Transportation Deal Reached; Draft Conference Report Includes Regional Transportation Planning Organizations

Posted on: June 28th, 2012 by NADO Admin

After nearly 20 years of effort, NADO and its members have made substantial progress in promoting Regional/Rural Transportation Planning Organizations as part of the final SAFETEA-LU reauthorization conference report filed late last night.  While we still have many hours of analysis and reading ahead, we wanted to provide a brief overview of the key statewide transportation planning provisions, including impact on non-metropolitan local officials’ input to state DOTs.  The final compromise incorporates a significant number of NADO’s proposals on this subject, although we still have major challenges in a few sections. (Click here for bill text (pages 99 – 126) and click here for statement of managers – conference report language on statewide and metropolitan planning.)

In addition to thanking the countless number of members and partners (especially NACo) who have pushed this issue forward, we also want to publicly thank Chairman Jimmy Duncan (R-TN), Reps. Tim Walz (D-MN) and Richard Hanna (R-NY), and Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for championing the RTPO and rural local official language.  We are also very appreciative of the willingness of the “Big 4” committee leaders on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and Senate Banking Committee and Environment and Public Works Committee to compromise on this important issue.  We will be thanking all of these key leaders once the bill is complete.

If passed by Congress and enacted by the President, the final SAFETEA-LU reauthorization compromise:

  • Establishes a formal definition and scope of work for Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs) to serve areas outside the boundaries of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs).  It states that “a State may establish and designate regional transportation planning organizations to enhance the planning, coordination, and implementation of statewide strategic long-range transportation plans and transportation improvement programs, with an emphasis on addressing the needs of nonmetropolitan areas of the State.” There is currently no reference or definition for RTPOs and their potential work programs in federal law.
  • Requires states to “cooperate” with nonmetropolitan local officials (or if applicable, through RTPOs) in carrying out the planning sections of the bill and in the development of the Long-Range Statewide Transportation Plan with respect to nonmetropolitan areas. However, the final deal retains current language that the U.S. DOT Secretary shall not review or approve the consultation process in each state.
  • Outlines that states shall, to the maximum extent practicable, develop a consultative process for nonmetropolitan local official involvement (including through RTPOs) that is “separate and discrete” from the public involvement process.  This was a major priority of NADO.
  • Allows states to “consult” with nonmetropolitan local officials (or if applicable, through RTPOs) in the development of the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) with respect to nonmetropolitan areas. (The STIP is the 4 year program for project investments.) Similar to the Long-Range planning section, the final deal retains the current prohibition that the U.S. DOT Secretary shall not review or approve the consultation process in each state.
  • Clarifies that certain categories of federal highway projects for areas of less than 50,000 would be selected by the state “in cooperation” with affected nonmetropolitan local officials (of if applicable, through RTPOs).  For National Highway System, Interstate maintenance and bridge, and sections 5310, 5311, 5316 and 5317 transit projects, the state will select projects “in consultation” with affected nonmetropolitan local officials.
  • Under the structure of RTPOs, a fiscal and administrative agent, such as an existing regional planning and development organization, shall be selected to provide professional planning, management and administrative support.  The bill would also require RTPOs to form a policy committee and carry out specific planning and coordination activities.
  • If a State chooses not to establish or designate RTPOs, the state shall “consult” with affected nonmetropolitan local officials to determine projects that may be of regional significance.  This provision remains a major concern for NADO in states without a formal and well defined process for rural local elected official involvement in the statewide transportation planning and programming processes.

For MPOs, the final deal also:

  • Retains the current population threshold for all MPOs (existing and new) for urbanized areas of 50,000 or greater.  Transportation Management Areas (TMAs) would also remain at 200,000 or greater population.  The conference committee rejected the Senate plan to establish Tier 1, Tier 2 and Nonmetropolitan Planning Organizations within the MPO program.
  • Requires states to coordinate with MPOs on performance measures for performance-based plans.
  • Allocates a portion of modified Transportation Enhancement program resources to TMAs in areas above 200,000.

Among the other rural highlights:

  • Extends the Secure Rural Schools program by one year, as proposed by the Senate, with clarification that funds for eligible Title III projects under the program must be obligated by the end of the following fiscal year but not necessarily initiated.
  • Extends by one year the full funding for the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program.
  • Maintains the existing structure for public transportation in rural areas, while incorporating the rural component of the “Job Access and Reverse Commute” program into the 5311 formula.
  • Establishes a new “Appalachian Development Public Transportation Program” to distribute $20 million to states within the Appalachian region.

Overall, the final compromise extends federal highway, transit and safety programs until the end of FY2014, consolidates the number of federal highway programs by two-thirds (increasing allocations to states), places a significant focus on project streamlining and performance measures, and establishes new policies and goals to improve freight movement.  The final deal does NOT include language requiring presidential approval of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Key resources for Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21):

This entry was posted in Latest News, Transportation Policy, Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.