Project Prioritization: RPO Characteristics

The NADO Research Foundation received responses from 184 organizations that conduct either small metropolitan or rural regional-level transportation planning.  This included 180 responses from rural and small metropolitan RDOs located in 30 states, as well as responses from an additional four RDOs that staff small MPOs (and not RPOs).

As a result of the characteristics of the respondents, this analysis focuses mainly on rural planning. Forty-eight of the 180 responding organizations (27 percent) administer a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) in addition to a rural transportation planning program.  The majority of these regions contain urbanized populations under 200,000, so they are not considered to be transportation management areas (TMAs, which have additional responsibilities reflecting their larger population base).  In addition, approximately one-third of the respondents reported that there was an MPO within their service area that their organization does not staff.

Of the respondents that have an RPO in-house, the vast majority (92 percent) operate under a contract or agreement with their state department of transportation (DOT).  Figure 1 identifies when regional level rural transportation planning commenced in each state.  Sixteen RPOs (12 percent) established agreements before 1980, 7 RPOs (5 percent) established agreements in the 1980s, 54 (39 percent) established agreements in the 1990s, and 61 (44 percent) established agreements since 2000. A few respondents (7 percent) established RPOs without assistance from their state DOT; these respondents were mainly located in Texas and New York.

Rural transportation planning programs examined in this scan serve as few as one county, although the vast majority serves up to 10 counties.  The population of the area served by rural transportation planning programs in the scan ranges broadly, from under 50,000 to over 200,000.  One-third of RPOs reported serving fewer than 100,000 persons, one-third reported serving between 100,000 and 200,000 persons, and one-third reported serving 200,000 or more persons.  Because rural planning organizations typically serve a multi-county region, it is not uncommon to serve a population over 50,000 (the current minimum population threshold for designation as an MPO).  These regions do not contain an urban hub of 50,000 or greater, even if their total population is greater than that threshold.

As shown in Figure 1, the annual contract amount provided to RPOs by their state DOTs to carry out rural transportation planning services ranges from under $25,000 to over $125,000 per year.  The greatest percentage of RPOs received between $50,000 and $74,999 from their state DOT (38 percent), followed by $125,000 or more (16 percent) and $75,000 to $99,999 (15 percent).  Over 82 percent of RPOs receive at least $50,000 from their state DOTs for rural transportation planning services.

State DOTs provide funds for rural transportation planning services from a number of different sources.  The majority of RPOs (57 percent) identified the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Statewide Planning and Research (SPR) program as a source of funds, followed by state transportation funds (39 percent) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) State Planning and Research Program (SPRP) (14 percent).  Other sources of funds for rural transportation planning services include local funds, federal surface transportation program (STP) funds, FTA Section 5311 (non-urbanized area) formula grants, and FTA 5317 New Freedom grant funds.  Many regions use a combination of funding sources.

Nearly half (47 percent) of responding RPOs reported that their state DOT grants required a match of 20 percent or more.  About a quarter (28 percent) reported that their grants required a 10 or 15 percent match.  Another quarter (25 percent) of RPOs reported that no match was required for their state DOT grants for rural transportation planning.  RPOs match state DOT grants with funds from a number of different sources.  Local cash funds account for two-thirds (67 percent) of matching funds.  RPOs also use other council of governments (COG) or regional planning commission (RPC) funds (15 percent) and a mix of local cash funds and in-kind support (9 percent) to meet state DOT match requirements.

