Using GIS to Improve Decision Making and Project Tracking in North Carolina

Two conference speakers responding to audience questions while sitting at tableOn April 25, 2013, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation held the Rural Planning Organizations (RPO) America Peer Symposium in Greenville, SC.  This event was sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and was held in conjunction with the National Rural Transportation Peer Learning Conference, an annual meeting organized by the NADO Research Foundation and Development District Association of Appalachia.  The Symposium brought together transportation professionals from across the nation and addressed how rural and small metro regions and their partners have improved the planning and implementation process of vital transportation projects by strengthening communications and collaboration across state, regional, and local agencies.

One noteworthy presentation was by Paul Black, Director of the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization (FBRMPO), which is a program housed in and staffed by the Land-of-Sky Regional Council.  The presentation was entitled From Cradle to Construction: Planning for Transportation Infrastructure, documenting the MPO’s efforts to streamline the planning process and seek alignment among multiple plans and policies.

Box 1. French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization

Location: Western North Carolina

Area Served by MPO: Buncombe, Haywood, and Henderson Counties; and the Cities of Asheville, Biltmore Forest, Black Mountain, Canton, Clyde, Flat Rock, Fletcher, Hendersonville, Laurel Park, Maggie Valley, Mills River, Montreat, Waynesville, Weaverville, and Woodfin

Need / Motivation for Initiative

In order to ensure that project decisions went through a consensus-based approach, were consistent across plans, and represented the best possible decisionmaking, the French Broad River MPO mapped projects from a variety of plans with different data sets. Understanding the exact project scope and sequence of timing for related projects is critical to amending plans so that they reconcile and inform the region’s prioritization process as they select projects for inclusion in the region’s Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

Map of planning area for French Broad River MPO and neighboring Land-of-Sky RPOBlack observed that a disconnect had been occurring, where new projects that had not been through the strategic planning and consensus-building process of other plans were being included in their TIP, while other projects identified in the region’s Long-Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) according to the region’s goals and objectives had not moved forward.

While acknowledging that plans and priorities do change over time, Black noted, “The region had worked through the planning process to discuss issues of priority and geographic equity, and developed consensus in planning process. Why go through those discussions again in prioritization process?”

Funding and Planning Process

FBRMPO conducted its analysis using federal planning (PL) funding that is available to MPOs.  Under the LRTP element in the region’s work program, MPO staff analyzed data and inventoried projects from multiple plans, so that “as we go into next plan, we have an inventory of projects to pull from,” Black says.

For the technical analysis, the MPO used GIS to compare projects from the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP), North Carolina Department of Transportation’s (NCDOT) Strategic Planning Office for Transportation (SPOT), MPO Long-range Transportation Plan, and Comprehensive Transportation Plan that is adopted by all local governments, MPOs and RPOs, and the North Carolina Board of Transportation.

Graphic shows the plans consulted in the process of analyzing project lists.
MPO staff compared projects from several different plans. Graphic courtesy of Paul Black, FBRMPO.


Data compatibility issues complicated the process.  FBRMPO began by analyzing data within the STIP, as the most complete set of data, but realized it contained projects such as major resurfacing that are outside of the purview of the MPO’s capital planning process, instead being considered a maintenance responsibility of NCDOT’s local highway division.  Rather than lose all the data associated with those projects by deleting the records, MPO staff defined attributes within the database that would exclude the projects.  The STIP also defined project phases in the smallest increments, compared to other plans analyzed in this process.  NCDOT phases projects according to their ease of construction and funding, with certain critically needed segments of a project being completed faster than others.

Next, MPO staff analyzed projects submitted to NCDOT for prioritization.  The DOT’s Strategic Prioritization Office for Transportation was created following an executive order by former Governor Beverly Perdue, seeking to improve transparency and project delivery.  The office has developed a data-driven process that also incorporates scores for local input, by which projects are ranked.  This process has been an iterative one over the past few years, with several new changes mandated by the state’s legislature in 2013.  The results of the SPOT process are one element that is considered in programming projects in the STIP.  The project data collected through SPOT’s prioritization became the model data in FBRMPO’s project comparison database, with project termini being defined as attributes within the GIS and data becoming a base score used to rank project priority.

