that the benefits of M&O strategies can significantly outweigh the costs (versus traditional strategies). Proactive management of transportation systems in real-time and at all hours of the day not only represents the future of operations but is essential to responding effectively to variable traffic conditions caused by events such as incidents, work zones, and weather effects.

# # #

A Way Forward

Over the past decade, transportation agencies have become increasingly focused on providing the greatest level of mobility, safety, and security with their roadway infrastructure investments. This is due to a number of factors, such as
increased demand, limited space for roadway expansion, and funding and environmental constraints. It requires the use of M&O strategies, which maximize the use of traditional infrastructure through managing transportation smartly with
traveler information, TIM, managed lanes, and other approaches. The use of M&O strategies requires infrastructure—both roadway and ITS—that is designed with operations in mind. Otherwise, the roadway creates a range of impediments to using these strategies, and either costly modifications must be made or the strategy is performed inefficiently, if at all. Many agencies have struggled with this problem and several of them are proactively addressing it through policies, guidance, training, or increased collaboration.

This primer highlights examples from agencies making strides in designing for operations, such as the Pennsylvania DOT, Caltrans, and Portland Metro. These examples of emerging practices are intended to motivate, inspire, and offer additional resources in your pursuit of your agency’s unique approach to designing for operations.

While each transportation agency, State, or region has unique circumstances that will dictate an individual approach to accounting for M&O strategies during project development and design, this primer introduces key elements that agencies will need in developing a way forward. Agencies will need policies and an organizational structure that prioritizes operations in infrastructure design and institutionalizes the process of designing for operations. For example, the Missouri DOT and Caltrans have policies of cross-functional collaboration (including traffic operations) during the infrastructure design process. Several transportation agencies are elevating operations in their organizational structures by creating high-level operations departments or integrating an M&O program throughout each organizational division. An effective designing for operations approach will also require direction for the design or project development team on what to consider. This primer recommends closely linking the design process to the planning process such that the collaborative decisions made during the planning process guide considerations. Any objectives and performance measures for transportation system operations should be used in evaluating design alternatives so that the infrastructure supports the area’s ability to reach its operations objectives. The infrastructure should be designed to support applicable M&O strategies that have been selected through the planning process or through the development of an operations strategic plan or regional ITS architecture. What to consider during the design process should also be informed by agency policy, internal and external operations professionals, and input from stakeholders in areas such as transit agencies, pedestrian and bicycle advocates, commercial vehicle operators, and other important infrastructure user groups. Section 3 of this primer was built with the contributions of several operations and design experts across the United States with the purpose of providing you with an initial list of tangible design considerations that help support or are required in the use
of a number of popular M&O strategies. This section can be modified and distributed among your project design team as an initial step in tailoring a designing for operations approach that works for your organization.

Finally, the design team needs the knowledge of how to design roadway infrastructure and deploy ITS to enable M&O strategies. This knowledge is most often provided through formal design guidance such as Caltrans’ Ramp Metering Design Manual, training, and cross-functional collaboration where operations experts and roadway designers work
together to develop project-specific designs treatments.

On a national level, this primer represents the first step in promoting the frequent and systematic consideration of M&O strategies across each stage of the design process. Soon, the SHRP 2 L07 project, Evaluation of Cost-Effectiveness of Highway Design Features,
50 will provide another tool to transportation agencies to help evaluate the operational and safety impacts of multiple design treatments. Future efforts to advance designing for operations may include national guidelines or standards similar to those for geometric design found in AASHTO’s A Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, also known “The Green Book.”51 The FHWA will continue to support the widespread adoption of designing for operations practices across the United States to support agencies in maximizing the operational benefits from their roadway investments.

The Full report is available on online –

FHWA-HOP-13-013 , Source: US DOT, FHWA, Washington, D.C.

U.S. Department of Transportation
Federal Highway Administration
Office of Operations
1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
Washington, DC 20590
Toll-Free “Help Line” 866-367-7487

Performing Organization

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC)
8301 Greensboro Drive
McLean, VA 22102
Gannett Fleming, Inc.
1515 Market Street, Suite 2020
Philadelphia, PA 19102-1917

Authors: (in alphabetical order) Jennifer Atkinson (SAIC), Jocelyn Bauer (SAIC), Kevin Hunt (GF), Keith Mullins (GF), Matthew Myers (SAIC), Eric Rensel (GF), Myron Swisher (SAIC), Robert Taylor (GF)


About World Streets Climate/Mobility Action/Plan

WORLD STREETS is betting its future over the coming two-year transition period on the ability of certain ambitious responsible cities, nations, organizations and citizens in different parts of the world to come together to break the downward pattern of climate stress — and specifically plan and execute highly aggressive near-term initiatives aimed at sharply cutting greenhouse gas emissions from the mobility sector. And doing all this while working with tools, policies and strategies that harness proven, cost-effective, readily available, measures, technologies, operational and management competence. And our job is to support them as best we can.  More:  climate/  and 

# # #

About the editor:

Eric Britton
13, rue Pasteur. Courbevoie 92400 France

Bio: Founding editor of World Streets (1988), Eric Britton is an American political scientist, teacher, occasional consultant, mediator and sustainability activist who has observed, learned, taught and worked on missions and advisory assignments on all continents. In the autumn of 2019, he committed his remaining life work to the challenges of aggressively countering climate change and specifically greenhouse gas emissions emanating from the mobility sector. He is not worried about running out of work. Further background and updates: @ericbritton | | #fekbritton | | and | Contact: | +336 508 80787 (Also WhatApp) | Skype: newmobility.)

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