Staffing levels are generally small at most RPOs, as seen in Figure 5.  The number of individuals that are identified as involved in transportation planning activities ranges from .5 to 7 people, although these individuals are not necessarily all dedicated to transportation planning full-time.  One individual staff person (.5 or 1 full-time equivalent positions) working on rural transportation was the most common response (32 percent), while another 30 percent of respondents have two staff members, and 20 percent have three.  The most common staff position is that of planner (53 percent of responding organizations), followed by GIS professional (46 percent), planning director (42 percent), senior planner (38 percent), as well as regional development specialist and mobility manager (both 9 percent).  It is common for the individuals who work on rural transportation planning to have responsibilities in additional program areas and to draw their salaries from multiple grants or contracts (Figure 6).  These responsibilities include technical assistance to local governments (73 percent), grant writing (65 percent), GIS (61 percent), land use planning (52 percent), economic development planning (48 percent), administration (36 percent), hazard mitigation planning (33 percent), environmental planning (27 percent), and MPO planning (27 percent). Figure 1 States with regional rural transportation planning programs, time range that rural planning was established, and range of funding for rural planning contracts with state departments of transportation.  Information is self-reported.  Where responses vary among regions within a state, the most common response is presented.  East/Northeast: Connecticut: 1990s, $50,000 - $74,999 per year; Maine: 1990s, >$125,000 per year; Massachusetts: 1970s, $75,000 – $99,999 per year; New Hampshire: 1990s, >$125,000 per year; New York: program established in one region in 2000s, <$25,000 per year; Pennsylvania: 1990s, >$125,000 per year; Vermont: 1990s, >$125,000 per year;  Southeast: Alabama: 2000s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Florida: program established in 2000s in a few regions, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Georgia: 2000s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Kentucky: 1990s, $75,000 – $99,999 per year; North Carolina: 2000s, $100,000 – $125,000 per year; South Carolina: 1990s, $75,000 – $99,999 per year; Tennessee: 2000s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Virginia: 1990s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year;  Midwest: Illinois: 2000s for coordinated planning, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Indiana: 2000s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Iowa: 1990s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Michigan: 1970s, $25,000 – $49,999 per year; Missouri: 2000s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Minnesota: 1980s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year; Wisconsin: 1970s, $50,000 – $74,999 per year;  West/Southwest: Arizona: 1970s, >$125,000 per year; California: 1980s, >$125,000 per year; Colorado: 1990s, <$25,000 per year; New Mexico: 1990s, $50,000 - $74,999 per year; Oklahoma: voluntary planning program established in the 2000s in a few regions with no state funding; Oregon: 1990s, $25,000 - $49,999 per year; Texas: voluntary planning program established in the 2000s with no state funding, contracts for coordinated transportation funded at $50,000 - $74,999; Utah: program established in the 2000s in a few pilot regions, <$25,000 per year; Washington: 1990s, $50,000 - $74,999 per year

 

Figure 1. States with regional rural transportation planning programs, time range that rural planning was established, and range of funding for rural planning contracts with state departments of transportation.  This information is self-reported.  Where the date of establishment and funding levels vary among regions within a state, the most common response is presented.

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Regional Development Researcher Andrew Coker joined the NADO team in March of 2023 after spending two and a half years as the Regional Economic Resiliency Coordinator at West Central Arkansas Planning and Development District. Andrew holds a bachelor’s degree from Hendrix College and a master’s degree from the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service.

At NADO, Andrew conducts research on the newest economic and community development best practices from Economic Development Districts across the country. He helps produce easily digestible information on complex regional issues through case studies, tip sheets, and research reports. Andrew also hosts training and professional development opportunities including conference sessions and virtual webinars for member regional development organizations.

Andrew is one of our Missouri-based team members and enjoys reading and training for his next triathlon.

Jack Morgan came to the NADO team in 2022 after seven years with the National Association of Counties (NACo) as a Program and Senior Program Manager. Prior to NACo, Jack was a Policy Analyst for Friends of Southwest Virginia. Jack holds a bachelor’s in geography from Emory & Henry College and a master’s in geography from Appalachian State University.

As a NADO Senior Program Manager, Jack leads capacity-building and peer-learning work supporting energy communities in economic transition, regional resilience, and recreation economies. He also helps with the EDA-Austin training program Emerging Leaders.

Jack is certified by the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP) and is a member of the American Planning Association (APA) in the Regional & Intergovernmental Planning division. He also serves on the Emory & Henry College Alumni Board.

Taking road trips, reading non-fiction, and indulging in top-notch barbecue and coffee round out Jack’s days. He loves maps, mountains, and of course, all things sports.

Karron Grant joined the NADO team in 2023 as Administrative Specialist and is the first face (or voice) you’ll see or hear when reaching out to NADO. As Administrative Specialist, Karron manages our database and coordinates NADO event operations. He ensures members’ needs are met, contact information stays current, and NADO’s office is running efficiently.

Karron came to NADO after four years in the classroom teaching at The New Century School and Old Mill Middle North where he received the Patriot of the Year award. He attended Towson University and the University of Maryland Global Campus and holds a bachelor’s in international studies and humanities.

