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Texas

Number of RPOs: 13  Total annual funding: Varies; though there is no dedicated funding, RPOs have received planning assistance/technical assistance from TxDOT Date established: Varies; 1999; most around 2008 – 2009 In Texas, regional planning organizations (RPOs) provide rural transportation planning support to places located outside of designated metropolitan planning areas that are served by an MPO.  The role of these voluntary organizations is defined by the state in Title 43 Texas Administrative Code Chapter 16, which went into effect January 1, 2011.  Regional development organizations (known locally as councils of government or COGs) have formed and operate RPOs to help address the rural transportation needs of their multi-county regions by “providing a forum for informed transportation decision making at the local level.”[1]

RPOs are governed by local elected officials and work cooperatively with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) to develop the Rural Transportation Improvement Program (RTIP), which is then incorporated into the STIP and the Unified Transportation Program (UTP), the state’s 10-year plan.[2]  TxDOT has contracted with entities across the state to conduct coordinated human services transportation planning according to the regional COG boundaries.  Some of the COGs do engage in that work under contract with TxDOT, but other agencies such as transit agencies, MPOs, or counties also support transit planning work.

In general RPOs create a valuable forum for enhanced communication between state transportation officials and rural local government officials.  RPOs can also be instrumental in informing the public about the transportation planning process.  For example, the Alamo Regional Rural Planning Organization (ARRPO) and the TxDOT San Antonio District recently conducted community workshops in nine different rural counties.  TxDOT provided the planning and technical support for ARRPO to conduct outreach to rural stakeholders on regional priorities, public concerns, and hear from county officials and others about their needs and challenges.[3]

Map of Texas Rural Planning Organization boundaries

Click to enlarge (Courtesy Texas A&M Transportation Institute)

Although there is no permanent or dedicated state programmed funding for RPOs in Texas, RPOs may receive planning support from TxDOT in various forms.[4]  With the support of a grant from TxDOT, the Brazos Valley Regional Planning Organization (BVRPO), affiliated with the Brazos Valley Council of Governments, conducts a Coordinated Public Transportation Planning to improve senior and disability transportation.  As part of this process, a five-year plan update is required to address transportation inventory, identify gaps, and explore new opportunities.  The grant meets the cost of a full-time planner, an intern, and additional resources.  One of the positive outcomes to emerge from this effort is the development of the Brazos Valley Transportation Partnership.  With additional support from the Area Agency on Aging, the partnership provides bus transportation for seniors and disabled residents and covers associated maintenance.

BVRPO creates the space for communication between local officials and state and federal agencies through a variety of forums, including a technical committee that meets quarterly and a bi-monthly transportation workgroup, as well as through other events and meetings.  Topics such as economic development, safety, high-speed rail, freight needs, and highway safety improvements are often discussed.  Additionally, the highway prioritization system allows local officials to communicate their challenges and opportunities and provide other feedback about projects and needs to TxDOT representatives.[5]

 

The South Plains Association of Governments (SPAG), located in Lubbock, and the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG), located in Austin, have also been supported by TxDOT in rural transportation planning efforts.  SPAG has established the South Plains Rural Planning Organization (SPRPO) which delivers rural transportation planning with the support of $10,000 in funding from TxDOT.  SPRPO’s service area covers 17 counties which aligns with the TxDOT District.  SPRPO acts as an advocate for this region on transportation issues and provides county officials with information and assistance, acts as a liaison between the TxDOT District and county judges and engineers, and coordinates meetings to facilitate collaboration between local and state representatives to plan for improved transportation infrastructure and avoid a duplication of services.

SPRPO’s efforts have led to better communication between state officials and local representatives.  For example, sharing information has led to quick decision-marking about strategically identifying areas to locate Dynamic Interactive Message Boards to warn motorists of locations of high accident rates or inclement weather conditions.  For many states, addressing winter weather impacts on the roads is a significant investment of resources.  SPRPO has also been able to save TxDOT resources by making its own brine and converting two herbicide machines to spray brine to counteract ice on roadways in the region.[6]

The Capital Area Rural Transportation Planning Organization (CARTPO) is housed within the Capital Area Council of Governments.  CARTPO, organized as the first COG RPO in Texas in 1999, continues to provide a venue for officials of both non-MPO and MPO counties to discuss transportation issues and identify regional priorities.  CARTPO is careful not to duplicate the Capital Area MPO (CAMPO), and recently the two organizations have begun coordinating on key road systems they are labeling “strategic corridors” so that CARTPO and CAMPO can advocate for regionally significant projects that span their territories.  CARTPO was created to serve CAPCOG’s ten-county region when CAMPO only covered one full county and slivers of two adjoining ones.  Now CAMPO covers six counties, but the region-wide participation in CARTPO hasn’t changed.[7]

From 2012 – 2015, TxDOT funded CARTPO’s operations, including a Transportation & Economic Development Plan for three rural counties.  CAPCOG, also the region’s Economic Development District, believed much of the economic development activities in rural areas impact the transportation infrastructure as well, whether it’s roads supporting industrial development areas or streetscapes for a downtown redevelopment effort.  TxDOT agreed, and between 2012 and 2015 CAPCOG completed three different countywide transportation and economic development plans, generating new enthusiasm and ideas for planning in those counties.[8]

CARTPO is now working on a scope that can be broadly defined as collaboration services, with the intent to build capacity among staff throughout the region and catalyze project development in counties outside the MPO boundaries. CARTPO serves to connect elected officials, county and city staff, and TxDOT staff in a way that maximizes access to resources and information for county and city staff, advances knowledge sharing and the adoption of best practices throughout the region, and streamlines the flow of projects through the TxDOT development process. This approach links the MPO’s activities with transportation planning in more rural parts of CARTPO’s region, resulting in strategic and cohesive transportation planning across the 10-county Capital Area.[9]

[1]Overman, John (2012).  Rural Planning Organizations: Their Role in Transportation Planning and Project Development in Texas, www.nado.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/RPO-Participant-Guide-Handout-11-2011.pdf

[2]Overman, John

[3] Personal communication with Bill Mosely, February 2016

[4] Personal communication with John Overman, July 2016

[5] Personal communication with Michael Parks, December 2015

[6] South Plains Rural Planning Organization, 2015 NADO Innovation Award materials

[7] Personal communication with Betty Voights and Chris Schreck, July 2016

[8] Personal communication with Betty Voights and Chris Schreck, July 2016

[9] Personal communication with Betty Voights and Chris Schreck, July 2016