Although Michigan’s regional planning agencies (RPAs) have assisted Michigan DOT (MDOT) with statewide planning tasks since 1975, their roles and responsibilities have evolved in more recent years. They have worked in partnership with MDOT to assist in fulfilling federal planning requirements and the state’s Highway Performance Monitoring System (HPMS). Starting in 2002, the regions were asked to partner in the state’s Transportation Asset Management Program, and other planning tasks have been added since then.
The asset management program is a joint effort of the state DOT, county road commissions, municipalities and the RPAs. The 13 regions are provided approximately $1 million each year to conduct an inventory of all public roadways in the state, including 39,000 miles of federal-aid eligible highways. This amount is in addition to the $500,000 funding allocation for the regional transportation planning activities for the rural areas of the state.
Since the inventory data is used in the distribution of state and local project dollars, the inventories are performed by a joint inspection team that must include a state DOT, road commission and RPA representative. The involvement of municipalities is optional.
The teams travel in state vans with laptops equipped with Roadsoft software and GPS technology. The crews rate the conditions of each roadway based on a Pavement Surface Evaluation and Rating (PASER) rating between 1 and 10. From that information, county-level maps and data tables are generated to aid analysis. The process helps state and local officials make funding decisions based on the needs and conditions of the transportation system, rather than politics. It is also an innovative partnership model between state, regional, and local agencies.
Supporting Local Consultation in Statewide Planning
In 1987, the Michigan legislature passed two laws, Act 231 and Act 233, which created the state’s Transportation Economic Development Funds and also called for the establishment of regional Rural Task Forces (RTFs). Starting in 2012, began to contract with the state’s RPAs to complete additional tasks related to the participation of local officials and the general public in statewide planning in nonmetropolitan areas, including through the RTFs. With assistance from the RPAs, counties conduct local project selection meetings to reach consensus on what projects will be submitted to the rural task force from their county.
Then, the regional-level Rural Task Forces identify and discuss projects to submit to MDOT to be considered for inclusion in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for roadway and transit projects eligible for Surface Transportation Block Grant funds and Michigan’s Transportation Economic Development Funds. The RTF membership includes local officials from nonmetropolitan county road commissions and municipalities, as well as modal representatives such as local transit agencies, and MDOT. Of the state’s 83 counties, 78 are served by 22 RTFs, and supported by the RPAs. The RTF project priority lists must be fiscally constrained according to the annual allocation targets provided by MDOT, which occurs according to a statewide formula, although regions can agree to borrow funds from one another to complete larger projects. At RTF meetings, MDOT also reports back to the region’s stakeholders on any updates on projects occurring within the region. 
Other RPA tasks include assisting with access management training for local communities, participating in air quality planning for rural non-attainment counties, supporting the state’s Heritage Route program for routes and communities within the region, collect information for non-motorized transportation planning and produce maps, and conduct rural safety planning.
Connecting Transportation to Prosperity
In 2013, Michigan began the Regional Prosperity Initiative (RPI), an effort led by Governor Rick Snyder to incentivize higher levels of collaboration among RPAs, MPOs, and service delivery agencies and the development of a five-year Regional Prosperity Plan. Through a grant program, RPAs and MPOs can apply for funding to develop the plan and, at potentially higher levels of funding, also coordinate on shared services and decision-making.
Some regions have already adopted their Regional Prosperity Plans. Framework for Our Future: A Regional Prosperity Plan for Northwest Michigan was completed in 2014 and contains several sections with in-depth analysis on a variety of planning topics. Throughout the document, the plan focuses on developing and maintaining regional talent, community and quality of life, and business-friendly policies. For the transportation section of the larger prosperity plan is a comprehensive plan in itself, analyzing the region’s existing network, challenges, and goal areas for transportation supporting prosperity. The plan chapter also analyzes local governments’ plans for their impacts on transportation and opportunities to plan for different modes of transportation. With an eye toward plan implementation, the region developed a local implementation checklist for communities to use in their planning and zoning to address transportation and outlined specific actions tied to the plan’s transportation strategies.
The RPAs and MPOs are also working to address transit mobility within the Regional Prosperity Initiative regions. West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission, West Michigan Regional Planning Commission, and other partners within the RPI region developed a survey to document individual mobility needs and ability to use existing transit services, which was distributed through transit partners across the region. Regional analysis was provided to MDOT in supportive of a statewide mobility effort.
In most of the state, the RPI boundaries do not match exactly with individual RPA boundaries, so most RPAs working on Regional Prosperity Plans are collaborating with other RPAs, MPOs, and other partners. The Rural Task Forces for transportation planning also operate under different boundaries, and RPAs may support more than one RTF within their region.
For more information on Michigan’s Rural Task Force program, visit www.michigan.gov/mdot/0,1607,7-151-9621_17216_54903—,00.html. For information on Michigan’s RPAs, visit www.miregions.com. To learn about the Regional Prosperity Initiative, go to http://www.michigan.gov/dtmb/0,5552,7-150-66155—,00.html.
 West Michigan Shoreline Regional Development Commission (2014). West Michigan Regional Transportation Planning Program
 MDOT (2013). Statewide Guidelines and Operating Procedures: Rural Funding and Planning Coordination with Regional Planning Agencies, www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/Statewide_Guidelines_and_Operating_Procedures_Final_-_8.121013_442956_7.pdf
 Michigan Department of Technology, Management, and Budget (2013). Regional Prosperity Initiative, http://www.michigan.gov/dtmb/0,5552,7-150-66155—,00.html
 Networks Northwest (2014). Framework for Our Future: A Regional Prosperity Plan for Northwest Michigan
 WMSRDC (2015). “WMSRDC Participating in Governor Snyder’s Regional Transit Mobility Initiative,” http://wmsrdc.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Aprilmay-2015.pdf