Visiting art galleries and museums, playing basketball and bowling, and taking in movies and music are some of Karron’s interests and hobbies.

Deputy Executive Director Laurie Thompson has been with NADO for 25 years. Laurie helps keep the NADO and NADO Research Foundation wheels turning through management of the daily operations of the Research Foundation, securing financial resources and overseeing grants management, and helping execute NADO’s Annual Training Conference each year.

Laurie holds a bachelor’s in public affairs and government from Mount Vernon College and a master’s in health services administration from The George Washington University. Prior to NADO, Laurie spent time as a Field Specialist and an Eagle Staff Fund Director at First Nations Development Institute.

When she’s taking a rare reprieve from her NADO work, Laurie enjoys traveling domestically and internationally to visit friends and family.

Jamie McCormick joined the NADO team as a Policy Fellow first in 2019, then moved into her current role as Legislative Associate in 2021. As Legislative Associate, Jamie keeps NADO members apprised of any policy and regulatory issues and communicates NADO’s policy priorities to federal stakeholders and partner organizations. She is also the first stop for members with inquiries on policy issues. The planning and executive of NADO & DDAA’s annual Washington Conference is also managed by Jamie.

Jamie holds a dual bachelor’s in political science and international relations from The State University of New York College at Geneseo and a master’s in international development studies from The George Washington University. In addition to her roles at NADO, Jamie also worked as a Legislative Assistant for the Northeastern Retail Lumber Association.

Outside of her NADO work, Jamie is an active volunteer with the VOLO Kids Foundation and a fundraiser for YMCA youth programs. She is also NADO’s resident baker regularly providing treats for those in NADO’s D.C. office. Traveling, taking her pup on walks, and hiking in the northeast keep Jamie busy. 

Brett Schwartz began at NADO in 2012 as a Research Fellow after earning his J.D. from the University of Baltimore School of Law. The following year, he was promoted to Program Manager and has now been leading as an Associate Director since 2018. Brett is responsible for managing NADO’s Economic Development District Community of Practice (EDD CoP), as well as researching and monitoring the latest trends in regional economic development and resilience, including best practices for the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy (CEDS). With more than a decade of experience on the NADO team, Brett is a dynamic relationship builder helping connect and build capacity among the national network of regional development organizations.

Brett also holds a bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University and a master’s from Trinity College Dublin, as well as a certificate in mediation training. He’s a member of Catalyst Grantmakers of San Diego and Imperial Counties and was a participant in the 2021-22 Field Trips to the Future Cohort.

Brett is one of NADO’s West Coast team members residing in San Diego, CA where he enjoys spending time outdoors, attending concerts and festivals, and soaking up life as a parent of two young children.  

Communications Manager Katie Allison joined the team in 2023 to lead the strategic communication efforts of NADO. Katie creates and develops print and online materials, communicates NADO’s updates to members via weekly emails, and maintains content for nado.org and NADO’s social media channels. She also works with different departments to generate new ideas and strategies to effectively describe and promote the important work NADO is doing for EDDs and RDOs across the country.

An experienced nonprofit communications professional, Katie has worked for organizations in western North Carolina for nearly a decade. She holds a bachelor’s in communications from Wingate University where she was a four-year student athlete. Katie has also completed Vision Henderson County, a comprehensive leadership development program that promotes informed and committed civic volunteerism.

Katie stays busy trying to keep up with her two young sons whom she enjoys exploring the Blue Ridge Mountains with. Traveling to new and favorite places and cheering on the Atlanta Braves are some of their favorite pastimes.

Senior Program Manager Ciara Ristig has been a member of the NADO team since 2021, and helps with NADO’s EDD Community of Practice, EDD staff capacity building and other grants on a range of subjects, including equity and solar energy. Before NADO, Ciara worked as a Planner for the County of Santa Barbara and an Assistant Project Manager for REM Consult. Ciara holds a bachelor’s in urban studies and French from Bryn Mawr and a master’s in urban studies from Ecole d’Urbanisme de Paris.

When she’s not traveling, you can find her outrigger paddling and serving on the board of the Blue Sky Center in New Cuyama, CA, near her home base of Santa Barbara.

