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North Carolina

Number of Rural Planning Organizations: 18 Total annual funding: $115,625 – $144,531 (80% federal funds, 20% local match) Date established: 2002Since 2002, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has implemented a major re-engineering of its consultation process with rural local officials. The change was mandated under a new state law passed in July 2000 that required the establishment of rural planning organizations (RPOs) to work cooperatively with the state to plan rural transportation systems and to advise the department on rural transportation policy (Senate Bill 1195, covered under Article 17 General Statue 136-210 through 213).

State officials worked with local officials and the existing network of regional development organizations (known locally as regional councils of government) and with counties to create an initial 20 RPOs to serve all areas outside of the existing 17 MPO boundaries. These new planning organizations were designated by the governor, similar to the MPO designation process.[1]  Under the state law, RPOs are required to serve contiguous areas of 3 – 15 counties or must have a combined minimum population of 50,000. MPOs cannot be a member of RPOs.  Each rural county must be a member of an RPO, although membership is optional for municipalities.[2]  The RPOs have a lead planning agency that is a council of governments, county, city, or other agency that staffs and administers the rural transportation planning work program.[3]

Map of Rural Planning Organizations in North Carolina
Click to enlarge (Courtesy Courtesy Matthew Day, North Carolina Association of RPOs)

The RPOs have been a useful tool for providing planning services to rural areas that have rapidly become urbanized.  In some cases, new urbanized area designations have caused RPO service areas to be added to the metropolitan planning area of existing MPOs.  As a result, two RPOs have been disbanded following the 2010 Census and their territory completely served by existing MPOs, and others’ boundaries were adjusted as metropolitan areas grew.[4]  Even with changing boundaries, the RPOs still collectively serve a significant portion of the state, with over 3 million residents served by RPOs.[5]

The state’s RPOs have formed a state association specific to their work, the North Carolina Association of RPOs (NCARPO).  The state association meets quarterly with NCDOT staff and liaises with the state’s MPO association.  The NCARPO members serve on several different working groups and committees that advance planning practice across the state by keeping other RPO staff up to date on emerging issues at the quarterly meetings and sharing work samples and methodologies with the other regions.

Major Planning Activities

The RPOs usually have two major committees that provide significant input and guidance into the work of the RPOs.  The Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) that serves as the policy entity, which includes elected officials, members of the local governments, the area’s representative on the Board of Transportation and others to guide the planning process.  The Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC) membership comprises individuals knowledgeable about transportation issues, including staff of member governments, NCDOT, transit providers, and others.  The TCC oversees the planning work and documents produced by the RPO and makes technical recommendations to the TAC.[6]

Each RPO produces several planning deliverables: a planning work program, public involvement plan, five-year planning calendar to connect short-term goals to long-term priorities of each RPO, Comprehensive Transportation Plan list of study needs, TIP project prioritization, and review and comment on local issues relating to the draft STIP.[7]

The RPOs provide several core planning services:

  • Coordinate, assist and develop local and regional plans, including Comprehensive Transportation Plans that may be requested by a local jurisdiction and completed or updated through the rural planning work program
  • Provide a forum for public participation in the transportation planning and implementation process
  • Develop and prioritize projects the organization believes should be included in the state transportation improvement program, which factor into the state’s strategic prioritization process and decisions regarding the STIP
  • Provide transportation related information to local governments[8]

The process has provided local officials with an enhanced framework to participate in the statewide and regional planning processes. It has also provided a forum for state and local officials to discuss and address issues requiring regional solutions.

For more information on the North Carolina Association of RPOs, visit, and details about the regional planning process are provided by the North Carolina DOT’s Transportation Planning Branch at

[1] Personal communication with John Marshall, June 2015

[2] NCDOT Transportation Planning Branch and NCARPO (2015). RPO Manual 2015,

[3] NCDOT (nd). Rural Planning Organizations,

[4] Personal communication with John Marshall, February 2016; Centralina COG (nd). “Gaston Urban Area MPO Expands to Encompass Lincoln and Cleveland Counties”

[5] NCARPO (nd). “Rural Regional Transportation Planning Organizations,”

[6] NCDOT (nd)

[7] NCDOT TPB (2015)

[8] NCDOT TPB (2015)

RTPO Models


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