Centralized and Decentralized Multimodal Statewide Transportation Planning: Survey of States

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - surveys, land use - planning, mode - rail, mode - mass transit


Transportation planning, Transit, Surveys, State departments of transportation, Railways, Railroads, Public transit, Ports, Multimodal transportation, Multimodal systems, Mass transit, Long range planning, Local transit, Highways, Decentralization, Centralized planning, Aviation


Statewide multimodal transportation planning may be centralized through a single office or decentralized through separate modal agencies (e.g., aviation, transit, highway, port, rail, and toll agencies). To determine the value of each approach, representatives from 41 states were surveyed by questionnaire or telephone about the usefulness of centralized versus decentralized planning. Each approach offers benefits. Centralization provides consistency of modal plans, better modal coordination (including detection of modal conflicts earlier in the process), an ability to examine the entire transportation system holistically, collective attention brought to smaller modes that otherwise might be overlooked, economies of scale for service delivery and employee development, and a greater likelihood that long-range planning will be performed rather than eliminated by more immediate tasks. Decentralization, however, provides greater ease in obtaining modal support for a long-range plan (since the planners and implementers are in the same functional unit), greater ease of tapping mode-specific expertise, and an ability to focus on the most critical mode. External factors that may override the importance of either approach are mode-specific funding requirements, the increasing relevance of metropolitan planning organizations, and the fact that modal location in the same office is not synonymous with coordination. A subset of the free responses to the survey indicated that centralized multimodal planning can be beneficial but only if four constraints are met: modal staff work collaboratively, the centralized unit has funding or other authority, necessary mode-specific planning is not eliminated, and there is a clear linkage between this unit and the agencies that perform mode-specific planning such that the latter can implement the recommendations of the former.