Carrie Kissel has been a member of the NADO team since 2005 when she began as a Research Fellow. She later moved into the roles of Program Manager in 2006, and then Associate Director in 2011. Carrie holds a bachelor’s in anthropology from Ball State University and a master’s in public anthropology from American University. As Associate Director, Carrie oversees NADO’s work in rural transportation and rural wealth creation. She provides technical assistance and support to rural regions on transportation and economic development issues and develops training and peer exchange events on transportation issues and rural wealth creation as an economic development strategy.

Carrie is a member of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) and secretary of TRB’s Rural Transportation Issues Coordinating Council. She is also a member of the American Anthropological Association and the National Association for the Practice of Anthropology.

Reading, gardening, hiking, and kayaking are a few of Carrie’s hobbies, and she organizes and facilitates a DEI/social justice-focused book club in her community.

Melissa Levy has worked at NADO as a Regional Development Researcher since February 2023 and is the Principal Consultant at her own firm specializing in wealth-based economic development consulting. With a career spanning nearly 30 years, Melissa brings a breadth of knowledge to her role as a Regional Development Researcher. Melissa provides in-depth research, coaching, and training on regional economic resilience, rural wealth creation strategies, and economic development.

Melissa is a North American Food Systems Network trained AgriCluster Resilience and Expansion (ACRE) facilitator and a WealthWorks coach, facilitator, and trainer. In addition to her professional work, Melissa serves on the Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Council, on the board of the Hinesburg Community Resource Center, and on the Hinesburg Economic Development Committee.

A true outdoorswoman, Melissa enjoys cross country and downhill skiing, paddleboarding, hiking, biking, and kayaking, as well as yoga, and teaching Tai Chi.

Program Manager Krishna Kunapareddy began her role with NADO in February of 2023 after 14 years of service at Boonslick Regional Planning Commission in Missouri. Krishna manages NADO Research Foundation’s Planning and Environmental Linkages and Center for Environmental Excellence projects. In addition to researching and writing, Krishna also conducts virtual workshops on innovative tools and techniques related to transportation planning.

She holds an undergraduate degree from Andhra University and a master’s from JNT University in India, as well as a master’s in city and regional planning from the University of Texas at Arlington. Krishna is also a certified Smart Cities Academy Practitioner and holds the Location Advantage certificate from geographic information system software company ESRI.

In her spare time, Krishna volunteers with Mentors4College helping high schoolers better plan for their post-high school paths. She is also a dedicated advocate for documented H4 Dreamers.

Krystal DeLeon joined the NADO team in October of 2020 as Database & Grants Manger, but in January of 2022 transitioned to her current role as Operations Manager. Krystal keeps NADO running through behind the scenes work of invoicing, solving any database issues that may arise, producing membership reports, and much more. Her organizational skills and thorough knowledge help the NADO team operate more efficiently across all departments.

Prior to NADO, Krystal was the Conference Services Coordinator for State Services Organization. She is a Certified Meeting Professional (CMP), a licensed realtor, and holds a bachelor’s in psychology from Liberty University. When she’s not keeping NADO’s operations in order, Krystal enjoys running and rock climbing, and adventuring with her husband and son.

Senior Program Manager Bret Allphin joined NADO in April of 2022 bringing with him a wealth of knowledge after a 20-year career with Buckeye Hills Regional Council in Marietta, Ohio. In addition to his bachelor’s in political science and master’s in public affairs, Bret is licensed Geographical Information Systems Professional (GISP). He is NADO’s go-to team member for all things mapping while also supporting members with transportation and economic development technical assistance services.

An avid sports aficionado and former collegiate athlete, Bret enjoys cheering on his Cincinnati Reds, hitting the trails on his mountain bike, and improving his golf game whenever possible. Bret is an involved community member in Marietta dedicating much of his spare time to serving on local nonprofit boards.

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Joe McKinney serves as Executive Director of the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO). Headquartered in Washington DC, NADO provides advocacy, education, research, and training for the nation’s 500+ regional planning and development organizations.

Joe has thirty-one years of experience having served in city, county, regional, national association, and government management since 1991. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Public Policy Analysis from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and is a candidate for a master’s degree in Public Administration from UNC-Chapel Hill.

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