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QA with Brandy Wilkerson: Rural Planning Organization helps improve state roadways

What is the Rural Planning Organization?

We&8217;re in the process of working with the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT). There are 12 regional councils in the state of Alabama, and the Alabama Tombigbee Regional Commission is one of those. They have contracts with these regional councils for rural transportation planning, but it is completely advisory right now.

What do you mean by advisory?

It&8217;s just starting. Like in a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) situation, those have been established longer and they actually choose projects and such. This doesn&8217;t do that. This is just advisory; there is no money tied to the projects.

How did the Rural Planning Organization (RPO) come about?

Federal law requires the state to do rural transportation planning. This is the way ALDOT satisfies that. The West Alabama Regional Commission, which is in Northport, had the pilot program for this and its been going on for the last two years. They spread it throughout the state since it worked so well there.

How is the Rural Planning Organization set up?

How it&8217;s set up is there are 10 counties in our region and each county has a citizen&8217;s committee, which Mitzi Gates is one of Marengo County&8217;s representatives. What happens is there are three committees, there&8217;s a citizen&8217;s committee, one for each county, a technical committee, which consists of ALDOT engineers and county engineers for each of the counties and there is a policy committee, which consists of mayors and county commissioners in each county.

The policy committee appoints the citizen&8217;s committee in each of the 10 counties.

The citizen&8217;s committee meets once a quarter. Those meetings typically consist of us sitting down with them and going through safety concerns, reviewing what ALDOT has for the county&8217;s five-year plan and getting their input on that.

We take all of that to the technical committee, and they look over it and get their opinions, especially on a safety petition. Like if somebody says we need a red light here. The technical committee can say we can look into that or no because it doesn&8217;t warrant a red light. Then the policy committee gets everything that comes up from the citizen&8217;s and technical committees. They have the final review and say of what they pass on to ALDOT.

What is the main focus of the Rural Planning Organization (RPO)?

It&8217;s for the future development of ideas. Once the organization matures itself, it&8217;s going to be more for future planning instead of safety concerns. We help them advertise their public meetings on their five-year plan that&8217;s going on now.

What are some of the aspects of the five-year plan?

It&8217;s available on their Web site. It shows the projects broken down by county. It shows resurfacing, if there&8217;s new construction that&8217;s already on the books and it has the year and the estimated cost.

How do RPOs differ from MPOs?

Other than the fact that these are purely advisory, they are pretty similar. Our RPO has the same structure as an MPO would. But it&8217;s concentrated on a rural area. An MPO has population requirements. Every county is included in an RPO, which means some counties have a MPOs and an RPO. But we have no MPO in our county.

Do you think there are different concerns for counties such as ours that only have an RPO?

A lot of it is pretty similar. But in some counties, like ours and Marengo County, the big projects like finishing to four-lane Highway 80 and other things people feel would further development will come to light.

How could people in the community help with this effort?

They can contact people on the citizen&8217;s committee or call our office. All of our meetings are open to the public, so when we come to Marengo County it will be open to the public.

I believe we&8217;ve had great success, especially for it to be such a rural area. We&8217;ve had a lot of people really show support, which is great.