Over half of the states in the U.S. had established some form of rural transportation planning prior to the enactment of MAP-21, and several states have also passed their own statutes governing rural transportation planning. As a result, a patchwork of institutional models and responsibilities exist today, and RTPO-type entities are called a variety of names. Generally, RTPOs have been set up to model basic MPO structures and functions. Together with MPOs, RTPOs often offer states a consistent statewide model for conducting planning that is continuing, comprehensive, and cooperative.
RTPOs typically have a policy board made up primarily of local officials from nonmetropolitan jurisdictions, which is often also the RDO’s or parent agency’s own governing board, or a subset of its members and other transportation leaders. Many RTPOs also have a technical committee, comprising public works or planning staff from member local governments, representatives of transportation modes, state DOT staff, and others with an interest in transportation. In some states, the RTPOs also may form other committees, including citizen’s advisory committees, safety committees, transit or coordinated transportation committees, bicycle/pedestrian committees, and more, whose make recommendations to the policy board about actions to support rural transportation goals.
In most states that have formed RTPOs or support rural transportation planning programs, the regional process is typically intended to support the federal statewide planning processes and requirements. As a result, the most common source of funding for RTPO work is FHWA Statewide Planning and Research, although FTA Planning and Rural Transit programs are also accessed, along with state sources of funding and often a local match. The RTPOs’ responsibilities often include conducting their own or assisting with the state’s public participation efforts, developing a regional long-range plan, and identifying regional priorities to include in a transportation improvement program (TIP) or a list of projects for the state to consider. Technical assistance is an important function in nearly every RTPO state, with the regional entities able to respond to local government questions, conduct technical analyses and local plans, assist with grant applications, develop or support the transportation chapters of local comprehensive plans, and other functions. Depending on available funding, they may complete other documents such as corridor studies, safety plans, bicycle and pedestrian maps and plans, freight plans, and other products. These efforts are of great benefit in rural areas, where local jurisdictions may have limited professional staff and little capacity to access federal funds.
The regional planning process benefits state DOTs by providing them with a direct and ongoing link to local officials and to other stakeholders. The regional planning process provides a venue to establish priority issues and strategies and to identify projects affecting regional-level, rather than parochial, outcomes that are vetted through a local and public process. Working together to develop projects can help to address local needs that may not be apparent at the state level. RTPOs are often called upon to serve on statewide committees or advisory groups, to guide the development of many different state-level plans.
As the nation’s transportation needs grow, and consistent funding continues to be a concern, RTPOs’ roles have evolved. Increasingly, RTPO staff and decision makers are looking to formalize the planning and project identification process. More and more RTPOs are taking steps to connect project priorities to long-range strategic planning, and developing criteria connected to state and federal laws as well as the regional vision for transportation. As states and MPOs take on new requirements for performance-based planning, including setting targets for federally defined measures, many RTPOs are identifying measures to use in their planning. Some state DOTs are also working with RTPOs to determine their roles in adopting the federally required performance management process themselves or supporting the state’s performance management efforts.
The NADO Research Foundation report “Regional Rural Transportation Planning: Models for Local Consultation, Regional Coordination, and Regional Transportation Planning Organizations” (PDF) presents a snapshot of the work occurring at the regional level in nonmetropolitan areas in 32 states. Most of these states have a formal contractual and/or consultative relationship with organizations providing regional transportation planning services, but other models are presented here, as well. Voluntary RTPOs without annual state contracts, regional support for statewide mapping efforts, consistent approaches to mobility management and coordinated human services transportation, and partnerships to address specific regional concerns or special studies are also discussed. Click here to download (PDF)
Funding Support for RTPO-type Entities and Activities
|State||Total annual funding (including match)||Match rate and source||Date established|
|Alabama||$40,000 – $75,000||20% local||2005 – 2006|
|California||$125,000 – $422,000||1972 – 1975 for most RTPAs|
|Colorado||No match required||1992|
|Connecticut||$176,250||10% state, 10% local||1990s|
|Florida||$25,000 (former contracts)||2005, until 2015|
|Georgia||$50,000 – $125,000||20% local||2000|
|Illinois||2008, coordinated plans only|
|Indiana||$29,000 – $101,000||20% local||2001 and 2005|
|Iowa||$40,000 – $76,000||20% local||1993|
|Kentucky||$65,000 – 105,000||10% state, 10% local||1994|
|Maine||$5,000 – $15,000, option to apply for add’l funds||20% state||1994|
|Massachusetts||$300,000 – $500,000||20% state||1970s|
|Minnesota||$88,235||15% local||Early 1990s|
|New Hampshire||$200,000 – $390,000||80% federal funds, 10% state match, 10% local match||Early 1990s|
|New Mexico||$106,250||20% local||Early 1990s|
|New York||No planning program, but may complete special studies|
|North Carolina||$115,625 – $144,531||20% local||2002|
|Ohio||$88,000 – $214,000||10% state, 10% local||2013|
|Oregon||Varies||No match required||1996|
|Pennsylvania||$346,000 – $390,000||10% state, 10% local||1992|
|South Carolina||$106,500||20% local||1997|
|South Dakota||No planning program, but may provide GIS support|
|Tennessee||$60,000 – $100,000||10% state, 10% local||2005 – 2006|
|Texas||Varies; voluntary organizations||1999 – 2009|
|Utah||$12,000 – $50,000||20% or more local||2005 – 2008|
|Vermont||$150,000 – $250,000||10% state, 10% local||1993|
|Washington||Varies; $2.2M total for state||No match required||1990|
Note: Information provided by regional or state agency staff or contained in planning documents.