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FAQs About the MPO

What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO)?

Metropolitan Planning Organizations are part of a federal process to conduct local transportation planning in urbanized areas. The federal government requires urbanized areas to establish a planning process that is Comprehensive, Continuing, and Cooperative (the three Cs of transportation planning).The MPO process is required in urbanized areas over 50,000 in population in order to receive federal funding for transportation.


The MPO process is a partnership between local and state government to make decisions about transportation planning in urbanized areas and to meet planning requirements established by federal authorizing legislation for transportation funding.


What are the major functions of an MPO?

MPOs conduct transportation planning in cooperation with state and federal government. Cooperatively, the MPO works with North Carolina DOT to develop transportation plans, travel models, thoroughfare plans, transit plans, bicycle and pedestrian plans. Also, the MPO works with the state on funding issues for transportation improvements, on project planning issues, and on issues such as environmental impacts and air quality. The MPO also works with local governments to coordinate land use and transportation planning.


What are some of the products of MPO planning?

  • A Long Range Transportation: Plan A document that presents a 25-year plan for transportation improvements in the area.

  • Planning Work Program: An annual program of planning activities and program 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 their consideration in the development of the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP).

  • Metropolitan Transportation Improvement Program (MTIP): The local transportation improvement program that must be in agreement with the State Transportation Improvement Program (STIP). The TIP process involves mutual adoption by the MPO and the state.


How are MPOs established?

MPOs are established in every urbanized area in the country with a population of over 50,000. Urbanized areas are defined every ten years by the U.S. Census. In North Carolina MPOs are designated by the Governor. MPOs are established by a Memorandum of Understanding that is signed by all participating local governments and the State of North Carolina.

How many MPOs are there in North Carolina?

There are 19 MPOs in North Carolina. They are:


Asheville, Burlington, Cabarrus/South Rowan, Capital Area (Raleigh/Wake County), Charlotte Regional (Iredell/Mecklenburg/Union), DCHC (Durham -Chapel Hill, Carrboro), Fayetteville, Gastonia, Goldsboro, Grand Strand, Greater Hickory, Greensboro, Greenville, High Point, Jacksonville, , New Bern, Rocky Mount, Wilmington, Winston-Salem.


Which local governments are included in the Greater Hickory MPO?


The municipalities of Brookford, Cajahs Mountain, Catawba, Cedar Rock, Claremont, Connelly Springs, Conover, Drexel, Gamewell, Glen Alpine, Granite Falls, Hickory, Hildebran, Hudson, Lenoir, Long View, Maiden, Morganton, Newton, Rhodhiss, Rutherford College, Sawmills and Valdese; and the Counties of Alexander, Burke, Caldwell, and Catawba.

Who makes decisions for the MPO?

All decisions of the MPO are made by the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) with recommendations from the Technical Coordinating Committee (TCC). The membership and voting structures of these committees will be established through a new Memorandum of Understanding between all of the participating governments.


TAC: The policy-making body made up of elected officials from each of the member governments and the Board of Transportation.


TCC: Staff level committee that provides recommendations to the TAC regarding transportation decisions.


Who provides the staff for the MPO?

The Lead Planning Agency for the Greater Hickory MPO is the Western Piedmont Council of Governments.


What are the functions of the Lead Planning Agency?

The Lead Planning Agency provides staff for the TAC and TCC and administers the MPO. The staff coordinates the development of the Long Range Transportation Plan, the Planning Work Program, the Local Transportation Improvement Program and the Priority Needs List. The Lead Planning Agency also coordinates with NCDOT, the Federal Highway Administration, and transit service providers.


How is the MPO funded?

The MPO is provided federal planning funds to conduct transportation planning activities. The Lead Planning Agency administers the federal planning funds that are provided to the MPO. The TAC approves a Planning Work Program that details how these federal funds are to be spent.


How much money does the MPO get every year?

Planning funds in North Carolina are divided among the seventeen MPOs in the state based on population of the urban area (1/2) and equal distribution (1/2). These funds must be spent on approved transportation planning activities.


How are the planning funds spent?

Every year, the TCC and TAC approve a document called the Planning Work Program that details specific planning tasks that will be accomplished during the year. Some of the planning money is spent on MPO administration, and some of the money is used to hire consultants to conduct special studies.


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

The MPO process is federally mandated in urban areas. The federal government sets the rules regarding which areas will be included in an MPO. The MPO will be making transportation decisions for these areas. The MPO process is the opportunity to have a voice in transportation planning that affects the urbanized areas.


In the state of North Carolina, almost every area of the state is now participating in either an MPO or an RPO (Rural 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 MPO or an RPO.


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

As a part of the MPO expansion, the MPO will revise the agreement for the MPO known as the Memorandum of Understanding. The MOU will address issues such as the voting membership and voting procedures.  In addition, the MPO process must be set up to provide for local input on issues that involve local areas. The expanded MPO may rely on sub-committees or local transportation advisory groups to inform the MPO process.


Commonly Used Acronyms & Glossary of Terms


Glossary of
Transportation Terms

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