Metropolitan transportation planning

What is a 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 regional transportation issues. 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 cooperate with the state in developing transportation plans and programs for the urbanized area (UZAs). This transportation planning process results in plans and programs consistent with the UZA’s comprehensive planned development. In addition, the plans 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.

MPO planning functions are carried out in cooperation with state and local agencies. A 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.

Washington MPO and Metropolitan Planning Areas (MPA) Map (JPG 743KB)

Unified planning work program (UPWP)

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

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) must approve MPO UPWPs in order for MPOs to be eligible for federal planning funds and to accomplish the work in their 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 FHWA and the FTA.

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, regional transportation planning organizations (RTPOs), for local governments and the state to coordinate transportation planning for regional transportation facilities. RTPOs are formed through voluntary association of local governments within a county or within geographically contiguous counties and are available to all counties and cities statewide.

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 not currently 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 functions are 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 Planning