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GAO Releases Report on Statewide, Rural Planning

In This Article:

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report in 2010 on statewide transportation planning, including the role of rural planning organizations (RPOs) in working with state departments of transportation (DOTs) to assist with regional non-metropolitan planning and consultation with rural officials.

The report, titled Statewide Transportation Planning: Opportunities Exist to Transition to Performance-based Planning and Federal Oversight, is based on research that GAO conducted on state DOT and RPO practices and attitudes in planning. Many NADO members responded to GAO’s survey on rural transportation planning, and those responses are presented in the report.

Significant findings related to rural planning included that 25 DOTs reported having contracts with RPOs to fulfill local official consultation requirements, and 11 other states reported that some rural planning activities occur without a formal contract. In the survey of regional planning and development organizations, 63 percent reported that they were satisfied that the state’s consultation process gave their region’s transportation needs sufficient consideration. Regional organizations were more likely to be satisfied with the process if they had helped to prioritize projects or had received planning funds from the state DOT. Most RPOs also responded positively about their ability to participate in state DOT research and outreach activities, but were less satisfied with their participation in prioritizing projects or allocating funds for rural areas.

GAO found several other results relating to overall statewide planning. These include that the primary obstacles in conducting statewide planning include inadequate and uncertain funding for the level of infrastructure needs, challenges in conducting meaningful public involvement, and compliance and administrative burdens. In addition, most performance-based planning efforts involve the inclusion of broad goals and objectives in statewide plans, but most states do not set specific targets to track progress toward meeting those goals.

Respondents to GAO’s interviews suggested a framework to move toward more advanced performance-based planning. The framework includes setting national transportation goals to set a clear direction, collaboratively develop performance measures for the planning process, identify appropriate quantitative performance targets, and revise the federal role in overseeing transportation planning through legislation to focus on outcomes rather than compliance with planning process.

To view the full report and supplemental material, visit http://www.gao.gov/products/GAO-11-77.

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