The Greenville-Pickens Area Transportation Study (GPATS) is the Metropolitan Planning Organization, or MPO, for the Greenville Urbanized Area. MPOs were created in the 1960s and required for any Census-defined Urbanized Area with a population of 50,000 or more. MPOs were created to ensure that transportation planning is carried out on the regional scale, in order to allocate federal and other transportation funding most efficiently.
There are 11 MPOs in the state of South Carolina, and GPATS is one of the largest in terms of funding and population. GPATS covers a significant portion of Greenville County and Pickens County, and smaller portions of Anderson, Laurens, and Spartanburg counties. It contains the municipalities of Central, Clemson, Easley, Fountain Inn, Greenville, Greer, Liberty, Mauldin, Norris, Pelzer, Pendleton, Pickens, Simpsonville, Travelers Rest, West Pelzer, and Williamston. It covers an area of 777 square miles and is home to more than 500,000 residents. GPATS is a separate entity from the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), which maintains and manages a large percentage of the roads within the state. Additionally, many of the municipalities and counties within GPATS manage their own transportation projects within their boundaries.
The primary role of GPATS is to be the designated recipient of all state and federal funds for transportation projects. The GPATS Policy Coordinating Committee approves the scheduling of projects, the allocation of funds, and helps to guide the development of the region’s transportation infrastructure. This includes, but is not exclusive to, roads and highways, mass transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and freight.
How is GPATS organized?
GPATS has a Citizens Advisory Committee, which includes about 25 members and serves to relay information about plans and projects to the public. They also bring public input back to GPATS staff and policy makers.
The 29-member Policy Coordinating Committee includes elected and appointed officials from within the GPATS region. This committee is responsible for making funding decisions and approving projects and plans. See the Policy Coordinating Committee members here.
The Study Team is a technical committee that includes planners, engineers, public works staff, city and county representatives, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Appalachian Council of Governments (ACOG), and Greenlink/Greenville Transit Authority. The Study Team reviews projects and proposals and makes recommendations to the Policy Coordinating Committee. GPATS currently has four staff members: John Owings, AICP, Manager of Transportation and Development Services; Keith Brockington, AICP, Transportation Manager; Tiffany Wedmore, AICP, Associate Transportation Planner; and Lance Estep, AICP, Transportation Analyst. See the Staff and Study Team members here.
What does GPATS do?
GPATS is responsible for conducting regional transportation planning and overseeing transportation investments. GPATS is involved in transportation projects that utilize federal funding within the boundary area. Not all roads within the GPATS boundary area are included in the GPATS network. Only roads that are considered “federal aid-eligible” are included in the GPATS network. These roads typically do not include subdivision roads and smaller local roads.
GPATS works with road projects, safety projects, bicycle and pedestrian projects, and public transit. GPATS provides staff and technical assistance with a number of local plans, projects, and initiatives, and also provides funding to other agencies to carry out transportation-related studies. Some recent studies partially funded by GPATS include the Woodruff Road Corridor Study, City of Easley Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plan, County Greenways Plan, City of Greenville Bicycle Master Plan, and the SC 153 Corridor Study.
There are three especially important documents that guide GPATS’s operations. They are the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP), the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), and the Unified Planning Work Program(UPWP).
The LRTP is a 25-year financially constrained multimodal plan, meaning that it looks at not only road projects but also transit and bicycle/pedestrian projects. It is developed in conjunction with local planning agencies within GPATS, the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT), and significant public participation. After projects have been evaluated, they are included in order of priority in the LRTP. The “funded improvements” list includes all projects that GPATS will be able to fund in the next 25 years, assuming current funding levels. The LRTP also includes an “unfunded needs” list, in case additional funding becomes available.
The TIP is a list of projects that have been approved to receive funding over the next five years. As projects are allocated funding, they are advanced from the LRTP into the TIP, in order of priority. Once a project is in the TIP, the expenses are allocated by fiscal year (preliminary engineering, right-of-way acquisition, construction, etc.).
The UPWP details the transportation planning activities being carried out by GPATS each year. These activities include the Public Involvement Program, software and equipment purchases, staff education, multimodal planning, short and long-range planning, and special transportation studies.
How are GPATS projects funded?
The main source of funding for GPATS projects comes from Guideshare, which is known as Surface Transportation Program (STP) funding in other states. Guideshare money is federal funding that is funneled through the South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) to the MPOs in the state. GPATS is the third-largest MPO in South Carolina, and receives $14.8 million in Guideshare funding each year.
Each county’s Legislative Delegation Transportation Committee also provides funding for various transportation projects in its area. The County Transportation Committees are funded through gas tax revenue. Anyone may approach their County Transportation Committee and request funding for a project, whether it’s an intersection safety project, a sidewalk, a road improvement, or another type of transportation project.
The Transportation Alternatives Program (TAP), formerly known as Transportation Enhancements (TE), was created to help expand transportation choices and provide funding for activities that are often left out of transportation projects. Activities that are eligible for TAP funding include pedestrian and bicycle facilities, Safe Routes to School improvements, and projects that were previously funded by the Recreational Trails Program. GPATS receives $621,000 each year in total TAP funding, which is awarded on a competitive grant basis.
Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5300 funds are provided to the local transit agencies by the federal government, and funneled through the MPO to provide public transportation services to our area.
In the fall of 1964, the Greenville Area Transportation Study (GRATS) was created under the joint auspices of county, city, and state governments. In September of that year, the Greenville County Legislative Delegation and the cities of Greenville, Greer, Mauldin, and City View authorized the Greenville County Planning Commission to enter into an agreement with the South Carolina Department of Transportation to assure the development of a coordinated transportation system for the county’s urban area.
In April 2004, the GRATS area was restructured as a result of the 2000 Census, which expanded the Census-designated Urbanized Area. The Urbanized Area expanded to include a portion of Pickens County, including the municipalities of Pickens, Liberty, and Easley.
Following the 2010 Census, the Greenville Urbanized Area once again expanded to include the municipalities of Central, Clemson, Norris, Pelzer, Pendleton, West Pelzer, and Williamston. These areas were included in GPATS as of March 2013, and changes were made to the Policy Committee membership to reflect the new areas.
From the beginning, the GRATS program, now the GPATS program, has been a cooperative venture between local municipalities and counties, the South Carolina Department of Transportation, and the Federal Highway Administration.