US Department of Transportation

FHWA PlanWorks: Better Planning, Better Projects

Using PlanWorks to Develop the Catrans Corridor Planning Guidebook

Project Snapshot
  • Caltrans utilized PlanWorks to help it develop the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook. PlanWorks provided an ideal process framework that could be tailored for California.
  • The PlanWorks Corridor Planning Decision Guide helped outline the phases and expectations for the Caltrans corridor planning process.
  • Resources and process descriptions from the Decision Guide influenced or were referenced in the Caltrans Guidebook.
  • The outcome was a corridor planning process guide for Caltrans staff, emphasizing the partnership and performance–based foundations of corridor planning.

Executive Summary

While corridor planning is not a new concept, it is increasingly important to Caltrans as it institutionalizes its corridor–based approach to transportation system planning.

Caltrans updated an important component of its System Planning Guidelines using principles from the PlanWorks corridor planning decision tool. The result was the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook. The purpose of the Guidebook is to outline and clearly state Caltrans expectations on conducting the corridor planning process.

The expected outcome of this corridor planning process is to establish a corridor partnership. The partnership would be collaborative and work together to develop and recommend performance–based projects and strategies. The work would be compiled by the Caltrans District, documented in Corridor Plans, and advanced in the planning and programming process.

The Guidebook is meant for Caltrans System Planning staff who are assigned to lead or participate in corridor planning efforts and should also inform broader Caltrans staff participation in corridor planning efforts led by partner agencies.

Agency's Challenge

The California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) has been experiencing a time of transition. Caltrans updated its Mission, Vision and Goals in 2015 and embedded a new operating philosophy in its Strategic Management Plan. New statewide policy direction outlined new requirements for transportation and land use coordination, new sustainability goals and performance metrics, and new expectations on performance–based business processes. As a result, Caltrans undertook a review of its System Planning to Programming (SP2P) processes to ensure more efficient and integrated processes for transportation investment decision making. [1] Among the findings was the need to improve its transportation system planning program by enhancing its relevancy, adding value to its products, and doing more to reflect new policy direction and planning practice. The passage of a statewide transportation funding initiative in 2017 (the Road Repair and Accountability Act — California Senate Bill 1) provided added urgency for Caltrans corridor planning guidelines, as one of the funding programs requires demonstration of comprehensive corridor planning as a prerequisite for project funding eligibility.

The primary purpose of system planning at Caltrans is to identify and recommend projects and strategies that achieve Caltrans goals and objectives in a collaborative manner. Corridor planning is an important part of its System Planning program. A key element in improving the System Planning program was to move beyond static system planning products to more partnership and performance–based system planning processes that are corridor–focused. While Caltrans has been moving to a more corridor–based planning approach for many years, it needed to update the official system planning guidance to reflect the more current policy drivers and to institutionalize new planning processes. This meant Caltrans planning studies and corridor plans needed clearer direction in forming partnerships, in addressing multi–modal performance with analyses and metrics, and in making performance–based recommendations that link back to agreed–upon objectives. Caltrans was able to develop statewide guidance on corridor planning with inspiration and support from PlanWorks.

The SHRP2 Implementation Assistance Program grant allowed Caltrans to apply the PlanWorks Corridor Planning Decision Guide process on an existing corridor study effort, as well as serve as a primary influence in the development of the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook. The purpose of the Guidebook is to clearly state Caltrans expectations on conducting a corridor planning process and is intended for Caltrans' System Planning staff assigned to lead or participate in corridor planning efforts. It is also intended to inform and encourage broader Caltrans staff participation and engagement in corridor planning efforts led by partner agencies.

Product Implementation

Implementation Summary

Caltrans drew significant influence from the PlanWorks Corridor Planning Decision Guide in developing its corridor planning process steps. PlanWorks decision points that informed those steps included:

  • COR–1: Approve Scope
  • COR–2: Approve Problem Statements
  • COR–3: Approve Goals
  • COR–4: Reach Consensus on Analysis Scope
  • COR–5: Approve Evaluation Criteria, Methods and Measures
  • COR–6: Approve Range of Solutions
  • COR–7: Adopt Preferred Solutions
  • COR–8: Approve Prioritization Approach
  • COR–9: Adopt Priorities for Implementation

PlanWorks support for development of the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook began with a short series of FHWA presentations to Caltrans staff in 2016. FHWA presented the PlanWorks Decision Guide, along with the application of PlanWorks Corridor Planning decision points on the scope of work for an existing Caltrans corridor planning effort. The result was a pair of Transportation Concept Reports on California State Route 41 [2] [3] . Caltrans had also begun scoping new statewide System Planning Guidelines in 2016, also informed by PlanWorks. By the middle of 2017, the passage of Senate Bill 1 had increased the urgency to develop more comprehensive guidelines for corridor planning. As a result, the new statewide System Planning Guidelines for Caltrans shifted its focus to corridor planning. [4]

Caltrans staff developing the Guidebook utilized the PlanWorks Decision Guide to inform its work. They also used other Federal corridor planning resources and case studies from other State Departments of Transportation (DOTs) and partner agencies. The Guidebook was particularly influenced by the decision points within the PlanWorks corridor planning process steps. This provided an ideal process framework that Caltrans could tailor for California. A number of resources from the PlanWorks Resource Library and process descriptions embedded in the Decision Guide were used or referenced in the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook (see Figure 1).

Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook

Caltrans completed the first draft of the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook by the middle of 2018. This followed the development of new California Senate Bill 1 funding program guidelines by the California Transportation Commission (CTC), which requires the development of Comprehensive Corridor Plans to qualify for certain project funding programs.

As the initial draft of the Guidebook was released, PlanWorks resources also helped Caltrans deliver outreach to internal forums and partner agencies. This included:

  • A PlanWorks Regional Peer Exchange held at Caltrans in September 2018. Professional planners and public agency staff participated from across the Western U.S., in addition to Caltrans staff.
  • PlanWorks was featured as part of Caltrans' "Planning Horizons" speaker series webcast, featuring a range of speakers around the theme of PlanWorks and corridor planning.
  • Caltrans developed and presented materials at conference sessions and other professional events to highlight and share the California experience with PlanWorks.

Stakeholder Collaboration

Caltrans developed the Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook with significant stakeholder collaboration. A core team of Caltrans system planning staff started with a preliminary working draft that was vetted and refined through a series of review cycles, including separate technical reviews from the following stakeholders:

  • Caltrans Headquarters transportation planning division functions (including System, Regional, Freight, Project, Community, and State Planning)
  • Caltrans staff and management across a range of non–planning functions (including Operations, Project Management, Mass Transportation, Environmental, Sustainability, Design, and Programming)
  • Caltrans District system planning staff
  • Federal, statewide, and regional partner agencies
  • Private–sector planning expertise

In addition to the series of document review cycles, Caltrans held a PlanWorks Peer Exchange in part to review and discuss the Guidebook with out–of–state State DOT and regional agency planners. This allowed the assembled peers to share related experience and make a link to PlanWorks resources.

Caltrans also utilized separate SHRP2 and FHWA resources for efforts closely related to corridor planning. These efforts involved Planning for Operations (P4Ops) and Regional Operations Forums (ROFs). Both efforts make connections to the importance of corridor planning in identifying and implementing corridor system management projects and strategies.

Caltrans Corridor Planning Connections:
Planning for Operations (P4Ops) and Regional Operations Forums

Caltrans also leveraged SHRP2 and FHWA resources related to P4Ops and Regional Operations Forums to help make connections to the importance of corridor planning.

Key Outcomes

PlanWorks resources played an important role in informing the development of the Caltrans corridor planning process framework embodied in the Guidebook. PlanWorks highlighted additional resources and process descriptions that supported the outcomes Caltrans sought to achieve with corridor planning.

