Florida is covered mostly by MPOs, however 44 counties or portions of counties, out of the 67 total in the state, were not within the boundaries of an MPO prior to new urbanized area designations that occurred in 2012. Of Florida’s ten Regional Planning Councils (RPCs), all except two (East Central Florida RPC, and Tampa Bay RPC) have rural areas within their boundaries. Two RPCs located in the Florida panhandle area, Apalachee Regional Planning Council (ARPC) and West Florida Regional Planning Council (WFRPC), signed five-year funding agreements with the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) District 3 in late 2005 to serve as liaisons between their local DOT district planning offices and the rural counties of their respective regions not served by an MPO. From 2005 – 2015, the RPCs coordinated meetings with county staff and local elected officials to assist in the distribution of FDOT information and updates on transportation projects. They also helped gather timely input on the state’s five-year work program and other activities. This work was supported by $25,000 in funding per year from FDOT.
In those two regions, RPC staff have worked directly with county staff and rural municipalities in the region to determine the transportation needs for each county. The needs identified by rural communities were compiled in a report presented to FDOT. The report included maps of projects in the current FDOT work program as well as maps depicting requested projects. The report was then used by FDOT to evaluate and fund proposed projects in the non-urbanized areas.
After 10 years of working as a liaison between rural counties and FDOT and providing rural transportation planning services, FDOT decided to reevaluate the regional contracts for opportunities to consolidate contracts and bring certain tasks back in house, and the two RPCs are no longer providing rural transportation planning assistance. However, the 2060 Florida Transportation Plan (FTP) specifically recognizes the need for the statewide transportation planning process to be “reinvented to strengthen regional coordination, reduce fragmentation, eliminate duplication, and increase efficiency.” Discussions regarding rural consultation and regional planning tasks are continuing to occur between the RPCs and FDOT.
An MPO Model for Serving Rural Regions
In the central part of the state, following the 2010 Census, the Census Bureau designated a new urbanized area of Sebring-Avon Park, where there previously had been no formal regional transportation planning entity. This historically rural region had seen rapid growth on the order of a 45 percent population increase from 1990 to 2010. Rather than create a standalone MPO for only the urbanized area, the region determined that it would benefit from coordinating transportation planning across a multi-county region to grapple with and plan for the effects of rapid growth, according to Central Florida Regional Planning Council Executive Director Pat Steed.
As a result, the Heartland Regional Transportation Planning Organization (HRTPO) was formed to include six entire counties, including the Sebring-Avon Park urbanized area and surrounding rural areas that are linked by shared economic, environmental, and cultural characteristics. Consistent with federal and Florida statutes, this new MPO was designated in 2014, with a governing board made up of representatives of the six counties and cities of Sebring and Avon Park. A technical advisory committee, citizen’s advisory committee, and mobility advisory committee offer stakeholder the opportunity to provide input to the governing board on regional decision-making.
As a designated MPO, the agency completes a unified planning work program, public participation plan, long-range transportation plan, and transportation improvement program for its entire service area, consistent with federal requirements. The HRTPO is staffed by the region’s existing regional planning and development organization, the Central Florida Regional Planning Council. Although not a completely rural RTPO, the mixed urbanized and rural character of the HRTPO provides a model for providing professional transportation planning services to rural areas in a large region around an urbanized hub. For more information, visit http://heartlandregionaltpo.org.
 Florida Regional Councils Association, Executive Directors Advisory Committee (2009). Florida’s Consultative Planning Process for Non-Metropolitan Areas Comments
 Personal communication with Chris Rietow, February 2016
 2060 FTP