What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization anyhow?

You may have heard the name Pima Association of Governments in connection with the Regional Transportation Authority plan. And maybe this left you wondering: What is Pima Association of Governments, anyway?

It’s a fair question. The name Pima Association of Governments, PAG for short, sounds like it could be an industry organization or a chamber of commerce. In fact, PAG is what’s known as a metropolitan planning organization, or MPO.

MPOs are federally mandated transportation planning organizations. The federal government required these as part of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, which determined all urbanized areas with populations of more than 50,000 people must form an MPO.

PAG was formed in 1970 as a council of governments that includes local, state and tribal governments. In 1972, PAG became a 501(c)4 nonprofit and in 1973 was recognized as the region’s federally designated MPO to address transportation planning at the regional level.

What PAG does

MPOs play an important role in long term and strategic planning for metropolitan areas.

A major responsibility of PAG is to coordinate the development of a long-range, regional transportation plan, which is required for our region to receive federal funding.

In this role, PAG collaborates with our region’s jurisdictions in developing federally required plans, such as the long-range Regional Mobility and Accessibility Plan (RMAP) and the shorter term Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). These two documents identify the region’s long-range transportation needs and anticipated revenues. They also establish a five-year schedule and budget of proposed transportation improvements.

In additional to transportation planning, PAG also is the designated regional lead agency on water quality management planning, air quality planning, and solid waste planning. In these roles, PAG provides human services planning, traffic data collection, mapping, development of population projections, and promotion of travel demand strategies.

Show your work

Our work covers a lot of ground, and not just that covered with concrete and asphalt. Here are some examples of our work across the various areas of responsibility.

A Sun Link streetcar shares downtown Tucson streets with cars.


PAG manages the Regional Transportation Authority, a state-established taxing district within Pima County. This includes overseeing the implementation of a 2006 voter-approved regional transportation plan and half-cent sales tax, which funds the plan through June 2026.

The RTA plan includes building new bridges and roads and adding capacity to existing roadways. The plan also funds new and innovative intersections, signalized pedestrian crossings, bike lanes and bike paths, bus pullouts, advanced traffic signal technology, new highway interchanges, wildlife linkages, drainage improvements, new landscaping, and public art.

The 2006 plan also includes construction of the Sun Link streetcar, expanded bus service, and Sun Shuttle neighborhood transit service.

To date, the RTA and its members have completed nearly 1,000 projects, big and small.

Watershed planning

Pima Association of Governments works with other regional governments to manage water resources, including Cienega Creek.

PAG’s work as the federally Designated Water Quality Management Agency under Section 208 of the Clean Water Act includes coordinating with regional partners to prevent water pollution and resolve water quality issues in the region’s water resources.

The water resources PAG and partner governments manage include groundwater, Central Arizona Project water, surface water, reclaimed water (recycling treated effluent) and stormwater.

We also partner with the jurisdictions to monitor Cienega Creek and conduct the Lower Santa Cruz River Basin Study.

Air Quality

PAG develops and analyzes plans to ensure the region maintains healthy air. With motor vehicles being the major source of human-caused air pollution, PAG promotes vehicle travel reduction through its Travel Reduction Program and the use of alternatively fueled vehicles to reduce motor vehicle emissions.

We also conduct periodic inventories of greenhouse gas emissions for the region.

Who’s in charge?

Taking the lead in these program areas doesn’t mean making all the decisions or telling our member jurisdictions what to do. In fact, we carry out our planning and oversight role by working together with local, state, and tribal members to provide them with the best data possible as they make important decisions to advance economic vitality.

PAG governance is a collaborative process. An elected member of each of the region’s city and town councils, county board of supervisors, and tribal nations’ councils comprise the PAG Regional Council. A representative from the Arizona Department of Transportation also has a seat on the Regional Council, ensuring all the stakeholder governments have representation.

The same group of elected and appointed officials comprise the RTA Governing Board, which makes policy decisions related to a 20-year roadway capacity and safety improvement plan.

Working with our member jurisdictions and community partners, PAG also will lead the process of developing a renewed Regional Transportation Authority plan. This plan will look to pick up where the original plan left off. Voters will tentatively have their say on a proposed new RTA plan in 2024.

That’s just a brief sampling of the work MPO’s such as PAG do to serve their communities. You can learn more about PAG and our projects and partnerships at https://pagregion.com.