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Arizona

Number of Councils of Governments serving rural areas: 4 Total annual funding: $330,000 (80% federal funds from FHWA SPR, FTA Planning, and FTA Section 5310 Mobility Management, and 20% local match) Date established: 1970Arizona’s rural transportation planning efforts are guided at the regional level by councils of governments (COGs) that serve contiguous areas under 50,000 residents.  As entities governed by local elected officials, each COG employs full-time planning staff to prepare and implement a comprehensive transportation work program.  COGs perform a variety of transportation services for their constituent partners, which may include local tribes.  These services consist of providing technical assistance and training to support communities and service providers in applying for state and federal transportation grants, conducting data collection and projections, developing a TIP, implementing human services transportation and public transit planning and coordination, and providing a forum for public input and review.[1]  Overall, the COGs serve as an intermediary between local and regional stakeholders and State and Federal transportation agencies.

The Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) distributes federal transportation funds to the COGs to meet specific goals and deliverables set forth in an annual work program developed each year by ADOT’s Multimodal Planning Division.  In addition to the items outlined above, these additional responsibilities may include data collection and reporting, public involvement and consultation, project management, and coordination of transit through mobility management.[2]  Northern Arizona Council of Governments’ (NACOG) work program is illustrative of the roles and responsibilities performed by COGs in meeting regional rural transportation goals.  An overarching theme of the work program is to meet the priorities of the federal surface transportation program, which include supporting economic vitality, increasing safety and security for all users, promoting accessibility and mobility, and enhancing connectivity.  To achieve these goals, NACOG’s work program covers three core focus areas:  regional roads and safety planning, transit planning, and mobility management.[3]

Map of Arizona showing COG and MPO boundaries

Click to enlarge. (Courtesy Arizona DOT)

Regional Roads and Safety Planning

The COG is responsible for developing and implementing a public involvement plan to incorporate a variety of stakeholders into the planning process.  This audience includes elected officials, residents, agency staff, transportation providers, and other partners.  The COG maintains a website with useful information for stakeholders including contact and membership lists for regional transportation committees, public meeting dates and other information, and a catalogue of relevant documents and materials, including the TIP and its amendments, as well as other studies and data. [4]

The COG is also required to collect and maintain Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS) data (including traffic volume and road classification), gather accurate population estimates, identify which roads are eligible for federal funding, and meet other requirements.  Annually, the region submits a TIP to ADOT programming projects for a federally mandated minimum of four years.[5]  To facilitate this process, the COG coordinates a transportation technical advisory committee (TAC) comprised of local stakeholders, and also participates at ADOT meetings. Furthermore, the COG makes recommendations to the state’s Five-Year Facilitates Construction Program, and provides technical support to local jurisdictions.[6]

The COG regions receive an allocation of federal Surface Transportation Block Grant funds according to a population-based formula.  The COGs and MPOs partner may “borrow” from each other’s allocation amounts to complete larger projects through an ADOT-approved, no-interest loan program.[7]

Transit Planning and Mobility Management

With the support of FTA Section 5311 rural transit funds that are disbursed by the state, the COG coordinates rural transit programs and supports agencies with training assistance and capacity building support.[8]  Through a regional coordinating council, the COG seeks public input on improving transit service from seniors, disabled individuals, human services providers, and other interested parties.  The COG is also required to develop and implement a Regional Human Services and Public Transportation Coordination Plan, and collects National Transit Database information from local partners.  COG staff assist public transit agencies with grant writing support and other needs, and are obligated to stay current with the latest federal requirements impacting service providers.

FTA Section 5310 funding for transportation for older adults and disabled individuals support the COG’s Coordinated Mobility Program.  Responsibilities include providing technical assistance, developing a Five Year Transit Plan, and building capacity through partnerships of rural transit service providers in the region.  The COG works with the state and the TAC to identify and recommend transit improvements while also collaborating with partners on federally required reporting and compliance.  The COG also coordinates stakeholders to identify rider needs, improve efficiency, and ensure their safety.[9]

The rural COGs have joined with the four small MPOs in the state to host an annual professional development conference for elected officials, members of the technical committees, and other rural transportation stakeholders. The annual event, along with periodic training workshops, helps enhance the technical understanding of local officials, provides a forum for peer networking and information sharing, and allows the rural regions of the state to speak with a more unified voice. In addition, the rural coalition raises enough funds through dues, assessments, and conference fees to support a full-time rural transportation liaison at the state capital.

[1] Northern Arizona Council of Governments (2015).  Regional Transportation Policy and Procedure Manual, nacog.org/files/dep_menu_637.pdf

[2] Personal communication with Jason Kelly, July 2016

[3] Northern Arizona Council of Governments (2015).  Annual Work Program, State Fiscal Year 2016

[4] Northern Arizona Council of Governments (2015).  Annual Work Program, State Fiscal Year 2016

[5] Personal communication with Jason Kelly, July 2016

[6] Northern Arizona Council of Governments (2015).  Annual Work Program, State Fiscal Year 2016

[7] Personal communication with Jason Kelly, July 2016

[8] Northern Arizona Council of Governments (2015).  Regional Transportation Policy and Procedure Manual, nacog.org/files/dep_menu_637.pdf

[9] Northern Arizona Council of Governments (2015).  Annual Work Program, State Fiscal Year 2016