Friday, July 24, 2015

How do you read the TIP?

In my last blog post (July 21, see below) regarding public comment (open through August 18) on the Regional Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP, I discussed some overarching questions of the “what” and “why” of the TIP.

In this post, I’m getting deep into the details of how to read – and understand – a TIP project entry.

While every project is different, each project has an entry similar to the one below. I’ve described what each of the elements of the entry are and what they mean to you.

A. Project Title. This provides a high level description of the project and generally includes the project type and where the project is.

B. Key #. This is a unique identification number. It is useful if you want to follow the progress of a project over the years and can be used to search for a project within a TIP document.

C. Requesting Agency: This tells you what agency will receive the funding, do the work, and (usually) is providing the local match, when applicable. In short, it is who “owns” the project.

D. Project Year: This is the last year for which the project is funded. Generally, this is the year the project will be completed.

E. Total Previous Expenditures: The dollar amount shown here represents money approved to be spent prior to the current TIP (in this case, FY2016). Many projects take several years to complete and may have been started before the first year shown in the current TIP. For example, if a project began in 2015, the money approved for expenditure in FY2015 would not be included in the table, as the table begins with FY2016, so it is shown here. If this is blank, it means that no money was approved for expenditure before the first year shown in the table.

F. Total Programmed Cost: This is the total of the costs budgeted in this TIP, as shown in the table. It does not include any previous expenditures.

G. Total Cost: This is the full cost – money already approved plus money budgeted but not yet spent across all years. It is the sum of the “total previous expenditures” and “total programmed cost.” For consistency, all dollar amounts shown in the TIP are in “current” dollars – not adjusted for inflation.

H. Project Description: This describes the project in more detail than the project title and project type, above. Note that maintenance projects typically have a broad description, as they encompass many individual projects. The requesting agency will have more details on these, particularly as the project year approaches. Links to those agencies are provided in the TIP.

I. Funding Source: This refers to the type of funding used for that project (e.g., “Bridge” or “STP”). A description of the funding sources and their abbreviations can be found here. Note that an individual project can have multiple funding sources and that each funding source has its own table, showing how the funds will be spent, and in which year(s).

J. Local Match: This shows how much of the total project will be paid for with local funds -- usually by the “requesting agency,” though in some cases other agencies may contribute as well. As can be seen in the table, the majority of the funding for these projects is federal.

K. Table Column Headings: Each of these (preliminary engineering, right-of-way, etc.) describe the type of activity the funds will be spent on. The “total” column shows a sum of all types of expenditures for each year. The “federal share” and “local share” headings show how federal and local funds are divided each year. Added together, these also sum to the amount in the “total” column for each year.

L. PD: This row (short for “preliminary development”) shows projects where some initial work is budgeted (e.g., purchasing land for right-of-way), but there is not funding budgeted for project construction. Projects listed in PD must show the total cost (all years), regardless of how far into the future the project may be completed. These costs are included in the “total programmed costs” discussed above.

M. Fund Totals: These show the total amounts budgeted for each type of activity across all years shown in the TIP. The “total” is a sum of all types of expenditures (preliminary engineering through construction) and is also a sum of the federal and local shares.

Confused? I get it.

The “shorthand” helps make the document more succinct, which makes it easier to use and navigate, yet at the same time the abbreviations and technical terms require some assistance to understand. It’s a catch-22.

I hope this helps. Don’t hesitate to contact COMPASS at 208/855-2558 or with questions, and remember to comment on the draft TIP by August 18 to share your thoughts on proposed projects.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

What the heck is the TIP, anyway?

It’s that time again. Public comment is open now, through August 18, on projects in the draft FY2016 - 2020 Regional Transportation Improvement Program, or TIP. As always, the TIP project list is large and complicated, and the overall “what” and “why” of the TIP is often lost amidst the details.

Below, I tackle some of the common questions I hear about the TIP, to help you as you consider your comments. 

