Functionally classifying roadways within the Road Inventory File assigns a logical hierarchical system to the hundreds of thousands of roadways crisscrossing the state. When addressing a roadway mobility improvement, this system classifies the network in a manner that aides in determining which roadways to improve for the most beneficial transportation result. Click this link for a Definition of Functional Classification.
Since a majority of transportation improvement funding tends to come from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the functional classification system also determines which roadways are eligible for Federal-aid. The roadways designated as part of the National Highway System (NHS) are mostly eligible for NHS funding. These roadways include all Interstates, most of the principal arterial system, and a small portion of urban collectors. The roadways designated as part of the NHS that are rural minor collectors or local roadways are not eligible for NHS funding. This system represents the main arteries of commerce and the critical roadways for defense, connecting from state border to border and all designated NHS terminals.
The second biggest Federal-aid category is the Surface Transportation Program (STP), which covers all Interstates, principal and minor arterials, and major collectors. Every ten years, the US Census Bureau updates the urbanized area zones for the entire country. The roadways that travel through these zones are considered urban, while the other roadways traveling outside of the zone are considered rural. Within the functional classification system, roadways can change between arterials and collectors when crossing between an urbanized area and a rural area and visa versa. In terms of the STP funding category, all arterials and collectors within the urban zone are Federal-aid eligible. For rural areas, all arterials are eligible, but only major collectors are Federal-aid eligible. The roadways designated as rural minor collectors are not eligible under the current transportation act - Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficiency, Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) legislation. The past transportation act -Transportation Equity Act -21 (TEA-21) provision 1108(f) permitted up to 15% of STP funds for use on rural minor collectors*.
Why Change a Roadway's Functional Classification:
As traffic patterns change over time through either roadway construction or land use change, roadway functions may change as well. Reclassifying roadways to match their current purpose is the best way to maintain the proper hierarchy, reflecting the importance of each roadway in the network.
While a roadway functional classification determines its Federal-aid funding eligibility, changing a roadway's functional classification specifically for the purpose of obtaining Federal funds is strongly discouraged and would greatly increase the chance that FHWA would reject the request.
This process outlines the steps necessary to ensure FHWA approves a functional classification change. These steps do not guarantee an official approval by FHWA, but do ensure that FHWA has all the necessary paperwork and key state, regional, and local approvals in place. To revise the functional classification along a particular roadway or group of roadways, the following steps are encouraged:
One or more Massachusetts municipalities write a letter addressed to their Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) requesting a functional classification change. If the requested roadway also travels through adjacent municipalities, then those municipalities must also submit a letter requesting the same change to the MPO.
The MPO staff reviews the letter to determine whether the request makes sense.
If the MPO staff agrees with the request, the MPO staff then works with the municipality(ies) to obtain current traffic counts at key locations along the roadway to support a change and document why the change is warranted. This could include a discussion of how land use has changed to increase or decrease the roadways importance or a description explaining how the roadway network has been revised resulting from highway construction, thus changing travel patterns. When updating the functional classification to better match the use of the roadway system, special attention should be paid to including an opposite change in a parallel roadway's functional classification, thus keeping the percentage of roadway centerline mileage by functional class by MPO as close to the existing amounts as possible. If the functional reclassification is the result of population growth or a new roadway is constructed leading to an area not served by an existing collector or arterial classified roadway, then downgrading the functional class of a parallel roadway may not be necessary. Finally, 8.5X11 maps should be created highlighting the roadway(s) under review.
The MPO should informally send the request to the Office of Transportation Planning's (OTP) Geospatial Resources Section for a quick review prior to MPO adoption. It might make sense to follow this step in the early stages of Step 3 to avoid unnecessary work.
Upon completing the package outlined in Step 3, present to the MPO Board for their approval.
Once the MPO Board approval is granted and documented, send the approved package to OTP. The package should include the following:
- Letter(s) from municipality(ies) requesting the change
- Volume counts along roadways under review
- Maps highlighting roadways under review
- Descriptive text explaining why the change is warranted, citing land use changes, roadway alignment changes, or other reason
- MPO Board approval.
If the package is complete, OTP will submit to FHWA for their approval. Once FHWA provides a ruling, OTP will provide the results to the MPO.
Click the link to view an example of a Complete Functional Reclassification Package, submitted by the Pioneer Valley Metropolitan Planning Organization. It should be noted that this example consists of over 20 simultaneous change requests; however, submittals can include as few as one set of change requests. Also, the cover letter addressed to OTP is not shown, but should be included in a complete submittal package.
*Federal Highway Administration, A Guide to Federal-Aid Programs and Projects, Surface Transportation Program (STP) Updated April 20, 2007, web page: