MDOT 701.02 Drafting a Purpose and Need Statement

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Developing the MDOT Purpose and Need Statement

Practical Design places a greater emphasis on understanding a project’s purpose and need beginning with planning and throughout design. Developing the MDOT Purpose and need statement is the critical first step to ensure that the project is consistent with MDOT policy, which is to prioritize the needs of the State’s transportation network as a whole above the wants of a single project.

To develop the best project needed for the most economical cost, the designer should first answer the following questions:

  1. What is the transportation problem / challenge you are trying to resolve?
  2. Why is the problem occurring?
  3. When is the problem occurring?
  4. What is the magnitude of the problem and what is the order of magnitude? (Magnitude could mean safety, cost, or service level.)
  5. Why is it important to solve the problem now? What is the risk of doing nothing?
  6. How will we measure success? (This should include the performance measure or metric to be used and a value, e.g., Level of Service E, or decrease rear-end crashes by 15 percent.)

Clearly defining the project’s stated purpose and need leaves designers better equipped to address project modification requests or recommendations resulting from internal reviews, such as a Value Engineering Study, or the desires of external stakeholders. If a change is proposed, it can be compared to the MDOT Purpose and Need statement for consistency to help eliminate project creep.

The MDOT Purpose and Need statement is separate from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) purpose and need. The MDOT Purpose and Need serves as an objective statement that remains consistent with the NEPA statement, but can easily be revised when certain measures or metrics are deemed either ineffective or not realistically attainable.

How to Write the MDOT Purpose and Need Statement

The MDOT Purpose and Need statement sets the stage for considering alternatives. It has three parts: Purpose, Need, and Goals and Objectives. The Purpose defines the transportation problem to be solved. The Need provides data to support the problem statement (Purpose). The Goals and Objectives describe other issues that need to be resolved as part of a successful solution to the problem.

The Purpose and Need statement is intended to clarify the expected outcome of public expenditure and justify that expenditure. What are you trying to accomplish, and why do you think it is necessary? It should be the first step in the project development process and will be used to guide the development of alternatives. It will be a fundamental element when developing criteria for selection between alternatives.


  • Is analogous to the problem. It is the “what” of the proposal.
  • Should focus on the State’s transportation network. Other important issues to be addressed by the project such as local transportation systems, livability, and the environment should be identified as Goals and Objectives.
  • Should be stated in a single sentence.
  • Is stated as the positive outcome that is expected. For example, the purpose is to reduce congestion in the interstate corridor.
  • Should avoid stating a solution as a purpose—as in—the purpose of the project is to build a bypass. Rather, it should indicate what transportation problem(s) are being addressed.
  • Where appropriate, it should be stated broadly enough so that more than one mode can be considered and multi-modal solutions are not dismissed prematurely. This should tie back to the “MPO strategy” in terms of modal options.
  • Where appropriate, it should be stated broadly enough so that more than one alternative can be considered and alternatives are not dismissed prematurely. It should also be stated generically as to not eliminate a bundled set of mobility options or a “menu” of options.
  • Should be stated in a manner so that a suite of intermediate steps could be posed as the solution, scaled to the needs of the community, if appropriate. For example, sometimes the “project” is simply the implementation of some “No Build” strategies, i.e. TDM, Bus expansion, etc.
  • Should develop from an “MPO strategy”, which is grounded in the region’s performance goals.


  • Should establish the evidence that the problem exists or will exist if projected population and planned land use growth are realized. .
  • Should be factually and numerically based, i.e. performance measures, latest planning assumptions, crash data, etc.
  • Should support the assertion made in the purpose statement. For example, if the purpose statement is based on safety improvements, the need statement should support the assertion that there is or will be a safety problem to be corrected which would be supported by crash data/analysis.

Goals and Objectives

Issues that will be addressed by the project beyond the State transportation issue identified in the Purpose should be included in the Purpose and Need Statement as Goals and Objectives. The Goals and Objectives should balance environmental and transportation values. They should support early and effective interagency involvement in environmental issues to improve the outcome of each natural and cultural resource agency's mission while minimizing costs and delays. In addition, the Goals and Objectives should consider equally the project's schedule, cost, quality, cultural resources, fish and wildlife habitat, public input, and regulatory input.

The Goals and Objectives will be different for each project and may include the following:

  • Broad community goals. For example: improving air quality, economic development, and/or creating an uncongested, pedestrian friendly downtown business district.
  • Environmental goals such as avoiding and minimizing the impact and enhancement opportunities. For example: avoiding impacts to nesting migratory birds or improving riparian habitat beyond what is required for mitigation.
  • Regulatory compliance.