Key outcomes of the Guidebook are expected to be comprehensive corridor plans in support of Caltrans planning goals and objectives. A corridor plan defines how a corridor is performing (and estimates for the future), why it is performing that way, and recommends projects and strategies that achieve corridor goals and objectives. Successful corridor plans developed as a result of the Guidebook should result in a corridor partnership, as well as recommended projects and strategies documented in corridor plans. These projects and strategies should then be advanced in planning and programming processes. Caltrans expects certain elements and topics to be included in corridor plans as part of its approach, including:

  • A clear demonstration of state, regional, and local collaboration
  • Short–, medium–, and long–term planning horizons
  • Specific corridor objectives
  • Multimodal considerations and approaches to address transportation system issues
  • Identification and evaluation of performance effects for recommended projects and strategies
  • Consideration and application of a range of performance metrics for the set of recommended project and strategies
  • Recommendations and prioritization of multimodal improvements that feed into transportation funding programs and regional transportation planning
  • Consistency with the principles of the federal Congestion Management Process [5] and the intent of state Congestion Management Programs
  • Consistency with the principles of the California Transportation Plan (CTP) [6] , Caltrans' Smart Mobility Framework [7] and California's Climate Change Scoping Plan [8]
  • Consistency with the goals and objectives of the regional transportation plan and other applicable regional or local planning frameworks

The Guidebook presents a flexible corridor planning methodology and approach. The scope and work activities related to this process can and should be tailored to the Caltrans District and its local and regional partners based on available time, resources, and expertise.

The CTC oversees funding for the California Senate Bill 1 funding program that requires demonstration of comprehensive corridor planning as a project funding prerequisite. CTC's funding program guidelines cite the Caltrans Guidebook as a best practice document outlining an acceptable corridor planning process. [9]

Lessons Learned

While this project presented an opportunity to use PlanWorks to develop statewide expectations for a corridor planning process, it can be a challenge to introduce a new process or planning approach in times of change. Building on PlanWorks Decision Guide resources and Caltrans' SP2P process improvements, a number of insights emerged from the agency's development of the Guidebook:

  • Caltrans corridor plans and other system planning documents should be flexible in approach, doing so by providing corridor planning guidance, not a manual. Exactly how flexible the approach should be remains an ongoing discussion.
  • Collaboration with local and regional partners should be early and often, engaging in topics such as mutual goals, data sharing, and available expertise among others.
  • Ensure that local planning efforts and areas of interest are incorporated (such as freight, active transportation, transit, climate action, etc.).
  • Clearly identify objectives and utilize performance measures to inform recommendations (including mobility, accessibility and sustainability).
  • Guidance should provide examples of best practices, methodologies, resources, tools, and performance measures.

Caltrans looked beyond the PlanWorks Decision Guide to provide example of analysis methodologies, corridor–level performance measures, and project prioritization methods.

Next Steps

PlanWorks provided a great opportunity for Caltrans to develop its ideas and discuss mutual expectations on a corridor planning process with local and regional partners. It also provided the opportunity for Caltrans to follow–up on its SP2P process improvements through corridor planning. This allowed them to discuss ways to make Corridor Plans more valuable in identifying needs for future improvements.

Next steps for Caltrans in continuing to implement the corridor planning process include finalizing the draft of its Caltrans Corridor Planning Guidebook and supporting the development and implementation of corridor plans. Caltrans supports corridor planning in a number of ways through leadership of corridor plans in partnership with local and regional agencies; and by providing transportation planning grants to local and regional agencies who take similar leadership roles. Caltrans will also continue the training and development of its planning staff on the skills and tools necessary to fully utilize these corridor planning approaches.

For More Information


Scott Sauer
Multimodal System Planning Office Chief
California Department of Transportation (Caltrans)
Tashia Clemons
FHWA California Division
Director, Planning and Environment
Reena Mathews
Federal Highway Administration