US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

Enhanced Long Range Planning Framework

Utah Department of Transportation

Project Snapshot
  • UDOT is enhancing its long–range, corridor and freight planning processes to ensure that outcomes align with goals and to enhance collaboration with partners and stakeholders.
  • Based on stakeholder and partner interviews, additional goals for enhancing long range planning include:
    • Planning as the first step in project delivery
    • Performance driven outcomes
    • Contextually driven planning
    • Nimble decision making
    • Multi–modal opportunities
    • Risk avoidance/resilience of the system
  • The current process was enhanced with new process steps, tasks and activities.
  • Documentation of each step in the enhanced process provides UDOT with:
    • Description of the step
    • Purpose, outcome and deliverables
    • Internal and external roles
    • Potential participants
    • Questions to consider and data needed

Executive Summary

Over the last 10 years, the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT) and Utah's four metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have created the Unified Plan Partnership (UPP). The partnership has worked together over the last two planning cycles to incrementally improve long–range transportation planning. The vision of the Partnership is to have individual long range planning processes that are coordinated and integrated in order to achieve statewide consensus on priorities for improving the entire (rural and urban) Utah transportation system. The UPP has also provided a forum for coordinating Utah's implementation of the new Federal performance–based planning (PBP) requirements.

The roll–out of PlanWorks provided UDOT a unique opportunity to assess and coordinate its enhancement of a number of related planning processes, specifically long–range, corridor, and freight planning. This case study focuses primarily on UDOT's improvements to its long–range planning process to support the UPP vision and implementation of the Federal performance–based planning requirements.

Key Challenges

  • Identifying and articulating the UDOT vision for the enhancement of UDOT's long–range planning process.
  • Ensuring that changes to the UDOT long–range planning framework were consistent with the partnership developed Utah Unified Plan process.
  • Ensuring that enhancements to the long–range planning process are consistent and supportive of the recently designed statewide corridor planning process.

Key Outcomes

  • An enhanced UDOT state long–range planning framework that:
    • Broadens the focus of long range planning to consider five key elements: transportation, community, environment, integrated transportation opportunities (multi–modal) and risk and resilience.
    • Is consistent with UDOT's approved Corridor Planning Process
    • Integrates information and decisions from UDOT's completed Freight Plan
  • Unified Plan Partnership agreement on the Utah Unified Plan goals, objectives and performance measures for the 2019–2050 planning cycle

Agency's Challenge

UDOT is strongly motivated to improve its overall internal and external planning decision making processes. While sensitive to the same pressures that all State DOTs face, UDOT has some unique drivers for improving planning. The department has strong political support and has benefited from stable and growing state revenue to support both construction and maintenance of new roads. However, this funding stream has driven the department to focus its decision making on construction of new highways, particularly along the Wasatch Front where the vast majority of the state's population is concentrated. Geographically constrained by the mountains to the east and the Great Salt Lake and Utah Lake to the west, UDOT is keenly aware that construction of new capacity cannot be sustained to meet the transportation needs of this region or the overall economic vitality of the state which is dependent on this essential corridor.

UDOT's unique challenges are not limited to this central region of the state. Utah has several of the nation's most popular National Parks and premier recreational areas. These popular areas are located in isolated rural regions of the state. Over the last decade, UDOT has experienced increasing pressure to improve access to these areas without comprising the community and environmental context that has made them so attractive to visitors from across the nation and the world.

UDOT's current project–based state long–range planning process focuses almost entirely on identifying highway construction needs and priorities and, as such, limits UDOT's ability to comprehensively address these challenges. Particularly along the Wasatch Front, UDOT understands it must develop decision making processes that give stronger consideration to multi–modal and technology solutions.

One of UDOT's strategies to address its transportation challenges has been to develop a strong partnership with its four MPOs. UDOT and the MPOs have been working together for nearly 10 years to improve transportation decision making in Utah. These agencies have formed the Unified Plan Partnership (UPP). This partnership has been working to create an integrated, collaborative and consensus based long range plan, the Utah Unified Plan. To make this vision a reality each agency has been incrementally improving its agency planning consistent with achieving this overall goal.

