Tennessee's Long-Range Transportation Plan
- General Issues
- Planning & Development
- Specific Topics
- Transportation Planning
- Mass/Public Transport
- Scope of Influence
- Start Date
- End Date
- Time Limited or Repeated?
- A single, defined period of time
- Make, influence, or challenge decisions of government and public bodies
- Spectrum of Public Participation
- Open to All or Limited to Some?
- Open to All With Special Effort to Recruit Some Groups
- Targeted Demographics
- Stakeholder Organizations
- Facilitator Training
- Professional Facilitators
- Face-to-Face, Online, or Both
- Types of Interaction Among Participants
- Express Opinions/Preferences Only
- Discussion, Dialogue, or Deliberation
- Information & Learning Resources
- Expert Presentations
- Written Briefing Materials
- Video Presentations
- Decision Methods
- Opinion Survey
- Idea Generation
- Communication of Insights & Outcomes
- Public Hearings/Meetings
- Public Report
- Type of Organizer/Manager
- Regional Government
- US Federal Highway Administration, Tennessee Department of Transportation
- Type of Funder
- National Government
- Regional Government
- Evidence of Impact
- Implementers of Change
- Elected Public Officials
- Appointed Public Servants
Facing a coming budget deficit, the Tennessee Department of Transportation pursued multi-method communication and strategy development between the public, stakeholders, and officials. The resulting plan covers 8 policy areas and takes local- and regional-level needs into account.
Problems and Purpose
Facing growing socio-environmental disparities within its growing population, the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) called for a long-term plan to address citizen's evolving needs and means of prosperity and wellbeing. The Department projected a nearly one-billion budget deficit by 2026 as a result of increased expenditure and public demand. In response, a 25-Year Long-Range Plan was drafted using a participatory-focused, citizen-driven process involving various social and technological democratic innovations to maximize input from the public. The organizers hoped that, by using a participatory process, the policy goals outlined in the resulting plan would reflect the needs and desires of stakeholders and citizens.
Background History and Context
The Tennessee Department of Transportation’s (TDOT) constituency features four large urban areas, over six million residents, and ninety-five counties. It is the 36th largest and the 16th most populous of the fifty United States. Tennessee, a south-eastern state, is characterised by immense socio-environmental disparity: Nashville, the state’s capital, hosts a population of 660,388 individuals, Memphis is just five-thousand shy of that figure; though some areas are decidedly metropolitan, ninety-three per cent of the state is deemed rural (“Tennessee”, 2017; “Rural Areas”, 2017). Resultant is a state of polarity and diversity, spread across a gargantuan 42,143 square miles. Consequently, the Department of Transportation adjudged it imperative that a long-term plan for addressing the spectrum of Tennessee’s residents evolving needs and desires in order to secure the future prosperity and wellbeing of the state, as well as the that of the US as a whole.
In addition to the forthcoming social issues, the TDOT identified economic issues arising. TDOT projected that by 2026 a budget deficit of almost one-billion dollars would exist in transportation spending as a result of increased expenditure and public demand without a way to raise the requisite investment; as a result, the 25-Year Long-Range Plan first began being developed and findings published several years later (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Summary”, n.d.).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The Research Office in Nashville, Tennessee is “responsible for managing TDOT’s transportation research program and initiatives. The mission of the Research Office is to enhance and improve the state’s transportation system through high quality research,” and has been one of the main proponents of leading and executing research for the 25-Year Long Range Plan. With regard to funding, the Federal Highway Administration provide State Planning and Research (SPR) funds to state level transport institutions such as the TDOT on a federal-state matching ratio of eighty per cent federal and twenty per cent state funds (“Research Office”, n.d.). The federal government appropriated over seventy-five billion dollars to state-level DOT institutions as part of the fiscal budget in 2017 (“Transforming Communities in the 21st Century”, 2017).
Participant Recruitment and Selection
The primary focus of the 25-Year Long-Range Plan’s process has been to involve as many citizens as possible: individuals who were new residents of the state; long-term, and lifelong, Tennessee natives; business and environmental communities; both rural and urban stakeholders; public transportation providers; and, ultimately, a diverse range of demographics who utilise the transportation system. With regards to selection, the Department of Transportation opted for an ultra-inclusive participant model and created numerable opportunities and access points to the study in varying environments to provide the broad public the chance to interact with the investigation, such as the chance to answer surveys while travelling by bus, in community centres, and in pre-arranged TDOT meetings, known as ‘Book-A-Planner’ meetings (Youtube, 2017).
