Metropolitan Transportation Planning

What is an MPO?

A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is an organization of elected officials in urbanized regions with 50,000 or more population. MPOs provide a forum for local decision-making on transportation issues of a regional nature. The policy for the metropolitan planning process is to promote consistency between transportation improvements and state and local planned growth and economic development patterns.

As a condition for receipt of federal capital or operating assistance, MPOs must have a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning process. MPOs are to cooperate with the state in developing transportation plans and programs for the urbanized area (UZAs). This transportation planning process is to result in plans and programs consistent with the UZA’s comprehensive planned development. In addition, the plans are to provide for the development of transportation facilities (including pedestrian walkways and bicycle facilities) and serve as an intermodal system for the state, metropolitan areas, and the nation.

The MPO’s planning functions are carried out in cooperation with state and local agencies. An MPO can contract staff from other agencies to perform specific elements in the planning process. This cooperative transportation decision-making process provides a forum for member jurisdictions to discuss regional transportation issues and plan transportation improvements for the region.

MPO Metropolitan Planning Area (MPA) Boundaries Map (pdf 449 kb)

Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP)

The MPOs and RTPOs are responsible for developing a Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP). The UPWP covers a one or two fiscal year period and includes transportation planning priorities facing the metropolitan and/or regional area.

In order for MPOs to be eligible for federal planning funds, to accomplish the work elements in their UPWP, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) must approve the MPOs' UPWP.

Transportation Improvement Program (TIP)

Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) Amendments are reviewed monthly for adherence to federal rules by WSDOT’s Multimodal Planning Division and Local Programs Division. TIP Amendments are then approved by the Secretary of Transportation for inclusion into the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The projects in the MPO TIPs are included in the STIP, which is approved by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration.

Relationship to Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs)

In 1990, the Washington State Legislature passed the Growth Management Act (GMA) authorizing the Regional Transportation Planning Program. This program, contained in Part 3 of the Act (RCW 47,80), created a formal mechanism for local governments and the state to coordinate transportation planning for regional transportation facilities. The Act authorized the creation of Regional Transportation Planning Organizations (RTPOs). This transportation planning mechanism is available to all counties and cities statewide and is formed through voluntary association of local governments within a county or within geographically contiguous counties.

In areas of the state where an MPO exists, state law requires RTPOs to be the same organization as the designated MPOs. This integrates the RTPO Program with the MPO Program in UZAs. The RTPO Program extends transportation planning to rural areas currently not covered by the federal program, thus establishing a regional framework for planning in Washington.

RTPOs are required to create a transportation policy board. The board’s primary function is to provide policy direction to the RTPO, and to have representation of major transportation employers within the region, WSDOT, transit districts, port districts, and member cities, towns, and counties within the region.


Gabe Philips
Tribal and Regional Coordination Office Manager