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Ohio

Ohio facts

After soliciting rural transportation planning proposals from existing multicounty regional development organizations (RDOs), the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) awarded two-year pilot project contracts to five organizations to form regional transportation planning organizations (RTPOs) in 2013.  These RTPOs did not cover the entire non-urbanized area of the state, but they brought regional transportation planning services to many previously unserved areas.  Before the RTPOs existed, MPOs served 32 of the state’s 88 counties and 45 percent of its roadways.  With the RTPOs adding regional transportation planning services in more places, planning organizations now serve over 70 counties and 75 percent of the roadways.[1]  The RTPOs range in size from 2 counties to 11, based on the size of the existing RDO boundaries and whether some counties fall within MPO boundaries.  Additional multi-county regions of the state are investigating forming RTPOs outside of metropolitan regions that have engaged in regional planning.[2]

In January 2016, Governor John Kasich approved the organizations’ formal designation as RTPOs, according to U.S. Code, Title 23, Section 135 (m), the federal statute authorizing states to form RTPOs that was included in the 2012 surface transportation authorization MAP-21.

In July 2016, a sixth RTPO, Central Ohio Rural Planning Organization (CORPO), was established around the Columbus metropolitan area and is staffed by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission. CORPO has seven county members and adopted its first long-range transportation plan in 2018.

RTPO Responsibilities

As they created their bylaws and institutional structures, Ohio’s RTPOs used their existing RDO governing boards as their RTPO policy committees, with participation from area local government officials and others.  They also set about establishing transportation technical advisory committees and other committees, including a citizen advisory committee or environmental justice committee at most of the RTPOs.

The initial five regions completed their first public outreach, local official consultation process, and regional transportation plans in their initial two-year phase of work, ending in 2015.  ODOT Statewide Planning Manager Dave Moore says, “Using the RTPOs is a direct method of engaging nonmetropolitan area local governments more readily in our statewide planning program.  Prior to establishing the RTPOs, the ODOT Districts took the lead in rural consultation and effected the process themselves.  Now we have RTPOs with a staff of at least one or two people to work on transportation in the region and represent local governments in the planning process.”

Map of Ohio RTPOs
Click to enlarge (Courtesy Ohio DOT)

Maumee Valley Planning Organization Transportation Planner Ellen Smith agrees, “In a way, we’ve become like an arm of ODOT.  We can hear the region’s needs within the RTPO, and we may understand them in a different way than they would at the state level.  We can take those issues back to ODOT and give them a more local perspective.  The RTPO has brought a new level of regional coordination to our counties, but we’ve been able to help each of them individually, too.”

To assist with their planning and analysis, ODOT gave the RTPOs access to a great deal of data about the transportation system, including the state’s GIS Crash Analysis Tool (GCAT) that houses crash information about all public roads.[3]  Another technical tool developed by ODOT in 2016 is a safety program target spreadsheet with safety data by region for each RTPO and MPO in the state.  In addition to historical data and five-year rolling averages, the tool uses a linear projection for future years, as well as using projections based on the historical reduction rate of the five-year rolling average and the state’s goal of a 2 percent reduction rate to present potential scenarios and numeric targets.  This tool was developed to help the MPOs to determine a regional target for performance-based planning; although the RTPOs are not required to set performance targets, ODOT has made the data and target spreadsheet tool available for their use too.[4]

The RTPOs also are continuing to conduct technical assistance to local governments, including completing traffic counts or special planning studies such as corridor studies, safety studies, bicycle route information, truck origin/destination studies, asset management database development and analysis.   Smith says of the Maumee Valley RTPO, “The counties in our region have many of the same experiences and similar needs, such as general road and bridge maintenance, but they also have some unique needs.  We’ve been able to help communities further investigate those issues.”

New two-year contracts added more responsibilities in 2015.  The RTPOs are identifying local needs to complete their first transportation improvement programs (TIPs), a major new deliverable in this second phase.  This will be an important step, as the RTPOs formalize their planning and help communities to identify specific projects that ultimately may be funded in the statewide planning process.  Over time, TIP development will help the regions to implement goals and specific projects in the long-range plans the initial five RTPOs finalized in 2015.[5] As noted earlier, CORPO completed its first long-range plan in 2018.