Methods and Tools Used
Development of the Plan followed a participatory-focused, citizen-driven process which utilized social and technological democratic innovations which maximised input from the public, creating both a local, and nationwide, stakeholder-influenced set of policy goals to be that could be legislatively pursued by the TDOT. Testament to the extent to which the public were involved, over 3000 responses to the plan’s customer survey were gathered, attendance at sponsored meetings and events exceeded 6000 individuals, the 25-Year Plan website attracted 6574 hits, and their online survey drew more than 4000 responses - overall, more than 20,000 cases of community input were gathered during the public deliberation process (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Summary”, n.d.). The data which was gathered enabled specific and appropriate decision-making, spending and investment plans for the future, tailored around Tennessee citizens. Meetings took places at various levels and varied in scope. Included in the process were 7 Regional Summits, focus groups, an annual Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) Conference, quarterly meetings of a 'Model User Group', presentations at various stakeholder (planning parterns, transportation and infrastructure experts, etc.) meetings and boards, numerous publicly-available articles (American Council of Engineering Companies newsletter, local newspapers, social media, etc.), and a video shared on YouTube. Audience Response Systems were used frequently during meetings for ongoing feedback and communication. As well, the Office of Community Transportation offered educational workshops called "Book a Planner Presentations". 209 such presentations were ordered and carried out.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
Development of the Long Range Plan's participatory process began in 2013, the ambition of which was to determine a policy plan where core values and visions from both experts and the ordinary citizen alike could be taken into account, manifested in the form of long-term fiscal strategy. A multi-method process allowed public opinion to be collected in both qualitative and quantitative form, whereby empirical data could be produced to determine the existing and future transportation issues of Tennessee, and the problems which internal DOT agencies faced regularly.
Four processes were determined to be crucial in establishing a three-way dynamic between the TDOT, public and stakeholder groups - to inform, consult, involve, and collaborate. Public and stakeholder engagement was prioritised, especially in “determining the public’s priorities and their transportation needs, as well as in coordinating metropolitan and non-metropolitan areas’ planning efforts with TDOT’s priorities” (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Plan Development”, 2017). Three distinct methods were implemented to operationalise this strategy: engaging the public; engaging TDOT planning partners; engaging broad stakeholder input.
1. Engaging the general public regarding “the development of the policy recommendations and the emphasis areas for the 10-Year Strategic Investment Plan” was the first central tenet (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Plan Development”, 2017). The Tennessee Department of Transport travelled to community hubs and established forums, such as at public meetings and civil organisations, to apprise the plethora of state-wide social groups on the 25-Year Long-Range Plan process. Prolifically, the use of an Audience Response System (‘clickers’) - electronic gadgets which allowed individuals to digitally and anonymously answer TDOT inquiries - enabled attendees at these events to offer their opinions on the transportation tradeoff decisions that the TDOT regularly encounter.
2. Engaging the TDOT’s planning partners in an effort to “better align the planning of state and urban transportation investments,” served in putting the public’s interests into effective planning action (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Plan Development”, 2017). Metropolitan Planning Organisations (MPOs), “the policy board of an organization created and designated to carry out the metropolitan transportation planning process,” were sought after to open dialogues into how statewide transportation and urban transportation might be more congruent with one another, amongst other such committees (Federal Transit Administration, 2016).
3. Finally, declared as the TDOT’s ‘most comprehensive’ engagement effort, the agency pressed a range of stakeholders for their opinions on policy papers that had already been drawn up. Groups who were asked included: “the general public, planning partners such as MPOs, RPOs, environmental justice groups, special interest and advocacy organisations, and other resource agencies and stakeholders such as the Army Corp of Engineers and the Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation, among many others” (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Plan Development”, 2017). Correspondence took the form of emails, letters and online responses, affecting both policy-level decisions, as well as the development of the 10-Year Strategic Investment Plan.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Eight policy papers were produced as a direct result the deliberative process which the TDOT undertook; each made a respective policy area of the overall 25-Year Long-Range Plan a focal point. Three factors were observed to be most important to state-citizens: efficiency; effectiveness; and economic competitiveness.
Efficiency has been defined by the paper as “the ability to accomplish a task with the minimum expenditure of time and effort” (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - 10 Year Strategic Investment Plan”, 2017). This can be separated into distinct segments. Firstly, ‘multimodal connectivity’, meaning the continued support of a range of multimodal transportation options. Secondly, ‘intelligent transportation systems’, meaning the development of non-traditional methods of improving the roadway system using innovative technologies and dynamic traffic operations. The TDOT have set an investment target of spending on efficiency of $654,000,000 by the end of the 2017 financial calendar; a utilisation of thirty-six per cent of their annual budget (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - 10 Year Strategic Investment Plan”, 2017). In line with responses, just under thirty per cent of process-involved citizens stated that ‘using technology to improve traffic flow’ was ‘extremely important’; another approximately thirty-nine per cent declared that ‘relieving congestion’ was equally important (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Public Involvement Summary”, 2017).
Effectiveness, defined as “adequacy in accomplishing a purpose, which produced the intended or expected result,” refers to maintaining a transport network in a state of good repair and prioritised system safety (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - 10 Year Strategic Investment Plan”, 2017). The TDOT have set an investment target of $764,000,000, forty-two per cent of their expected annual budget, by the financial end of 2017 (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - 10 Year Strategic Investment Plan”, 2017). When asked to rate which three of twelve items were most important to any of the respondent individuals, more respondents said ‘repairing and maintaining existing roads and bridges’ than any other item (“Long-Range Transportation Plan - Public Involvement Summary”, 2017).