To support on–going enhancements to the Unified Plan process as well as to support the Partnership's implementation of federal requirements for performance based planning, UDOT identified key elements of the UDOT long–range planning process that needed to be enhanced:

  • Goals and objectives: More directly tie UDOT's goals and objectives to assessing needs, developing strategies, and proposing project recommendations for consideration.
  • Stakeholder involvement: Improve internal and external stakeholder involvement in the development of the statewide long range plan strategies/projects.
  • Performance measures: Identify nontraditional performance measures to assess need, develop strategies, and propose projects that are relevant to Utah's context.
  • Assessing rural needs: Expand UDOT's existing process for assessing state roads, develop a process for assessing local roads of regional significance and rural transit needs (at a minimum programmatically).

UDOT has also recently made significant improvements to two related planning processes. The DOT received a SHRP2 grant to support the development of a new freight planning process; and on its own used PlanWorks to develop a standardized statewide corridor planning process. Therefore, an additional goal of this project was to link and integrate these new UDOT planning processes to the enhanced long range planning framework.

Product Implementation

UDOT hired a consultant to support the development of the enhanced planning framework. The consultant team brought experience working with PlanWorks, working knowledge of the four phases of transportation decision making included in PlanWorks (particularly long range planning and programming), as well as expertise in process design and improvement. The documentation of the baseline and development of the enhanced planning framework took seven months.

Implementation Summary

UDOT drew extensively from the Decision Guide and the underlying key decision information to improve its long–range planning process. The following key decisions were used to inform the development of UDOT's new Long Range Planning Framework.

  • LRP–1 — Broad based and collaborative scoping with internal and external partners to establish agreement on the scope, technical support and policy roles for development of the plan.
  • LRP–2 – UDOT internal and external Unified Plan Partner consensus on the goals and objectives that will guide the development of the state's long range plan and the Utah Unified Transportation Plan.
  • LRP–3 – Consensus on measures for the Utah Unified Plan measures. Internal agreement on the measures that will be used for any UDOT specific goal and objectives.
  • LRP–4 – Define rural transportation system needs and opportunities. Collaborate with Unified Plan partners to identify near–urban transportation needs and opportunities.
  • PRO–2 – Internal and external consensus on the project cost methodology that will be used by the Unified Plan Partners.
  • PRO–3 – Identify projects for the 30–year state long–range transportation plan.
  • PRO–4 – Identify project priorities by dividing the project list into three 10–year phases.

The Decision Guide was the primary PlanWorks resource that the team used to support the development of the enhanced long range planning framework. The PlanWorks key decisions shown below informed the development of the new framework.

The approach for enhancing long range planning was divided into three phases: (1) initial scoping for the enhanced framework; (2) development of the enhanced framework; and (3) transition to implementation of the enhanced process. Each phase is described in detail below.

Initial Scoping of the Enhanced Framework

Initial scoping required UDOT to develop two products: documentation of the current long–range planning process and development of a vision for the enhanced long range planning framework. UDOT did not have formal documentation of the process it used to develop the 2015–2040 LRP.

Documenting the Baseline Framework

The baseline was created from three primary sources:

  • The 2015—2040 UDOT Long–Range Plan document
  • UDOT Strategic Direction
  • LRP process graphic

Figure 1: Process used for 2015–2040 UDOT LRP

2015–2040 UDOT LRP

The third primary source was the graphic shown in Figure 1 from the LRP document. This information was validated during interviews with the planning partners as a high–level concept of the process used to develop the 2015–2040 UDOT LRP. Five questions were used to develop a better understanding of each step represented:

  1. What are the primary technical activities involved at this step?
  2. What are the primary inputs to this step?
  3. What are the products of the step?
  4. Who participates in the step within UDOT? Are their external partners or stakeholders involved?
  5. Who are the decision makers for the step (who has final authority to approve the products)?