Delivering projects is a key outcome for the RTPOs.  Moore says, “It’s important to have the RTPOs assist their member local governments with securing funding to address the very real transportation needs within rural Ohio.”  Some of the smaller local governments may not be aware of all of the funding opportunities available that might fit their project needs.

Delivering projects assists with buy-in into the transportation planning process.  “There needs to be some funding to keep everybody coming back to the table.  Many communities have projects that need just a small amount of extra funding to be completed,” Smith says.  To move projects forward, the RTPOs assist the local governments with completing grant applications for federal funding programs such as the Highway Safety Improvement Program, which is popular because funds can be used on all public roads and because small projects can be completed.  State funding, including the Ohio Public Works Program and other programs for maintenance and economic development, meets other types of project needs.

In addition to its investments in the RTPOs’ planning and delivery processes, ODOT has invested in their professional growth by including the development of technical expertise as an element in the RTPOs’ scopes of work.  “In order to be an effective transportation advocate for their member local governments, the RTPOs needed to understand transportation.  Heretofore, the agencies we’ve contracted with have worked on community and economic development programs for many years, but what they didn’t have was transportation planning experience.  Professional development and training are critical components of providing a full-service transportation program for their regions,” says Moore.

ODOT has also provided financial support to some of the state’s MPOs to serve as mentors to the new RTPOs since 2013 and applied to FHWA for funding support to hold a peer exchange with an RTPO in a neighboring state.  This mentor network has resulted in close relationships between the rural transportation planning professionals and metropolitan planning staff, who have offered guidance on a range of organizational issues and technical analyses and assisted with developing the RTPOs’ first regional plans.[6]

The mentor relationships have been fruitful for the MPO staff as well as for the RTPOs.  Two largely metropolitan regions, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission and Miami Valley Regional Planning Commission staff multi-county MPOs but also serve rural counties outside the MPO boundaries.  For both, assisting with the development of rural planning programs and plans as mentors led commission staff to reach out to rural counties adjacent to the MPO to discuss local interest in developing new RTPOs, creating their own regional rural plans to lay out strategies, and assisting localities with applying for funds for projects.  One of the emerging RTPOs was established as CORPO and is staffed by MORPC, while the other region continues to discuss the details of forming a new entity.[7]

The RTPOs also participate in meetings of the Ohio Association of Regional Councils Transportation Committee, a group of MPO and RTPO professionals, ODOT, and FHWA division staff who meet every other month.  This forum allows for shared networking, professional development, and coordination on issues of shared concern among metropolitan and rural regions and at multiple levels of government.[8]

To complete their responsibilities, the RTPOs are provided a base allocation of funding of $55,000 per year, plus additional funds distributed by a formula based on their population and geographic size.  Their ODOT contracts are funded 80 percent by FHWA SPR funds, 10 percent by state funds, and each RTPO provides the final 10 percent in local match.

For more information on Ohio’s RTPOs, visit http://www.dot.state.oh.us.

[1] Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission (2015).  2040 Long Range Transportation Plan, www.ovrdc.org/rtpo

[2] Personal communication with Andrew Shepler, March 2016, Thea Walsh and William Murdock, April 2016, and Brian Martin, April 2016

[3] Waldheim, Nicole, Susan Herbel, and Carrie Kissel (2014). Integrating Safety in the Rural Transportation Planning Process, safety.fhwa.dot.gov/local_rural/training/fhwasa14102

[4] Personal communication with Dave Moore, March 2016

[5] Personal communication with Bret Allphin, October 2015

[6] Personal communication with Dave Moore, March 2016; Bret Allphin, October 2015; and Ed Davis, December 2014

[7] Personal communication with Thea Walsh and William Murdock, April 2016, and Brian Martin, April 2016

[8] Personal communication with Dave Moore, March 2016

RTPO Models

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