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Forming an RTPO

Members of a community working at a planning charette
Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs) typically are found within existing organizations that provide administrative support and can serve as a fiscal agent. Most commonly, the “parent” or lead planning organization is a regional planning and economic development entity that covers multiple counties or jurisdictions.  In other cases, other regional entities, such as human resource agencies, or county planning offices and county transportation commissions house and staff RTPOs.

Having a board that serves the area local governments is critical, and many organizations develop a technical committee with representation from various modes, stakeholder groups, and business and other interests that serves to advise the board on transportation policy and priorities.

Most existing RTPO-type organizations operate under contract to their state DOT.  Discussing state needs and regional interests and expertise can be a starting point for identifying whether a regional contract is a feasible and effective approach to meeting requirements, improving local buy-in on transportation decisions, and identifying projects from different funding streams and issue areas that support the same strategic goals within a region and the communities it serves.

At a minimum, newly formed RTPOs should develop bylaws that indicate who they serve and what their institutional and decisionmaking processes are.  The bylaws should allow the organization to comply with any applicable federal, state, or local statutes and regulations that govern planning.

In addition, RTPOs should have a work program that describes the tasks they expect to complete in a given timeframe, whether under contract to their state DOT or on a voluntary basis.  This helps to set a framework for action and understanding among local governments who are members of the RTPOs, the organization providing staff support, and the state DOT or other entities providing funds that support rural transportation planning work.

Federal surface transportation law defines RTPOs in a specific way.  Similar to metropolitan planning organizations, RTPOs must be designated by their state’s governor to be considered an RTPO under the federal definition.  See the federal regulation on planning released in May 2016 for more details.

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