It’s an unfortunate cliché these days: economic times are difficult. Federal, state and local budgets are shrinking. As communities look for ways to get more bang for their transportation buck, leveraging strengths across agencies becomes ever more important.
Metropolitan planning organizations have coordinated local urban planning efforts with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for decades. But historically, rural areas haven’t had transportation planning organizations to synchronize efforts across agencies. Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Associate Research Scientist John Overman says that’s changing.
“Rural planning organizations [RPOs] are emerging as an effective way to coordinate transportation planning in Texas,” says Overman. “A research project conducted for TxDOT created a guide to help RPOs define their role in the planning process and how they can best coordinate agency efforts.”
Partners in rural planning include TxDOT, RPOs, councils of government (COGs), public transportation providers, regional mobility authorities, coordinated public transit–human services planning agencies, cities and counties, and other stakeholders such as freight operators and economic development agencies. The study recommended that these partners work together to identify regional needs and coordinate various transportation projects.
The guidebook is aimed at all groups with an interest in rural transportation. That includes TxDOT district planners and engineers, COG planners, rural county judges, city and county staff, and policy makers. The guide includes an overview of the transportation planning process and requirements, and outlines how RPOs fit into the overall transportation planning process.
“Navigating the transportation planning and programming process is complicated due to the various rules, requirements, responsibilities and products involved. Rural stakeholders new to the process need assistance in navigating the requirements,” Overman explains. “The complexity of these relationships itself points up the need for the guidebook.”
Overman and his team looked at RPOs across the nation to glean best practices and captured how those organizations work with their respective state’s department of transportation. Researchers also spoke with various stakeholders and compared the role of RPOs with similar transportation planning efforts elsewhere.
Finally, they reviewed bylaws from existing Texas RPOs and reconciled how those should work within the framework of TxDOT‘s proposed transportation planning rules. Title 43, Texas Administrative Code Part 1, Chapter 16, was adopted Aug. 26, 2010, with an effective date of Jan. 1, 2011. The guidebook includes the requirements and processes presented in these rules.
Through the end of this summer, TTI will conduct 10 workshops for COGs and districts around the state. The workshops will provide rural planners and stakeholders with a better understanding of their role in the planning process and raise awareness of available resources.
“Planning is really communicating — communicating a need and then solutions to meet the need,” explains Bob Appleton, TxDOT director of transportation planning and development for the Bryan District. Appleton served as director on the project that developed the guide. “Through these workshops, we’re training new regional planning organizations to appreciate and apply that rule of thumb.”