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California

Number of Regional Transportation Planning Agencies serving rural areas:  26  Total annual funding:  $125,000 – $422,000 (state Rural Planning Assistance Program) Date established: 1972 – 1975 for most RTPAsEvery county in California is served by a regional transportation planning agency (RTPA), created by state law.  RTPAs are known locally as local transportation commissions, county transportation commissions, councils of government, and associations of government.  Counties with urbanized areas over 50,000 people also have MPOs to guide regional transportation planning.  By law, both MPOs and RTPAs are required to develop an Overall Work Program (OWP) and regional transportation plan (RTP).  They also select projects identified in the TIPs.[1]

According to Garth Hopkins, formerly with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), “RTPAs play an important role in Caltrans’ overall planning efforts.  The state realizes that even at the District level, a local agency will be better informed about their needs and priorities.”[2]

In California, there are currently 44 RTPA, 18 of which are MPOs or exist within MPO boundaries.  They utilize federal and state funds to achieve regional transportation goals as outlined in their OWPs.  Federal and state funding includes FHWA SPR funds, FTA Section 5304 Statewide Planning funds, FHWA PL funds (for urbanized RTPAs), Rural Planning Assistance (RPA) funds, Active Transportation Planning (ATP) funds, and Cap and Trade funds.[3]  Like MPOs, the rural RTPAs have significant involvement in both the planning and project investment processes.  “Caltrans relies on RTPAs for rural planning,” notes Hopkins.[4]

Map of California showing MPO and RTPA boundaries

Click to enlarge. (Photo courtesy of Caltrans)

The Nevada County Transportation Commission (NCTC) is one of California’s rural RTPAs.  Established in 1972 by state statute, NCTC’s mission is to “to plan, communicate, and coordinate with the citizens and decision-makers of Grass Valley, Nevada City, Nevada County, the Town of Truckee, and with Caltrans to identify transportation needs, propose solutions, and assist in implementing projects to create a balanced regional transportation system, while protecting the rural qualities and historic character of Nevada County.”[5]  NCTC is funded through a combination of sales tax returns, state Planning, Programming, and Monitoring (PPM) funding, state Rural Planning Assistance funding, and FTA grants. [6]  It has also instituted a regional mitigation fee to supplement state and federal funding.

Around 80 percent of the OWP is spent on providing technical assistance to local jurisdictions and the county DOT.  This includes travel demand modeling, performance measurement projects, and developing and planning coordinated human services transportation plans, development plans, and bike and pedestrian plans.[7]  NCTC tracks a variety of performance and safety measurements, including congestion, vehicle miles traveled (VMT), level of service (LOS), and crash data.  NCTC also conducts transit planning for two systems in the county, utilizing FTA 5305 funds and provides staff for two airport commissions in the county.

NCTC is required to develop its Regional Transportation Plan every four years.  This document addresses ten-year and twenty-year projections for planning and funding streams.  Using performance management measures at the request of the state, the RTP covers safety, air quality, transit, mobility, and congestions issues.[8]

Overall, NCTC serves an important role in connecting local, state, and federal stakeholders and partners while engaging the public in the transportation process.  It does this through hosting meetings, workshops, and trainings, and posting information on its website, sharing press releases with local newspapers, and through radio broadcast updates.[9]  NCTC also participates in statewide and regional coalitions, including the RTPA Group, the Rural Counties Task Force, and the North State Super Region group. [10]  These relationships better connect NCTC to new opportunities and resources from state and federal partners.

For more information on regional transportation planning in California, visit www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tpp/offices/orip.

[1] California Department of Transportation, Division of Transportation Planning, Office of Regional and Interagency Planning (2013).  Regional Planning Handbook,   www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tpp/offices/orip/owp/index_files/2013_RPH_Final.pdf

[2] Personal communication with Garth Hopkins, April 2014

[3] Personal communication with Jacqueline Hodaly and Erin Thompson, July 2016

[4] Personal communication with Garth Hopkins, April 2014

[5] Nevada County Transportation Commission (nd). “About NCTC,” www.nctc.ca.gov/About-NCTC/index.html

[6] Personal communication with Daniel Landon, July 2016

[7] Personal communication with Daniel Landon, July 2016

[8] Nevada County Transportation Commission (2013).  Nevada County Transportation Update: March 2013, www.nctc.ca.gov/documents/Newsletters/54%20-%20March%202013.pdf

[9] Personal communication with Daniel Landon, July 2016

[10] Nevada County Transportation Commission (2013)