The responses to these questions formed the initial baseline structure. Interviews and submitted questions for UDOT Planning were used to clarify the details of the tasks and activities completed within this framework during the 2014–2040 plan development. Finally, this baseline framework and the identified tasks were assessed for their ability to inform LRP decisions that are consistent with UDOT's Strategic Direction.

Planning Process Vision

UDOT collected information to inform the vision for a new process during a series of one–hour, in–person meetings held in November 2016 with the primary planning partners, UDOT Regions and MPOs. A common set of questions was used to solicit broad input on the challenges and needs, a vision of the future transportation system, and other area–specific context issues. The discussions presented a very strong picture of the current process. In addition, common themes describing the desired characteristics of a new planning process emerged. These themes were captured in a set of guiding principles (see Table 1) which collectively describe a vision of the enhanced process. These guiding principles also helped UDOT identify the elements of PlanWorks that are most relevant to the Utah planning context.

Table 1: Guiding Principles for UDOTs new planning process

Guiding Principle


Planning as the first step in project delivery

Ensure the analyses conducted and decisions made during planning are carried forward to inform and streamline programming and project development

Contextually driven planning

Integrate unique environmental, economic, or community regional and local characteristics, challenges, and needs into UDOT planning and project prioritization

Nimble decision making

Identify solutions for critical short–term needs efficiently and effectively using a flexible planning approach

Multimodal opportunities

Identify how solutions other than directly adding capacity can enhance UDOT's ability to meet customer needs

Performance–driven outcomes

Demonstrate that outcomes achieved align with UDOT strategic direction and Federal requirements

Risk resilience

Assess and manage transportation system financial and organizational risks

Development of the Enhanced Framework

With a baseline process outlined, the draft enhanced planning process began with the UDOT intention, as articulated in the SHRP2 Implementation Grant request: "Use the PlanWorks decision support principles, structure, and applications to develop a collaborative planning process with public participation and stakeholder involvement that meets all current federal planning regulations."

One of UDOT's goals was to ensure that the Enhanced Long–Range Planning framework was consistent and coordinated with its new freight and corridor planning processes. They used PlanWorks to inform both these planning process enhancements. The documentation for these processes provided specific steps for UDOT to implement. UDOT compared the freight and corridor planning steps to the LRP baseline process, which provided common activities and order. By considering these common steps, they drafted an enhanced framework, identified as the Preliminary Enhanced Framework.

The relationships are illustrated in Table 2. Although these activities did not occur at the same point in the process, the key similarities are evident.

Table 2: Relationships between the freight and corridor planning processes, and new Preliminary Enhanced Framework

Corridor Planning Process

Freight Planning Framework

20152040 LRP Step

Preliminary Enhanced Framework

Pre–Scoping: Five initial Steps to result in a corridor master plan including context, goals, and history

Scoping as the first decision point, followed by vision, goals, and objectives

Identify Goals and Objectives

Step 1: Pre–scoping for context.

Step 2: Scope for activities within the LRP.

