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Number of Regional Planning Organizations serving nonmetropolitan areas: 9 Total annual funding: base level of $5,000 – $15,000 (80% federal funds, 20% state match), with an option to apply for funds for additional tasks  Date established rural transportation planning program: 1994 In Maine, the state’s regional planning organizations (RPOs) have had a contractual relationship with the Maine Department of Transportation (DOT) to support statewide planning for over 20 years, but the nature of the regional support has changed over time according to the state’s needs.  In the mid-2000s, MaineDOT charged its partners with developing regional plans and identifying priority corridors that had significance for the local and state economy.[1] Other tasks included coordination, transportation project involvement, state and local assistance, and other approved tasks.

Beginning in 2016, the regional process has refocused on a handful of core tasks related to serving as a liaison between local communities and the state and providing technical assistance.  In their liaison role, the RPOs educate communities about MaineDOT processes and transportation issues, opportunities to participate in public meetings or respond to funding opportunities, inform about upcoming projects in the state’s work plan.  RPOs provide input to MaineDOT about statewide planning studies, including long-range plans, modal plans such as transit, freight, ports, or aviation, or other studies.  The rural regions also participate in the state’s online public engagement portal known as MySidewalk and engage in regular discussions with the MaineDOT Regional Planner.[2]

The core RPO responsibilities are completed with a base level of funding, which is 25 percent of the funding the RPOs had received previously.  The remaining balance of the RPO funds, over $300,000, is still used for rural planning but not earmarked for specific regions.  Instead, the funds are pooled, and RPOs can apply to complete additional tasks, studies, or plans.  The application process begins when an RPO completes a task fund request application describing the purpose and need for the proposed effort, with a focus on solutions to issues, projects that would be competitive for funding and quick delivery, and improvements to safety, economic development, congestion, or mobility.[3]  The applications go through an approval process including both MaineDOT Regional Planners and Bureau of Planning staff.  If approved, the RPO and MaineDOT both develop cost estimates, and the task moves forward if the estimates are close or is negotiated further if the estimates are more than 10 percent different.[4]

These additional tasks can be proposed by RPOs or by MaineDOT.  Although some limited support for local technical assistance is provided through the core tasks, projects eligible for additional funds might include special studies performed by an RPO for individual localities, corridor management plans, transportation sections of local comprehensive plans, or other area plans.[5]  One example of a study being completed in 2016 in southern Maine includes conducting field review and road safety audits of high crash locations throughout the rural region.  This effort uses a systemic approach to recommend solutions to safety issues in locations based on both risk and crash history.  Although the project emphasizes low-cost solutions that can be deployed quickly, larger projects may also be identified for consideration in future MaineDOT work plans.[6]

[1] David Cole (2011). Connecting the D•O•T•S, A Guide for Connecting with Your Department of Transportation

[2] MaineDOT (2016).  Cooperative Agreement Assignment Letter for RPOs

[3] MaineDOT (2016). Regional Planning Work Plan Task Proposal

[4] MaineDOT (2015). Regional Planning Grants

[5] MaineDOT (2015). Regional Planning Grants

[6] Personal communication with Tom Reinauer, July 2016

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