Transit Advocate’s Guide: Regional Planning Commission


New Orleans Regional Planning Commission

Mission/History
RPC Role
Funding
High-Profile Projects / Policies / Programs
Public Engagement
Reaching RPC
Advice for advocates

Mission / History

The Regional Planning Commission (RPC) is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for the Greater New Orleans area that includes Jefferson, Orleans, Plaquemines, St. Tammany and St. Bernard Parishes. All urban areas with populations over 50,000 are required to form a MPO. The MPO is made up of local elected officials, transportation authorities and citizens, who assist in creating transportation policy for the region. The RPC has a 26-member board that helps with the planning, allocations of federal funding and public involvement for the region’s transportation needs.

RPC Role

The RPC prepares plans and programs that guide federal, state and local regional and local transportation investments. The role of the RPC in evaluating, selecting and funding transportation projects cannot be overstated – the decisions made by the RPC impact how hundreds of millions of dollars are spent in our region on highway and public transit projects. The RPC creates three key plans and programs that are mandated by the federal government to be in place in order to access federal funding:

  • Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP): Also known as the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), it is updated every 4 years based on regional population and economic growth projections. The plan identifies and prioritizes needed transportation improvements to occur over the next 20+ years. The plan is required to be developed with fiscal constraints in mind.
  • Transportation Improvement Program (TIP): The TIP is our region’s short-term spending program for implementing transportation related projects. The program identifies, prioritizes and allocates funding for transportation improvements to begin over a 1 to 5 year period. The TIP is updated every two years.
  • Unified Planning Work Program: UPWP is the RPC’s transportation planning work program for the upcoming year. It is updated annually.

Additionally, the RPC provides a variety of other services including:

  • Operating GreenRide – an online carpool matching service
  • Developing and operating a Congestion Management Process (CMP) for identifying and addressing traffic congestion within the region
  • Uniting public and private officials as a part of the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) which sets the strategic direction for the enhancement of regional response capabilities and capacity
  • Administering public transit funding for two programs:

1. Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) which provides for capital, planning and operating expenses for projects that transport low income individuals to and from jobs and activities related to reverse commutes (from rural / suburban areas into city centers)
2. New Freedoms – funds public transportation services and alternatives (ie taxi voucher programs) for the elderly and people with disabilities

  • Hosting educational opportunities like the Smart Growth Speaker series
  • Promoting bicycle and pedestrian policies, programs and safety

Funding

The federal government funds the RPC. Normally, the RPC does not directly administer project funding for transportation projects. However, it does typically set the course for how funds from other government agencies and partner organizations will be spent. In this regard, the RPC wields significant power.

High-Profile Projects / Policies / Programs

  •  US 61/Tulane Ave Corridor Improvements – In October 2013, the RPC in conjunction with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, and the US Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration released a draft environmental assessment for the project. The assessment recommends reducing the number of travel lanes from 6 to 4 lanes, wider medians that are able to accommodate left turn lanes at key intersections, street parking, dedicated bike lanes, and pedestrian improvements.
  • Submerged Roads – While the RPC is not administering these projects (funds come from Emergency Relief Program of the Federal Highway Administration projects administered by LA DOTD), the projects were can still be influenced by the RPC. Refer to the RPC website for the Submerged Roads Construction Schedule.
  • Paths to Progress – In a combined effort with the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, the Federal Highway Administration, Orleans and Jefferson Parish, and the City of Kenner, the RPC has influence over $90 million in funds for the repair of 60 roadways.

Public Engagement

Public engagement opportunities are typically announced in the RPC’s newsletter which can be accessed on the RPC website.

The RPC Board meets monthly – meetings are open to the public and there is a public comment period. See the RPC calendar for dates and times.  They have also developed several advisory committees in which citizens can participate. These include:

  • Complete Streets Advisory Committee
  • Transit and Human Services committee
  • Livable Communities Advisory Council

Community engagement is encouraged as the RPC updates the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) and the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP). The RPC is currently seeking public comments on the MTP.

The RPC follows a prescribed process when planning a project. To understand where public engagement in a project is required, it’s necessary to look at the various steps the RPC carries out in planning a project.

  • Step 1 – Feasibility Study – this evaluation determines if a project can be completed and what community benefits it will have. The study outlines the project’s purpose, implementation strategy, existing conditions, a preliminary design and funding sources.
  • Step 2 – Environmental Analysis – this step requires public engagement. The RPC will evaluate and present the social, economic and environmental impacts of a project. The RPC (or their consultant) must respond to public comments received during this process.
  • Step 3 – Cost Estimation – The RPC works with federal, state and local funding agencies develop a cost estimate for the project’s design and implementation. From this step on, the RPC turns the project over to the administering agency – usually, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development.
  • Step 4 – Preliminary Engineering
  • Step 5 – Final Design
  • Step 6 – Construction

Public engagement is not typically built into any other step in a project’s process except for Step 2. However, there are still opportunities for comment.

Reaching RPC

The RPC’s website is http://www.norpc.org. All RPC staff emails and phone numbers are listed on the website.

RPC Commissioners from New Orleans include the Mayor, the two at-large Council members and two New Orleans’ citizens.

Advice for advocates

Getting your neighborhood’s priority transportation projects identified in the MTP is the first step to getting your project on the RPC’s funding radar. When launching an advocacy campaign for a major capital project, be sure to engage with the RPC early to discuss how the project would be funded. Similar to the steps you’d take with DPW:

  • Demonstrate a need for the project. Take photos or videos of dangerous conditions (ie poor driver behavior, jaywalking, illegal parking).
  • Gather the relevant data needed to make your case. The agencies and resources listed are a good starting point:

1. Crash data from the RPC
2. Ridership statistics from the RTA
3. Conduct a complete streets audit, using this resource from AARP as a guide

  • Build support for the project. Get your neighbors on board. Talk with local businesses, churches, and school leaders. Start a letter writing campaign or circulate a petition. Talk with your RPC Commissioners. Submit comments to the RPC when the agency is updating the MTP and TIP. Make your case the monthly RPC meetings. Join a RPC advisory committee. Partner with non-profits who work on transportation issues.
  • Raise visibility. Let the media know about your campaign. Write a letter to the editor. Hold an event to raise awareness.