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Tennessee Environmental Procedures Manual

Chapter 2: Project Identification and Development

2.1 TDOT's Planning Process

In consideration of the number of major transportation corridors requiring evaluation, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) has adopted a two-step planning process as a proactive approach to evaluate transportation needs while considering the natural and built environment. The Needs Assessment, prepared by TDOT's Long Range Planning Division is used to assist TDOT in evaluating transportation needs identified by Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) throughout the State. The Transportation Planning Report, prepared by TDOT's Project Planning Division is used to assist TDOT in identifying and evaluating preliminary alternatives or options for addressing the transportation need.

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2.1.1 Long Range Planning

TDOT's Long Range Planning Division is primarily responsible for the statewide coordination of the long range transportation planning process in Tennessee's 11 Metropolitan Planning Organizations and 12 Rural Planning Organizations, conducting statewide and regional travel demand and freight modeling, overseeing statewide bicycle and pedestrian planning, and oversight of the Department's Long-Range Multimodal Transportation Plan. The Division is comprised of three offices: Systems Planning & Policy, Research, GIS Mapping & Facilities.

Federal law requires all urbanized areas of 50,000 or greater population to maintain a continuing, comprehensive, and cooperative transportation planning process. The 11 MPOs throughout the State of Tennessee are administered by an Executive Board, which provides policy direction and is comprised of locally-elected officials, and a Technical Committee, which provides technical expertise and is comprised of professional planners and engineers from local governments and other transportation related agencies.

As set forth in the Long Range Transportation Plan, TDOT established RPOs to encourage involvement of local officials in a multi-modal transportation decision-making process. Similar to the MPO structure, the 12 RPOs throughout the State of Tennessee consist of an Executive Board, which recommends priority transportation projects to TDOT for consideration and is comprised of locally-elected officials, and a Technical Committee, which reviews project proposals and provides technical expertise. The Technical Committee is comprised of professional planners and engineers from local governments and other transportation related agencies. The priorities of each RPO are forwarded each year to TDOT and the Department considers these priorities, along with public support, environmental impacts, and funding in proposing the State Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP) that is presented to the Tennessee State Legislature for consideration and budgeting.

The RPO priorities that are submitted to TDOT are evaluated and a Needs Assessment is prepared for projects where a demonstrated need exists. The Needs Assessment outlines the transportation problem, along with existing traffic, crash, and other readily available information. The information contained in the Needs Assessment helps to establish a foundation for the project and both the MPO and RPO processes ensure transportation needs are identified and prioritized at a local level based on input from local officials and the public.

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2.1.2 Project Planning

TDOT's Project Planning Division is primarily responsible for the management, development and planning of all travel data and operations, safety planning, conceptual planning and all statewide project planning studies for federal, state, and local federal aid highways. The Division is comprised of four (4) offices: Short Range Planning Office, Conceptual and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) Planning Office, Safety Planning Office and the Travel Data Office.

Once a Needs Assessment has been conducted and a preliminary purpose and need to address a transportation problem has been established, the Short Range Planning Office conducts a desktop data review of criteria such as average daily traffic (ADT), level of service and crash rates. Based on the preliminary purpose and need and the findings generated by the desktop data review, a memorandum of findings is prepared and distributed outlining whether the proposed project merits further consideration. If it is determined that the project would address congestion, safety, access needs or spot safety improvements, a Transportation Planning Report (TPR) is conducted. The TPR process refines the preliminary purpose and need for the project by looking at evaluation factors such as congestion relief, accessibility and mobility, economic development, goods/freight movement, and safety improvement. A set of preliminary alternatives or options for addressing the transportation needs is identified and evaluated, and preliminary environmental surveys are initiated, using desktop databases and windshield surveys. The process also includes a road safety audit review with order of magnitude costs and observations. Public and community involvement is also a part of the TPR; a public meeting is held to encourage comment on the findings of the TPR.

Once the transportation need and possible solutions are identified, the project is programmed by TDOT and included in the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). If the project is within an MPO area, it must also be approved by the MPO for inclusion in the MPO's Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The project is also assigned a PIN number (for schedule tracking and funding purposes) within the PPRM system. For a project that is programmed to begin in the next three years, programming and funding for the project is assigned, and the NEPA (or TEER) process is initiated.

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