A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is a transportation policy-making organization made up of representatives from local government and transportation authorities. Federal legislation passed in the early 1970s required the formation of an MPO for any urbanized area with a population greater than 50,000. MPOs were created to ensure that existing and future expenditures for transportation projects and programs were based on a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive (3-C) planning process. Federal funding for transportation project and programs are channeled through this process.
As transportation policy-making entities, MPOs have five core functions.
- Create a fair and impartial setting for effective regional decision making in the metropolitan area.
- Evaluate transportation alternatives and needs through appropriate studies and activities as detailed in the MPOs Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP)
- Maintain a Long-Range Transportation Plan (RTP). Develop a 20-year transportation planning document which identifies existing infrastructure conditions, projects future transportation needs and provides a plan or program to attain the stated goals and visions.
- Develop a Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). Develop a program based on the long range plan and designed to serve the MPO’s goals using spending, and other financial tools.
- Involve the public. Involve the general public and all significantly affected sub-groups in the four essential functions listed above.
The Massachusetts Experience
In the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, there are 10 designated MPOs and 3 Regional Planning Agencies which function as MPOs. The boundaries of each MPO/RPA mirror the existing boundaries of the Regional Planning Agencies. The MPOs/RPAs and links to their websites are as follows:
Regional Long-Range Transportation Plans (RTP)
The Long-Range Transportation Plan is the policy and visioning document of the regional MPO. This document results from regional and statewide collaboration and consensus on a region’s transportation system and serves as the defining vision for the region. The document also contains a financial plan or budget which guides and shapes the actions an MPO undertakes as they fulfill the region’s visions and objectives. This 20-year transportation vision document is updated every four years by the MPO.
State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP)
The State Transportation Improvement Program is a compilation of the thirteen regional Transportation Improvement Programs prepared annually by the state’s Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). It is essentially a listing of priority transportation projects (roadway and transit) listed by region and fiscal year. The STIP is compiled annually by MassDOT/Highway, MassDOT/Rail & Transit Division, the regional planning agencies (RPAs), the regional transit agencies (RTAs), the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP) and the Federal Aid Expenditure and Programming Office (FAPO), and, is reviewed and approved by state and federal transportation and environmental agencies.
Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)
Every year, each regional MPO must prepare and update its Transportation Improvement Program, a staged four-year program of capital improvements that reflect the needs of the regional transportation system. Under federal regulations, the TIP must be constrained to available funding, consistent with the long-range Regional Transportation Plan, and include an annual element, or listing, of projects to be advertised in the first year of the TIP. Like the STIP, the regional TIP has a roadway component and a transit component.
Regional Unified Planning Work Programs (UPWP)
Each year the MPO staff, under the direction of the MPO, prepares a work program of tasks to be completed by the MPO staff. This work program lists the transportation studies and tasks to be performed during this one year period. Transportation studies identified and completed through the UPWP lead to recommended actions that MPOs use to guide future transportation policy and funding decisions. These regional MPO UPWP tasks and activities are funded with federal funds.