Guest Op-Ed: Local MPOs Are Already Cooperating
Guest op-ed by Carl Mikyska, Executive Director, Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council.
By now, most of the transportation world has heard about the federal MPO Coordination and Planning Area Reform Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM). The Florida MPO Advisory Council sees that the NPRM strives to reach a laudable goal, but the practical aspects are unworkable in many areas.
The need for collaboration and coordination across a region with multiple MPOs or with MPOs that are within, say, 50 miles of each other, is no secret. This is how larger projects get started and ultimately built – and also how they don’t, when regional communication breaks down.
MPOs have long understood this correlation and the value of collaboration. If the FHWA and FTA want to improve MPO coordination, their approach needs to be flexible enough to fit the local planning and regulatory context of each metropolitan area. A workable solution needs to contain voluntary, incentive-based approaches.
Transportation planners across the nation have long collaborated within their states, across state lines, and nationally. The recent combined effort of the National Association of Regional Councils, Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the National Association of Development Organizations to oppose the NPRM as written has been an excellent example of this kind of cooperative engagement. The comments of NARC/AMPO/NADO are extensive, thorough and were developed by engaging the collective membership. We applaud their effort and the example they set.
In Florida specifically, 22 of the 27 MPOs are affected by this NPRM, more than any other state. Of the 22 impacted Florida MPOs, all have entered into written agreements to coordinate with one or more nearby MPOs on a voluntary basis.
FHWA highlighted the successes of MPO coordination in Florida through the Every Day Counts program (EDC-3 Innovations) in 2016. The South East Florida Transportation Council (SEFTC) was found to exemplify best practices in multi-MPO cooperation and collaboration, which is largely due to their formalized planning efforts including freight planning and coordinated identification of project priorities. Florida’s other MPOs have cooperated to generate other transportation planning products, including but not limited to:
- Long-range transportation policy plans covering multiple MPO areas
- Shared goals and objectives
- Collaborative shared project priority lists
- Congestion management processes covering multiple MPO areas
- Multi-county freight plans
Additionally, all 27 Florida MPOs belong to the Florida MPO Advisory Council (MPOAC), which is a statewide forum for collaboration and statewide transportation policy development. The MPOAC meets quarterly and provides regular opportunities for the Florida DOT, FHWA and FTA to provide updates of national and statewide significance.
This voluntary collaboration demonstrates that MPOs in Florida recognize the value of speaking with a collective voice on transportation issues at a statewide level. One way this has been demonstrated is through partnering with the Florida DOT to develop the financial guidelines for MPO plans, allowing Florida MPOs to create an identical methodology to estimate the unfunded statewide transportation needs in urbanized areas.
Transportation funding allocated by the Florida legislature has been growing year after year and exceeded $12.2 billion for the current state fiscal year. Only 25% of those dollars are federal funds. We have to ask: do we need a federal mandate to coordinate? It seems to be working well here without a mandate and the numbers prove it.
Many Florida MPOs have set their planning area to align with county borders. This has long allowed one set of decision makers to coordinate land use policy making with transportation decisions. As in many areas across the nation, Florida counties differ on their approaches to land development and development patterns. If these disparate counties would be forced to merge or forcibly coordinate as the NPRM would mandate, the linkage between land use and transportation planning would be diluted, if not lost.
We know that land use and transportation are by necessity tied together and when planned together, good results follow. In the long term, we would expect the NPRM to raise the costs of serving our citizens due to the lack of coordination between land use and transportation decision-making. We need land use and transportation decisions to support each other and having one set of individuals at a county level set policy for both works well.
The nine largest Florida MPOs serve a larger population than the nine smallest states. At the same time, fifteen of our MPOs plan for areas that are larger in land mass than the smallest state and in several cases the 2nd smallest state. Getting bigger is not equal to being better. We fear going larger will diminish the local perspective in transportation decision-making – and local perspective is why MPOs were created in the first place.
Florida MPOs, like MPOs everywhere, recognize the value of partnerships and collaboration. We would prefer a process where MPOs are not forced to merge or forcibly coordinate, but rather are encouraged with incentives to develop partnerships that suit their unique metropolitan areas. We are open to several ideas and would suggest that any incentives offer additional funding beyond FHWA and FTA planning funds.
MPOs accountable to local elected officials–who in turn answer to local voters—are best suited to represent the local transportation needs and concerns. We should work together to create a system that insures those local voices remain sufficiently local to understand local concerns, and yet are still heard at statewide and national levels. Working together we can make a difference.
Mr. Mikyska’s views are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Eno Center for Transportation.