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Vermont

Number of Regional Planning Commissions serving rural areas: 10 Total annual funding: $150,000 – $250,000 (80% federal funds, 10% state match, 10% local match) Date established rural transportation planning program: 1992 In 1992, the Vermont Agency on Transportation (VTrans) launched the new Transportation Planning Initiative that was specifically designed to move the state transportation planning process to the local and regional levels in the rural portions of the state. This involved creating expanded opportunities for citizen input as well as a forum for local officials to affect state planning and investment decisions.

VTrans partnered and contracted with the state’s 11 regional planning commissions (RPCs) to implement the new program consistently across the state, since these regional groups already had years of regional planning experience and established credibility with local officials and the public.  Of the 11 total RPCs in Vermont, 10 serve rural areas, and one serves as the state’s only MPO.[1]

The RPC process was also set up to help the agency comply with both the 1991 Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act and state laws (Act 250 and Act 200) enacted in the 1970s and 1980s that require state agencies to conduct extensive public outreach on infrastructure projects with land use implications. In 2007, the state legislature also passed a bill codifying the RPCs’ role of performing rural transportation planning work in order to ensure that local consultation requirements were met.[2]  The RPCs’ transportation work is funded through an allocation of FHWA statewide planning and research funds, disbursed according to a formula based on population, number of towns served, and highway mileage. [3]  Special studies relating to transit planning are sometimes funded through FTA planning grants, with match provided by local transit agencies or other sources.[4]

As part of the annual work program, the RPCs operate transportation advisory committees composed of community officials, public transportation providers, interest groups and individual citizens. The RPC staff also attend local meetings, such as selectboard, planning commission, conservation commission, or other business and civic group meetings to gather input and provide information about transportation issues.  They prepare long-range transportation plans that identify the goals and objectives for all forms of transportation for up to a 20-year horizon. They identify and prioritize projects for implementation as part of the STIP, plus they conduct studies on specific transportation problems and issues as needed.[5]

Map of Vermont's regional planning commissions boundaries

Click to enlarge (Map courtesy Vermont Association of Planning & Development Agencies)

Assistance to localities on transportation issues is an important part of the Transportation Planning Initiative, with 37 percent of the state’s regional planning budget spent on local technical assistance such as scoping studies and bridge, culvert, sidewalk, and sign inventories.[6]  The RPCs conduct traffic counts at the request of either VTrans or local towns, as well as conducting bicycle and pedestrian counts, and highway sufficiency rating data, occupancy counts at park and ride facilities, and other data collection and analysis to support planning.[7]  The RPCs also support transit planning, safety efforts, scenic byways, rail trail councils and other groups, and other efforts that meet local needs.[8]

As part of the planning process, the RPCs work together on projects that cross jurisdictional boundaries, such as ski country, regional rail and snowmobile issues. They are helping the state work with local communities to develop multi-modal projects and solutions, with the goal of establishing more intermodal connections in the future. The RPCs facilitate improved dialogue between the state and local communities, which may be one of their most valuable contributions as they work to ensure that top-down decisionmaking has valuable local input and that localities receive technical assistance to benefit their own transportation decisions and investments.[9]

Following the significant damage that occurred to state and local infrastructure when Tropical Storm Irene hit Vermont in 2011, VTrans engaged the RPCs to assess needed local road repairs, while the state agency focused on state-owned roads.  The responsibilities the RPCs took on in the immediate aftermath of the storm went beyond their typical transportation activities at the time.  However, the state agencies and RPCs have taken steps to formalize the regional roles following a disaster and continue to participate in training to implement the state’s after action report.[10]  Project development work relating to both recovery and resilience have become routine responsibilities, as the RPCs work with towns to analyze roads at risk of flooding and options for improving them.  Bank stabilization along roadways, road relocation, road lowering, and roadway erosion analysis are some of the ways transportation resilience is built into the RPCs’ work in transportation planning, community development, and environmental planning.[11]

For more information on Vermont’s RPCs, visit www.vapda.org.

 

[1] Vermont Association of Planning & Development Agencies (2015). VAPDA Annual Report

[2] Personal communication with Peter Gregory, 2012

[3] RPC Allocation Calculator

[4] Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission (2015). Transportation Planning Initiative FY 2016 Work Program and Budget

[5] TRORC

[6] VAPDA

[7] TRORC

[8] TRORC; Northwest RPC (nd). “Transportation Planning,” www.nrpcvt.com/TransportationPlanning.html

[9] TRORC

[10] TRORC

[11] Personal communication with Rita Seto, Dan Currier, February 2016