  • What is the TIP?
  • Why does it matter?
  • Why are you asking for public comment?
  • What should I comment on?
  • Why is it so hard to understand?
  • Are there tricks (or “TIPS”) to finding projects I’m interested in? 
1. What is the TIP? The TIP is a five-year budget of federally funded and “regionally significant” transportation projects in Ada and Canyon Counties. Essentially, it is a list of transportation projects that fall into these categories, with information on the project budgets. (What constitutes a “regionally significant” project is another discussion; for now, just assume it is exactly what it sounds like…a project that is big enough that it is significant to the region.) The TIP is based on the federal fiscal year, which runs from October 1 - September 30. Federal fiscal year 2016 begins on October 1, 2015.

While it is a five-year budget, we update it yearly to add one year to the end. For example, the current TIP covers fiscal years 2015 - 2019; the draft TIP (open for public comment) covers fiscal years 2016 - 2020. The entire TIP does not change each year. New projects are added (usually to the last year) and old projects are completed and removed, but most projects simply move from one year to the next as they work their way to completion.

Think of it like a detailed, five-year budget for your child’s college education, with you, your child, and multiple sources of financial aid all contributing. You need to track how much each aspect of college will cost (tuition, housing, fees, books, etc.), what each type of financial aid can and cannot be used for, and who is paying for how much of each item each year. It gets complicated quickly.

2. Why does it matter? Transportation projects are expensive, time consuming, and often take years to plan and execute. Just as you would not plan for how you plan to pay for your child’s freshman year of college without looking beyond that to other years, transportation agencies need to plan ahead to budget and schedule their funding to ensure all their “ducks are in a row” when it comes time to actually build a project. And…it’s required. Federal funds cannot be spent on transportation projects without them being budgeted in an approved TIP (or the statewide equivalent).

3. Why are you asking for public comment? 
  • These projects are being paid for using your tax dollars.
  • The projects have the potential to affect you, your commute, and your quality of life. 
You have a right and a responsibility to review how your tax dollars are proposed to be spent and to ask questions and share your agreement, or disagreement, with the projects selected. COMPASS staff considers all public comments, passes them along to the relevant agencies, and provides them to the COMPASS Board for consideration before any final decisions are made.

4. What should I comment on? While you can comment on any aspect of the TIP, it is the proposed projects themselves – or changes to projects already in the TIP – that have the most impact on you as an individual. Look at projects near where you live or work, or projects along your commute. Do you agree with what is proposed? Are there other projects, that aren’t listed, that you think are more important? Keep in mind that the TIP is a budget – it tells you what projects have been proposed, along with a brief description, where they would be, and when they would take place. It does NOT address details such as project design. That comes later. Your chance to comment on design is facilitated by the agency who is in charge of the project.

5. Why is the TIP so hard to understand? The TIP is designed to provide a lot of information – much of which is complicated even on its own. While some details may seem unnecessary to you, those details are important to someone else. For example, you may only care about the project description, while someone else may only care about the cost of the project, and a third person may only care about who is paying for it. The TIP provides all those details in one place.

6. Are there tricks (or “TIPS”) to finding projects I’m interested in? There are two quick things you can do to help you find projects you may be interested in.

Search. If you are looking at the document online (in PDF format), push the “Ctrl” key then “F” at the same time, to activate the “find” function. You’ll see a box appear in the upper right corner of your screen. Use this to type in key words to search for projects you care about. For example, if you want to know what is planned for Cole Road, type in “Cole” and click “next.”

Use the “Major Changes” list. This list – available during the public comment period – highlights projects that are new, removed, advanced, or delayed in the draft new TIP as compared to the current TIP. Many projects remain in the TIP for the full five years of the budget (or longer). The “major changes” list helps you focus on what is new or changed by weeding out projects that are simply continuing on their multi-year tracks.

Want more help? Watch for my next blog on how to read the TIP project list. In the meantime, you can always contact COMPASS staff for assistance by calling 855-2558 or

Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.