Step 3: Goals and objectives

Steps 7 and 8: Define needs and opportunities

Decision Point 4: Transportation deficiencies

Define needs

Step 4: Define needs

Step 9: Evaluation criteria

Decision Point 3: Evaluation criteria and performance measures

Measure performance

Step 6: Criteria, methods, and measures

Step 7: Funding assumptions, criteria, and methodology

Step 9: Measure Performance

Steps 10 12: Identify, evaluate, and document strategies

Decision Points 6 8: Strategies, scenarios, and preferred scenario

Identify potential strategies

Step 5: Identify Strategies

Steps 13 and 14: Develop the business plan and list projects

Decision Point 5: Financial assumptions


Decision Point 10: Adopt Utah Freight Plan

Identify funding assumptions


Phase plan based on prioritization and funding

Step 8: Develop Phased Plan

The Preliminary Enhanced Framework was used as the input to a four–day workshop with the consultant team and UDOT planning staff. The goals of the workshop were to vet the identified steps and associate each step with activities to address the Guiding Principles and the goals of the SHRP2 IAP grant, embedding performance measures and stakeholder collaboration. The group's discussions addressed the performance measures of UDOT's performance driven outcomes principle. Staff documented partner and stakeholder collaboration, both critical elements of Utah's Unified Plan Partnership, during discussions of roles and stakeholder involvement at each step. In this way, UDOT embedded the core values and interests that initiated the process redesign into every aspect of the planning process. The workshop discussions resulted in the development and documentation of UDOT's enhanced Long–Range Planning process, shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Steps in UDOT's LRTP process

Steps in UDOT's LRTP process

Staff carefully recorded workshop discussions and used this detailed information to develop documentation of the new planning process. The format of this documentation is similar to the PlanWorks key decision structure. For each step in the new planning process the UDOT documentation includes the following information:

  • What happens here?
  • Purpose, Outcome and Primary Deliverables
  • Roles
  • Overall potential participants
  • Questions to consider and data needed

Questions to consider and data needed information is organized by UDOT's guiding principles for the process enhancement. This structure will allow UDOT to phase its implementation over multiple planning cycles by setting priorities on which of the guiding principles enhancements it wants to implement first.

Transition to Implementation

Outside the timeframe of the SHRP2 IAP grant UDOT intends to begin implementation of the new planning process in the development of its 2019–2050 long–range plan. Given time and funding constraints, UDOT plans to phase implementation of the new process over several planning cycles. However, the agency wants to be as aggressive as possible in this initial cycle.

UDOT Applies PlanWorks More Broadly

Freight Planning – UDOT received a SHRP2 Planning Process Bundle grant to develop a new PlanWorks informed Freight Planning process. They used the UDOT Freight Planning Framework to update Utah's recently approved freight plan.

Corridor Planning – UDOT used PlanWorks as the starting point for developing a standardized process for completing corridor planning studies. This new process incorporated many of the key decisions and their associated information from PlanWorks but was tailored to reflect UDOT's specific planning principles, decision making structures and to leverage Utah's significant GIS capability. The final process has two phases:

  • a "sketch planning" corridor screening process to help establish corridor concepts and study priorities and
  • a more in–depth corridor planning process.

To help UDOT understand the specific level of effort required, the framework documentation was used to develop a "full implementation" scope of work and a companion Stakeholder Engagement Plan (e.g. the work that would be required to implement all changes). Providing more detailed information allowed UDOT to identify the improvements (and the associated guiding principles) that can be realistically implemented for this planning cycle. These include:

  • Performance based planning (Performance–driven outcomes)
  • Integrating with freight and corridor planning (Planning as the first step in project delivery)

In addition, there will be some attention on risk and resilience and through improved stakeholder outreach there will be improvements, but not full implementation, of contextually driven planning.

Stakeholder Collaboration

Enhanced Framework

UDOT's regions and the rural planning organizations (RPOs) and associations of government (AOGs) are all partners in the UDOTs long–range planning process. These groups were considered stakeholders for development of the enhanced planning framework and will be key participants in the implementation in current and future cycles of LRP development.

To develop the new planning framework, initial internal and external stakeholder outreach was conducted in November 2017. Staff used the results of discussions with UDOT Executive leaders, UDOT Regions, MPOs, AOGs, and RPOs to assess their interests and needs as input to the 2019—2050 LRP. This interface served two purposes: (1) to identify the needs and challenges of individual stakeholders that the LRP should consider and (2) to identify the most appropriate ways to engage specific stakeholder groups. The information collected was used during the workshop discussions to help identify the steps in the new process where these key stakeholders, as well the public at large, would be engaged to provide input or feedback into the development of the LRP. It was particularly helpful in defining roles in the new process and the questions to inform stakeholder collaboration. Following the workshop, UDOT used consultant support to develop a stakeholder engagement plan that reflects the full implementation of the enhanced planning process.

