When ISTEA became law in 1991, regional transportation became a focal point. In response, the Iowa Transportation Commission designated regional transit-planning regions where local officials were given ownership over the new process from the beginning. A new level of collaboration began in 1993 when local leaders were given the opportunity to participate in statewide multimodal transportation planning by forming a regional planning affiliation (RPA), which could follow existing transit planning region boundaries or form new regions. Most of the newly formed RPAs followed the existing regional transit planning boundaries, and most were staffed by existing regional councils of governments.
The RPAs are patterned after MPOs’ organizational structure, with a policy board of local elected officials and a technical committee that includes local city and county engineers and other professionals. FHWA, FTA and Iowa DOT staff participate in the technical committee as non-voting members to serve as an informational resource to the region, rather than as decision makers for the region, and demonstrate the agencies’ commitment to cultivating local engagement in the planning process. The participation of local elected officials in the RPAs is a direct way of conducting nonmetropolitan local consultation.
Local officials and stakeholders can participate in other RPA committees that may be formed in their region; these could include Transportation Alternatives Program or bicycle/pedestrian committees, transit advisory groups, or multi-disciplinary safety teams, among the most common RPA committees.
The RPA boundaries do not align exactly with Iowa DOT district boundaries, so the DOT districts work with multiple RPAs, and some RPAs may work with multiple DOT districts. The RPAs, MPOs, and DOT central office and district planning staff meet quarterly, ensuring a regular means of communication about policy updates, new tools and resources available, and noteworthy practices and expectations for meeting deliverables. Iowa DOT conducts a planning review with the RPAs, similar to a federal certification review for MPOs, to ensure that they are meeting expectations.
The number of staff who work at least part of their time completing transportation planning tasks varies across regional agencies across the state. A minimum of two staff and average of four individuals work for organizations serving only rural counties, with an average of six staff members at agencies that staff both an RPA and MPO.
Major Planning Activities
The RPAs complete an annual work program, describing the tasks to be completed in the contract year. A rural long-range transportation plan is updated every five years to outline future demands on the transportation system and financial resources for a 20-year planning horizon. In addition, the RPAs develop a regional TIP to list the locally identified priority projects for a multi-year period of time, although the document is updated annually to ensure that current priority projects are included. Each RPA receives an allocation of Surface Transportation Block Grant (STBG) and Transportation Alternative Program (TAP) funds to program according to the priorities and strategies in their region’s plan. The level of STBG funds each RPA programs ranges from $1.1 million to $5.1 million in fiscal year 2017, and is calculated based on population for areas above 5,000 and based on both population and farm-to-market factors in areas with a population of less than 5,000. The policy boards of RPAs may opt to increase funding of planning activities from their regional STBG allocation, which allows some regions to complete additional planning activities. RPAs also have the ability to use an allocation of STBG funds that Iowa calls TAP-Flex, which they can program for TAP- or STBG-eligible projects. In addition, the RPAs identify and program rural transit funds in their TIP.
The RPAs complete a coordinated human services transportation plan, called the Passenger Transportation Plan in Iowa. The plans are updated every five years, and include a detailed inventory of services, vehicles, and needs. RPAs are also required to hold at least two Transportation Advisory Group meetings every year, which are groups that include representatives of public transit, passenger transportation providers, human service agencies, and local governments.
To complete these planning initiatives, the RPAs develop a public participation plan and implement public outreach activities. In addition, some RPAs take on additional responsibilities in particular program areas, such as grant applications, trail planning, corridor studies, traffic counts, Safe Routes to School, parking studies, freight planning, regional transit planning, and other programs.
Across the state, multi-disciplinary safety teams are emerging, comprising planners, engineers, law enforcement, emergency response, incident response, Iowa DOT central office and district staff, and Iowa State University Institute for Transportation staff. Depending on local safety issues and priorities, the safety teams conduct road safety audits, workshops, construction zone management, corridor evaluations, and safety media campaigns. Currently, 10 safety teams exist, including some staffed by RPAs and MPOs, and others focused on cities or counties. There is no additional allocation of funding provided for the RPAs that staff a safety team, but their efforts are integrated into and funded through the RPAs’ general transportation planning and programming.
For more information on Iowa’s regional transportation planning process, visit www.iowadot.gov/systems_planning/mpo_rpa_planning.html. For more information about the RPAs and the regional organizations in which they are housed, visit www.iarcog.com.
 Iowa DOT (2016). Formal Documentation of the Iowa Department of Transportation’s Process for Non-Metropolitan Local Officials Consultation, www.iowadot.gov/systems_planning/pr_guide/Public%20Participation%20Process/Local-consultation-process.pdf
 Iowa DOT (2014). State of the Practice – 2014: Metropolitan and Regional Transportation Planning in Iowa, www.iowadot.gov/systems_planning/pr_guide/Planning%20Agency%20Information/State%20of%20the%20Practice/State_of_the_Practice-2014.pdf
 Iowa DOT (2014)
 Personal communication with Andrea White, June 2016
 Personal communication with Andrea White, June 2016; personal communication with Zach James, July 2016
 Southeast Iowa Regional Planning Commission (2016). Final Draft FY2017 Region 16 Transportation Planning Work Program
 Nicole Waldheim, Susan Herbel, and Carrie Kissel (2014). Integrating Safety in the Rural Transportation Planning Process, safety.fhwa.dot.gov/local_rural/training/fhwasa14102/appa.cfm; personal communication with Gena McCullough, December 2014; personal communication with Andrea White, June 2016