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Number of Rural Planning Organizations: 4 Total annual funding: $346,000 – $390,000 (80% federal funds, 10% state match, 10% local match) Date established rural transportation planning program: 1992 Since 1992, the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation has used a forward-thinking and robust program to reach the regions of the state that are not served by MPOs. The state partners with and funds four of the state’s regional development organizations (known locally as local development districts) to conduct rural transportation planning activities through rural planning organizations (RPOs).  New areas in Pennsylvania were designated as urbanized after Census 2010, but before that, PennDOT also supported additional multicounty and single-county RPOs that became MPOs serving the state’s new urbanized areas.[1]  Membership in the RPOs is voluntary, but almost all of the nonmetropolitan areas of the state participate.  Ninety-four percent of municipalities in Pennsylvania are served by either an RPO or an MPO.[2]  RPO members include county officials, representatives of the major modes of transportation, PennDOT, and other transportation stakeholders.[3]

Major Planning Activities

Notably, the state provides its RPOs with the same status as MPOs. State, regional and local decision-makers participate in the transportation planning programs of the four RPO regions via technical advisory and policy committees. Each RPO is responsible for identifying and prioritizing transportation issues and opportunities within their regions through a strategic long-range planning process and shorter-range TIP that is incorporated into the STIP.  Each RPO receives an allocation of funding to program, based on a formula, and the plans are based on the funding assumptions developed jointly with PennDOT.[4]  Every project included in the long-range plan or TIP goes through a screening process that links planning to environmental considerations according to the National Environmental Protection Act.[5]

The RPOs conduct transportation studies and make recommendations regarding the planning and implementation of transportation projects. In addition, the RPOs may provide geographic information system (GIS) services to state and local agencies and provide technical assistance to transit, emergency responders and other transportation stakeholders.

Map of Pennsylvania's RPO boundaries
Click to enlarge (Courtesy PennDOT)

The RPOs also receive some Local Technical Assistance Program (LTAP) funding from PennDOT to market and coordinate LTAP trainings for local governments within the RPOs’ service area and to identify training needs. This partnership with the RPOs helps Pennsylvania’s LTAP program to target trainings to specific regional audiences.[6]

Work Groups

In addition to regular meetings that all MPO and RPO planning partners attend, PennDOT has formed work groups to focus on particular topics.  Each work group has a membership that includes representatives of rural, small metro, and large metro regions, as well as the state (including transportation modal offices as appropriate) and FHWA division staff.  The work group’s role is to develop guidance for all planning regions in the state to follow.  One work group produces financial guidance, which guides the funding assumptions made within each region’s planning process.  Another shapes the development of the regions’ planning work programs by identifying the range of tasks, and expectations for those types of tasks, that regions can complete with their allocated planning budget.  The guidance is cooperatively developed by the regional, state, and federal representatives, and all regions refer to the guidance developed by the work groups when putting together their own local planning and process deliverables.[7]

According to both state and local officials, the RPO planning process has helped build professional capacity at the local level, bring attention to the long-range planning needs of rural areas and generate plans more closely aligned to community interests. It has also raised awareness of local economic development activities and improved the coordination between statewide plans and regional initiatives. With funding support from the state and other sources, each region engages in a wide range of special projects and studies that address locally identified issues either through their regular work program or with special supplemental planning funds.  The institutionalized structures for considering local input, using it to program projects and shape plans, and ensuring regular communication between state and regional actors through the regional transportation committees and the statewide work groups has supported the success of the RPO effort since it was established.


[1] Personal communication with Jim Saylor, Alan Baranski, 2014

[2] PennDOT (2014). SPR Work Program,

[3] Penndot (2014). Twelve-Year Work Program

[4] Personal communication with Amy Kessler, December 2015

[5] Northwest Commission (2016). Northwest RPO 2016 – 2018 UPWP; Southern Alleghenies PDC (2016).

[6] PennDOT (2014). SPR Work Program,

[7] Personal communication with Amy Kessler, December 2015

RTPO Models


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