In 2010, the combined populations of the Towns of Hilton Head Island and Bluffton and portions of southern Beaufort County reached over 50,000, causing the U.S. Bureau of Census to declare the area to be 'urbanized.' For that reason, this area was required to form a Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for transportation planning purposes and funding. There are currently 10 MPOs in the South Carolina ranging in population from 73,107 - 549,777. This new MPO is the smallest at 68,998.
An MPO is a transportation policy-making organization made up of representatives from local government and transportation authorities, and created to ensure existing and future expenditures for transportation projects and programs were based on a comprehensive, cooperative, and continuing planning process. The role of the MPO includes: establishing a local forum for transportation decision making; evaluating transportation alternatives; developing and updating a long-range transportation plan; developing a Transportation Improvement Program of projects; and involving the public. Funds from the Federal Highway Administration are distributed to the State and then to MPOs for these transportation projects.
In 2012, the municipalities of Beaufort, Port Royal, Hardeeville, Bluffton, Hilton Head Island and both Jasper and Beaufort County approved resolutions to create and join this new MPO, otherwise known as the Lowcountry Area Transportation Study (LATS). The governor approved its formation in 2013. The Lowcountry Council of Governments (LCOG) was designated as the lead agency for coordination. A Policy Committee and a Technical Committee were formed.
In 2016, the Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) were adopted by the Policy Committee. The LRTP is a 20-30 year implementation plan that guides the region's vision and contains projects that are "cost feasible," that is, projects that can be built with funds that are reasonably expected to be obligated over the plan’s timeframe. The TIP is a fiscally constrained prioritized project list for funding and completion within the next 4-5 years. The TIP is incorporated into the State's Transportation Improvement Program for funding and prioritization with TIPs from other MPOs.