Unified Plan Partnership Collaboration

Utah has established a Unified Transportation Planning Partnership with the state's four MPOs. The Unified Plan process synchronizes the development of the long–range plans for these five agencies to ensure that key processes are coordinated. It ensures that communication is ongoing, particularly between the state and the contiguous MPOs in the central corridor of the state. In addition, the five agencies work together to establish and achieve consensus on key inputs to their plans including socioeconomic projections, financial projections, and a common set of goals, objectives, measures, and targets.

As a part of this project UDOT completed the process of reaching consensus on the goals, objectives and measures for the 2019–2050 Utah Unified Plan. This involved three facilitated meetings where the partners discussed common goals and the associated objectives and measures that will be used to drive the long–range plan decisions for all agencies. These sessions represented the implementation of UPP portion of Step 3 (Identify Vision, Goals, Objectives, Measures, Trends and Targets) of the LRP development for this plan cycle.

Key Outcomes

This is the design phase of a two–phase project to develop and test an enhanced state long–range planning process for Utah. The second phase will be to begin to implement the enhanced process by using its elements to develop the UDOT 2019–2050 State Long Range Transportation Plan. Output from Phase 1 is a documented enhanced state long–range planning process that is:

  • Consistent with the planning process goals and guiding principles informed by internal and external stakeholder interviews.
  • Consistent with newly approved UDOT corridor planning and freight planning processes.
  • Consistent with Utah Unified Plan Partnership vision and goals for coordinating and integrating long range planning among UDOT and the four MPOs.
  • Meets all applicable Federal requirements.

In Phase 2, UDOT will be testing the elements of the enhanced process that will be implemented during the upcoming plan development cycle.

Lessons Learned

The following lessons are based on the UDOT experience in developing the corridor planning process, the freight planning process, and the enhanced LRP framework.

  • The Decision Guide framework was a very good starting point and both the long–range plan and corridor planning process incorporated significant elements of the PlanWorks Decision Guide.
  • PlanWorks was a good resource for supporting the development of a process tailored to UDOT. The policy questions were excellent and provided a starting point for thinking through the elements of corridor and long range planning that would be most relevant to Utah.
  • PlanWorks helped UDOT develop a "standardized" corridor planning process. UDOT's new corridor planning process defines standardized outputs and outcomes while providing users the flexibility to adapt how the process is implemented to reflect different local and regional contexts.
  • PlanWorks has lots of information and while it is reasonably easy to navigate the system, there is not an easy way to get an overview of everything available.

In addition to the lessons learned focused on PlanWorks, UDOT gained other useful insights while developing the enhanced framework.

  • Internal and external partners strongly recognize the UDOT long–range planning process needs to address a broader range of issues and strategies than in the past. Little understanding outside UDOT planning staff exists, however, of how the planning process will need to change to accomplish this.
  • Implementation of the Enhanced Framework improvements will need to be phased in over multiple planning cycles. This phase–in approach will require education and support from internal and external partners to ensure success.
  • All partners strongly support technology integration and process improvements that will make planning adaptable and responsive to changes "on the ground."
  • Although integration of technology considerations has strong internal and external support, more detailed process and decision making support will be required as the next LRP is developed.
  • Broadening planning–level performance measures to include emerging issues and some of the National Goals is challenging. Additional work both at both the national and Utah–specific level is needed to integrate safety and reliability fully into Utah's Unified Planning process.

Next Steps

The development of the 2019–2050 State Long Range Plan has started and it will use elements of the enhanced planning process. The initial implementation will focus primarily on performance based planning, and integrating and linking freight and corridor planning with long range planning. There will also be improvements to stakeholder engagement. UDOT will also update and add to the enhanced process framework documentation as the plan is developed to reflect actual implementation experience.

For More Information


Jeff Harris
Planning Director, Program Development
Utah Department of Transportation
Steve Call
Program Development Team Leader
FHWA Utah Division
Reena Mathews
Transportation Specialist
Federal Highway Administration
(202) 366–2076