What is a Regional Council or Council of Governments?
A regional council (RC) or council of governments (COG) – these terms are generally interchangeable, and might also be called regional planning commissions, regional commissions, or planning districts – is a multi-service entity with state- and locally-defined boundaries that delivers a variety of federal, state, and local programs while carrying out its function as a planning organization, technical assistance provider, and “visionary” to its member local governments. As such, COGs and RCs are accountable to local units of government and effective partners for state and federal governments.
Conceived in the 1960s, COGs and RCs are stable, broad-based organizations adept at consensus-building, creating partnerships, providing services, problem solving, and fiscal management. The role of the regional council has been shaped by the changing dynamics in federal, state, and local government relations, and the growing recognition that the region is the arena in which local governments must work together to resolve social and environmental challenges. These organizations have carved out a valuable niche for themselves as reliable agents and many more operate independent of federal funding. Comprehensive and transportation planning, economic development, workforce development, the environment, services for the elderly and clearinghouse functions are among the types of programs managed by COGs and RCs. Of the 39,000 local, general purpose governments in the United States (counties, cities, townships, towns, villages, boroughs) a total of more than 35,000 are served by COGs and RCs.
What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization?
A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is an agency created by federal law to provide local elected officials input into the planning and implementation of federal transportation funds to metropolitan areas with populations of greater than 50,000. The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, which mandated the formation of MPOs, has implemented that MPOs must plan for regional transportation planning expenditures and are responsible for the continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive transportation planning process for their urbanized area. Under federal law established in the 1973 Highway Act and the Urban Mass Transit Act, organizations in urbanized areas are designated by their Governors to perform significant planning and programming of federally funded highways and transit projects. The policy leadership, committees, professional staff, and consultants, combined with the administrative capability to support MPO planning processes, constitute the core elements of MPOs activities.
Federal transportation legislation in the 1990s, such as the Long Range Transportation Program (LRTP) and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), have strengthened MPOs role in programming transportation projects by making MPOs responsible for approving significant expenditures of federal dollars. In addition, MPOs have become a more significant actor in regional transportation planning since they received additional resources and powers from the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the ensuing Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21). The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has identified 420 MPOs as of the most recent census. Nearly half of MPOs operate as part of a Regional Council or Council of Governments serving the same general geography.