The MPO’s Long-range Transportation Plan (LRTP) contains a specific project list that is limited to the amount of funds projected for the plan time horizon, in this case 25 years.  By comparison to other plans’ datasets, these projects were over-segmented.  FBRMPO staff ensured the correct project identification label and termini showing each project’s extent were correct, but dissolved extra segmentation.

In the final step of the initial phase of the project comparison, MPO staff added the 30-year Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP).  This type of plan is unique to North Carolina, and is mutually adopted by the state and local planning partners such as all MPOs and RPOs, municipalities and counties.  It represents a community’s consensus on the transportation network that will be needed to support anticipated development over the plan’s time horizon and is intended to cover all modes of transportation.   For MPOs, the CTP process is intended to be complementary to the federally required LRTP.  The CTP includes initial problem statements and purpose and need about projects to satisfy requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act, which can help speed the project development process.  However, CTP project data proved problematic, with limited attribution and inconsistent termini identification.

Because all the plans and project data had been developed at different points in time, they had different attributes that did not initially match up.  After manipulating the data to make the various project lists more consistent, the process resulted in a full inventory of all projects that had been identified in the region’s plans.

An important step in aligning the datasets was assigning project termini as attributes in the underlying project data.  In order to maintain information about where a project originated and its scope in each plan where it appeared, FBRMPO staff assigned attributes in the project database such as CTP_FROM and LRTP_TO, which identified both the geographic extent of each proposed project and the original source plan for the information.

The biggest data issue that FBRMPO has experienced is trying to make sure plans are reconciled correctly, so that as projects are finished, the database can demonstrate the amount of investment that has occurred in the region and its member jurisdictions.  This is not necessarily easy to track, as projects have become segmented over time, with certain portions of some projects being completed more quickly than other sections.  In the future, the MPO intends to improve the database underlying this GIS undertaking, by creating an attribute table that includes “ideal” future cross section and cost estimation information.

The end result of the project comparison has been that FBRMPO was able to identify inconsistent project termini.  The maps developed in the process enabled visual representation of the progression of the projects’ planned implementation.  This has allowed the region’s decisionmakers to amend plans to ensure project scope and effective sequencing.

Implementation Effectiveness and Next Steps

The MPO is amending its current CTP to better reflect the projects that were developed through a consensus-based process.  Analyzing the financial resources likely to be available to the MPO and its members will allow the region to amend its LRTP with new project scopes as well.

Photo of man in wheelchair on wide sidewalk
FBRMPO is analyzing all of its plans for consistency with NCDOT’s Complete Streets Policy. Image courtesy of FBRMPO.

The initiative’s next step for analysis has been to analyze projects according to the state’s Complete Streets policy, which was adopted by the North Carolina Board of Transportation in 2009 and requires NCDOT to consider and incorporate transportation mobility for all users for both new projects and when improving existing parts of the transportation network.  According to Black, FBRMPO has begun by looking at all the projects in the STIP that are scheduled far enough in the future to affect design and identify where the state’s Complete Streets design guidelines can be addressed.  Those amendments will be adopted by the MPO board in fall 2013, and then the region will begin to look at adding Complete Streets to its analysis of the projects in its LRTP and CTP over the following several months.

In addition, FBRMPO intends to add a freight and delivery component to ensure that the movements of goods as well as people are considered explicitly in the project development process.

The region is also working on developing criteria for prioritizing projects and performance metrics to help the MPO measure how it is meeting its strategic goals for the transportation network and deliverint projects.  One way the leaders are identifying potential metrics is to look at projects that are intuitively improving the system and identify why, such as the crash rate, congestion, or other factors addressed.  “We try to match up our LRTP goals to projects that are moving forward, and this [GIS analysis] has really exposed that disconnect.  For example, the MPO’s top goal is system preservation, but the long-range plan is all about new improvements because the local NCDOT division is responsible for maintenance funding and projects [that preserve the system], rather than the MPO” says Black.


