828.251.6622  |   rpo@landofsky.org


What is a Rural Planning Organization (RPO)?

The establishment of Rural Transportation Planning Organizations (RPOs) is similar in concept to the urban Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organizations (MPOs). The RPOs provide rural areas the opportunity to work in partnership with the North Carolina Department of Transportation toward development of sound, short-range and long-range transportation planning for rural areas.

In 1998 Congress recognized the transportation needs of the rural areas and presented similar opportunities afforded the urban areas as part of the statewide planning provisions of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). TEA-21 calls for enhanced consultation with rural local officials and encourages states to use existing regional development organizations to facilitate the participation of elected officials.

Locally based rural transportation planning gives communities the opportunity to make transportation investment decisions that enhance economic and community development goals. Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) have the federal authority to implement their plans, but the Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) are voluntary in North Carolina and have been given authority by the state.

What are the major functions of an RPO?
  • Rural Transportation Planning Organizations have four core functions:
  • Developing, in cooperation with the Department, long-range local and regional multimodal transportation plans.
  • Providing a forum for public participation in the transportation planning process.
  • Developing and prioritizing suggestions for transportation projects the organization believes should be included in the State’s Transportation Improvement Program.
  • Providing transportation-related information to local governments and other interested organizations and persons.
What are some of the products of RPO planning?
  • Planning Work Program – An annual program of planning activities and programmed expenditures of federal planning funds.
  • Priority Needs List – A listing of local priorities for transportation improvements that are submitted to the state of North Carolina for consideration in the development of the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).
How were RPOs established?

The 1997-98 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly ratified the Board of Transportation Reform Bill (House Bill 1304) mandating the Board, with the assistance of the Secretary and the NCDOT, to develop a plan to establish Rural Planning Organizations (RPOs) as a counterpart to the existing MPOs. The purpose of these RPOs is to give the rural areas of the state a voice in transportation issues that they have lacked in the past.

The 1999 Session of the North Carolina General Assembly ratified Senate Bill 1195, an act to authorize the Department of Transportation, in cooperation with local elected officials, to establish rural transportation planning organizations to plan rural transportation systems and to advise the department on rural transportation policy.

How many RPOs are there in North Carolina?

There are 20 RPOs in North Carolina

  • Mid-Carolina RPO: (Chartered 09/26/01) – Bladen, Cumberland, Harnett, & Sampson Counties
  • Unifour RPO: (Chartered 10/09/01) – Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, & Catawba Counties
  • Cape Fear RPO: (Chartered 10/24/01) – Brunswick, Columbus, & Pender Counties
  • Kerr-Tar RPO: (Chartered 11/15/01) – Franklin, Granville, Person, Vance, & Warren Counties
  • Albemarle RPO: (Chartered11/28/01) – Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Dare, Gates, Hyde, Pasquotank, Perquimans, Tyrrell, & Washington Counties
  • Southwestern RPO: (Chartered 12/19/01) – Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Jackson, Macon & Swain Counties
  • Isothermal RPO: (Chartered 02/19/02) – McDowell, Polk, & Rutherford Counties
  • High Country RPO: (Chartered 02/19/02) – Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Mitchell, Watauga, Wilkes, & Yancey Counties
  • Northwest Piedmont RPO: (Chartered 02/19/02) – Davie, Stokes, Surry, & Yadkin Counties
  • Lake Norman RPO: (Chartered 02/20/02) – Cleveland, Gaston, Iredell, & Lincoln Counties
  • Lumber River RPO: (Chartered 03/21/02) – Hoke, Richmond, Robeson, & Scotland, Counties
  • Mid-East RPO: (Chartered 05/21/02) – Beaufort, Pitt, & Martin Counties
  • Piedmont Triad RPO: (Chartered 05/21/02) – Caswell, Davidson, Montgomery, Randolph, & Rockingham Counties
  • Peanut Belt RPO: (Chartered 06/13/02) – Bertie, Halifax, Hertford, & Northampton Counties
  • Eastern Carolina RPO: (Chartered 06/13/02) – Duplin, Greene, Lenoir, & Wayne Counties
  • Down East RPO: (Chartered 07/17/02) – Carteret, Craven, Jones, Onslow, & Pamlico Counties
  • Rocky River RPO: (Chartered 09/18/02) – Anson, Stanly, & Union Counties
  • Triangle Area RPO: (Chartered 09/20/02) – Chatham, Lee, Moore, & Orange Counties
  • Upper Coastal Plain RPO: (Chartered 09/25/02) – Edgecombe, Johnston, Nash, & Wilson Counties
  • Land of Sky RPO: (Chartered 01/15/03) – Buncombe, Haywood, Madison & Transylvania Counties
Which local governments are included in the Land of Sky RPO?

Member governments of the RPO include: Buncombe, Haywood, Madison, and Transylvania Counties; and the municipalities of Brevard, Hot Springs, Marshall, and Rosman.

Who makes decisions for the RPO?

All decisions of the RPO are made by the Rural Transportation Advisory Committee (RTAC) with recommendations from the Rural Technical Coordinating Committee (RTCC). The membership and voting structures of these committees were established through a Memorandum of Understanding between all of the participating governments.

  • RTAC: The policy-making body made up of elected officials from each of the member governments, and the Board of Transportation.
  • RTCC: Staff level committee that provides recommendations to the RTAC regarding transportation decisions.
Who provides the staff for the RPO?

The Lead Planning Agency for Land of Sky RPO is Land of Sky Regional Council.

What are the functions of the Lead Planning Agency?

The Lead Planning Agency provides staff for the RTAC and RTCC and administers the RPO. The staff coordinates the development of the Planning and the Priority Needs List. The Lead Planning Agency also coordinates with NCDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, and transit service providers.  

How is the RPO funded?

The RPO is provided state funding to conduct transportation planning activities. The Lead Planning Agency administers the planning funds that are provided to the RPO. The RTAC approves a Planning Work Program that details how these state funds are to be spent.

How much money does the RPO get every year?

Funding amounts for RPOs vary across the state according to a several factors, but the average is slightly more than $100,000 per year. Funding provisions require local contributions to be 20%, and the remaining 80% of total eligible costs is provided by state funds. These funds are spent on approved transportation planning activities.

How are the planning funds spent?

Every year, the RTCC and RTAC approve a document called the Planning Work Program that details specific planning tasks that will be accomplished during the year.

Why is it important for local governments to participate in the RPO process

The RPO will make transportation decisions for these areas. The RPO process is the opportunity to have a voice in transportation planning that affects the non-urbanized areas.

In the state of North Carolina, almost every area of the state except for one county is now participating in either an RPO or an MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization). This participation means that the model of transportation planning in our state is changing. Every municipality and county in North Carolina will work with the state on transportation planning issues through either an RPO or an MPO.

How can we be sure that the RPO process is fair?

The RPO has an agreement known as the Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU addresses issues such as the voting membership and voting procedures.

In addition, the RPO process is set up to provide for local input on issues that involve local areas. The RPO may rely on sub-committees or local transportation advisory groups to inform the RPO process.