Analysis and Lessons Learned
If David Truman’s conceptualisation of the existing balance of power known as ‘pluralism’ were to be applied to this case study, one which stressed notions of pluralism as a system of indirect democracy which is defined by interest group competition, there is evidence to suggest that great power exists in non-legislative groups such as the public and stakeholders (Truman, 1951). Truman argues that interest groups retain supreme primacy over decision-making in society, rather than necessarily political groups having such power. Moreover, it can be interpreted that this diversity and multitude serves democratic representation in ways which traditional representation cannot. The TDOT’s action plan of addressing a broad range of stakeholders, including the public, planning partners and various stakeholders has shown dividends in addressing socio-economic issues on both a local and statewide level. Tennessee House and Senate representatives are able to push through legislation and appropriate funds which target very specific, localised problems, and at the same time also more general state-wide ones. This ability has only been granted through the collective knowledge gained from the processes involved in the 25-Year Plan development; the congruence between grassroot and elite support for the project has enabled a colossal deliberative process where future investment prospects constantly evolved, and compromise was made where necessary but also more emphasis has been made on the subjects that matter. Truman’s argument shows fervent support for more widespread public involvement such as this which has enabled democracy to be far more inclusive than traditional democracy can be otherwise. James Madison, however, argues in ‘The Federalist’ that factionalisation within democracy causes unequal distribution of property, and given that certain demographics, namely the elderly, low-income and black groups, are less likely to respond to surveys and public engagement, such campaigns as the 25-Year Long Range Plan may proliferate issues that already exist within these demographic communities, leaving voices unheard (Madison, 1917; National Academies Press, 2013). Madison asserts that there is a necessity to control the public, due to classical democracy’s inherent intolerance, unfairness and instability, and, as consequence, there is an equal need to protect the individual and minority groups from powerful collectives (Ryan, 2017). The Founding Father’s belief in strong, central government possesses ties with Machiavellian Realism, that those with power will exercise it for personal gain, recounting ruthless acts by the Borgia in a statement that power wields control, control wields stability; his belief in this so strong he states “it is necessary for a prince wishing to hold his own to know how to do wrong” (Machiavelli, 2017). Whilst information regarding response rates by socioeconomic group is not available from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, it would be interesting to know how different ethnic and economic groups responded and what proportion of respondents belonged to each group. Any strong disparity could sway the argument that mass public involvement only disenfranchises groups who have less tendency to be a part of such deliberation, leading to unequal distribution of resources. Two arguments therefore exist: one endorsed by pluralists such as Truman and Bentley who argue greater public participation only strengthens democracy and fills in the abscess where representative democracy fails; and another more realist interpretation made by individuals such as Madison and Machiavelli which argue leniency in the system will be exploited by individuals and groups to the sacrifice of minorities, where stricter control by elites is necessity.
Audience Response Systems
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Hardin, C. and Truman, D. (1951). The Governmental Process: Political Interests and Public Opinion. The Western Political Quarterly, 4(4), p.658.
Machiavelli, N. and Lotherington, J. (2017). The Prince. Laguna Hills: Race Point Publishing.
Madison, J., Jay, J. and Hamilton, A. (1917). The Federalist. 1st ed. St. Louis: Central law journal Co.
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Ryan, M. (2017). Participatory vs Elite Theories of Democratic Citizens.
Tennessee Department of Transportation (2016). Long-Range Transportation Plan - Public Involvement Summary. Nashville: TDOT, pp.1 - 211.
Tennessee Department of Transportation (2016). Long-Range Transportation Plan - Financial Revenues & Fiscal Outlook. Nashville: TDOT, pp.1 - 60.
Tennessee Department of Transportation (2016). Long-Range Transportation Plan - 10 Year Strategic Investment Plan. Nashville: TDOT, pp.1 - 24.
Tennessee Department of Transportation (2017). Long-Range Transportation Plan - Plan Development. Nashville: TDOT, pp.1 - 12.
Tennessee Department of Transportation (2017). Transforming Communities in the 21st Century. Nashville: TDOT, pp.1 - 73.
Tennessee Department of Transportation. (n.d.). Research Office - TN.Gov. [online] Available at: https://www.tn.gov/tdot/topic/longrange-research [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
Tennessee Department of Transportation (n.d.). Long-Range Transportation Plan - Summary. Nashville: Tennessee Department of Transportation, pp.1 - 27.
Tennessee.Gov. (2017). Rural Areas. [online] Available at: https://www.tn.gov/health/article/healthy-places-rural-areas [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
YouTube. (2017). 2017 IAP2 USA Core Values Awards: 25-Year Long-Range Plan. [online] Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=APMehg5h6yw&feature=youtu.be [Accessed 10 Nov. 2017].
TDOT Strategic Direction https://www.tn.gov/tdot/strategic-planning-home/tdot-strategic-direction.html
Tennessee State Government https://www.tn.gov/
Lead image: TDOT 25-Year Transportation Plan Public Involvement Summary https://goo.gl/E4N46U