MPOs Have Scope, But No Power

As the regionality of urban planning issues becomes more clear, metropolitan planning organizations are uniquely suited to shape the policy response. But, according to this piece from Citiwire, they lack the power to do it.

From transit to housing to infrastructure, a regional approach is increasingly needed, according to author William H. Hudnut III -- but the MPOs haven't been able to pull it off.

"In short, MPOs are ideally suited to the regional realities of today's metropolitan areas and to the task of shaping future growth in multi-jurisdictional communities.

Except for one thing: they largely lack power to implement the transportation improvement plans (TIPs) they recommend. That's why we can think of them as 'sleeping giants.'"

Full Story: It’s Time to Wake up the Sleeping Giants



MPO Reform

Thanks for paying attention to this issue. Fortunately (or unfortunately), we appear to have 18 months to rethink our concept of MPOs. MPO PL funds are among the only consistent Federally-funded urban planning programs operating in the United States. It is time to better leverage this money to develop our regions in a more coherent fashion.

It is very unlikely that MPOs will get land use authority from the Federal government, so we should look toward promoting coordination instead. There is a mismatch between the agency responsible for transportation planning and land use. If the two agencies can come closer together through a hosting arrangement or at least coterminous boundaries, coordination will be much easier.

Current Federal law loosely organizes MPOs around urbanized areas, which are created by the Census Bureau and pay no regard to political boundaries. The end result is that often the MPO’s plan only covers a portion of a local government. So how can we expect the local governments to coordinate their land use map with the transportation plan? I propose that MPOs be organized around metropolitan statistical areas instead. MSA’s are coterminous with counties, and that means the MPO would always cover entire units of local government. Further, the geographically-larger MPOs will come much closer to the boundaries of Councils of Government and NAAQS Conformity airsheds. Establishing MPOs based on MSAs more accurately reflects the true boundaries of a region, while simultaneously reducing the total number of MPOs nationwide.

You are absolutely right that MPOs need the authority to issue bonds and fund programs of their own. Recently, a Florida MPO discovered that no mechanism existed for the MPO to supplement a traffic-operations program called the "Road Rangers" that was cut back in the state budget. The draft reauthorization introduced to the Subcommittee on Highways and Transit includes several provisions for MPOs to build their own projects, so there is a good chance MPOs will have some authority in this area soon.

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