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Senate Bill May Weaken Smaller Metros, Empower State DOTs

1:58 PM PST on November 14, 2011

In Indiana, the state DOT wants to build a 142-mile extension of Interstate 69, but the Bloomington metropolitan planning organization won’t allow it – the group had written the road out of its three-year transportation plan and members are standing firm, refusing to write it back in. The MPO in Charlottesville, Virginia, similarly, long fought the construction of a $245 million, six-mile bypass the state plans to build to accommodate freight traffic.

These local MPOs often (though not always) see the importance of things like urban transit and active transportation where states too often focus on big road-building projects. MPOs can provide a buffer between communities and state transportation bureaucracies, re-orienting priorities back to the local level.

There are 384 MPOs in the country. Two-thirds of them represent communities of less than 200,000 people. And there’s an existential threat to all of those MPOs in the new Senate transportation bill.

The bill states that the “continuing designation” of an MPO representing an urbanized area of under 200,000 people “shall be terminated” unless it meets “the minimum requirements established by the regulation,” to be determined by the Secretary of Transportation. Those “minimum requirements” have not yet been spelled out, and the Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO) is nervous about such vague wording.

AMPO Director Delania Hardy said that right now, no one knows what it means, exactly, to demonstrate “technical capacity,” as required in the Senate draft. “It’s a very fuzzy term that doesn’t have a lot of explanation in their text,” she said. She went on:

If we wound up with somebody who’s a pretty hardcore “let’s cut-cut-cut,” they could put together a stack of things that are almost impossible for the sake of killing off these MPOs. It could go that way.

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