To meet the federal requirements for the consultation process between state transportation officials and nonmetropolitan local officials, the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) selected the West Alabama Regional Commission to conduct a two-year (FY2005 & FY2006) planning and consultation pilot project for a seven-county region that includes both rural and metropolitan areas. After the success of that pilot project, ALDOT extended the consultation process statewide and entered into agreements with the state’s other 11 regional development organizations (known locally as regional councils of government and regional planning commissions) in October 2006 to formally establish Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs).
According to the South Alabama Regional Planning Commission’s FY2016 Transportation Plan, “the purpose of the RPO is to enhance and improve the rural transportation planning consultation process between ALDOT and those local governments responsible for transportation planning in the rural areas.” In addition, the establishment of the statewide RPO process provided rural regions a “united voice in addressing safety issues, long range transportation needs, and transit needs.” Although this system does not allow RPOs to allocate funds for projects, it does give rural governments a means to recommend a list of their transportation needs and influence state and federal funding for transportation projects in rural areas. This occurs in some regions through voluntary development of a non-binding rural TIP.
Overview of RPO Tasks
The general structure of an RPO in Alabama consists of three primary committees: the Policy Committee, the Technical Coordinating Committee and the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee. The Policy Committee includes local officials such as county commissioners and mayors and an ALDOT division representative. The Technical Coordinating Committee includes county engineers and transportation planners and the Citizens Transportation Advisory committee typically includes four citizens from each rural county located in the service area. Some RPOs have found it advantageous to combine the Policy and Technical Coordinating Committees to allow for better meeting turnout and collaboration among committee members. Some RPOs institute subcommittees within the technical coordinating and citizens advisory committees on specific transportation planning topic areas including, but not limited to, safety, public transit, and human services.
While the tasks performed by each RPO vary throughout the state, the primary function of the RPO is to provide rural local officials and local citizens with increased dialogue and input with state policy officials and staff, in addition to offering a formal framework to develop, prioritize and pursue transportation and safety improvements within the region. As outlined in the RPO work program, which is fairly uniform across the state, an RPO’s technical responsibilities include the administrative functions of the RPO; the coordination and management of the committee structure and meeting schedule; local transportation data collection, management, and distribution; the development of reports required by ALDOT including a regional transportation plan and a list of safety observations, and active engagement in the required public involvement process. The RPO also develops a regional long-range transportation plan that sets goals and identifies specific project priorities for each county within the region. In addition, the regions develop coordinated human services transportation plans. The RPOs are also assisting with the coordination of Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) transition plan activities among local governments, state agencies, and FHWA.
 SARPC (2015). Transportation Plan Fiscal Year 2016 Update, www.mobilempo.org/RuralPlanningOrganization/September23_2015/Transportation%20Plan%202016%20final%20with%20Project%20list.pdf
 SARPC (2015)
 Personal communication with Tom Piper, February 2016