The technical analysis that the MPO is going through will guide future plans and tie more closely to project ranking processes.  In 2014, FBRMPO will begin the process of updating both the North Carolina-required CTP and federally required LRTP.  The two plans will be completed in parallel to maximize the amount of public engagement and avoid over-scheduling public meetings.  But the two strategic plans do have somewhat different processes, purposes, and audiences and will result in separate, yet complementary, documents.

Black says, “Trying to keep people focused on the long time horizon of 2035 is part of the challenge of completing long-range plans.” Also, aligning regional priorities with available funding is difficult, but it helps the region to identify realistic projects that may be able to be programmed within a community.

Beginning in 2014, the project data that has been reconciled across plans will improve the projects that are submitted to NCDOT’s SPOT for prioritization through its data-driven process, which is one factor in the state’s programming effort for the STIP.

MPO staff members are also entering historic data about projects from the TIP that are complete.  This level of project scrutiny enables FBRMPO “to report back to our constituent members to show progress that is being made and generate reports on how projects are getting delivered,” says Black.

He concludes: “An important thing to come out of this process has been realizing that we can go through the process of gaining consensus to set up strategic goals and project priorities multiple times, and come up with different results each time.  We want to make sure we have just one consensus-based process for all the plans so we don’t re-do it, and so that we respect all the time, thought, and effort that goes into people contributing to these different plans.  That also makes it easier to advocate for projects that are consistent with and appear in multiple consensus-based plans.”


Return to 2013 Symposium Overview

This case study was researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Associate Director Carrie Kissel and is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-10-C-00050 through the NADO Research Foundation (  Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.


Contact Joe D'Antonio

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 execution 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 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 her family’s 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.

Contact Karron Grant

Applications cannot be saved and returned to at a later time. It is recommended you compile all of your information in advance in a word processor and cut and paste into the application below.

2023 Impact Awards

The primary applicant must be a NADO member. Project partners, both NADO and non-members, can be recognized under "Project Partners" below.

Primary Project Contact:
This person will be the designated point of contact for all future awards-related correspondence.

Organization Address

Project Location (if different from Organization Address)

Executive Director

Additional Organizational Information
Please upload your organization's logo which will be included on the winning project award certificate.

Project Information
This title will be printed on the award certificate for winning projects and in all 2022 NADO Impact Award materials and cannot be changed.

Project Summary & Questions
Please craft clear, thoughtful, and engaging responses to the following questions. Use the following sections to tell us how your project has made an impact, such as its use of creative funding mechanisms, efforts to create efficiencies or reduce costs, unique partnership models, and emphasis on building resilience and/or enhancing your region's quality of life.

For award-winning projects, the information provided below may be used verbatim to inform project descriptions that will be published in the 2023 NADO Impact Awards materials and included on the NADO website.

Please submit at least one photo showing your project in action. Please keep file size to a minimum (<2Mb) and use JPEG format. If uploading multiple files, ZIP files prior to submitting. If you have trouble uploading images they can be directly emailed to Brett Schwartz at [email protected]. Include the project title they correspond to in the subject line of your email.

Note: Submitted photos may be used in NADO Impact Awards materials and in other NADO published materials with credit to your organization. Please also consider submitting photos for NADO's 2023 Photo Contest, which will be held this summer.

Your application is not submitted until you are directed to a confirmation page. If you have any questions or are unsure if your application has been submitted, please contact Brett Schwartz at [email protected]

Contact Melissa Levy

Contact Krishna Kunapareddy

Contact Andrew Coker

Contact Lara Gale

Contact Katie Allison

Contact Jack Morgan

Content Questions Form

Registration Questions Form

Hotel Questions Form

New Speaker Inquiry

Job Listing Inquiry

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.

McKinney has provided congressional testimony on numerous occasions regarding the importance of regional development organizations in helping shape the nation’s economic growth. He is nationally recognized for promoting innovative solutions in areas such as planning and economic development, workforce development, transportation and transit, and aging services.

Contact Danny Tomares

Contact Dion Thompson-Davoli

Contact Ciara Ristig

Contact Bret Allphin

Contact Brett Schwartz

Contact Carrie Kissel

Contact Scott Brown

Contact Jamie McCormick

Contact Joe McKinney

Contact Krystal De Leon

Contact Brittany Salazar

Contact Laurie Thompson

Contact Mirielle Burgoyne