TxDOT changes rules for MPOs, does little to give local control

Link to article to here.

Bottom line, we read every single rule change and the Governor and his Transportation Commission still have the final say on MPO allocations and MPO plans and Rural Planning Organizations are not even legally established in the Transportation code and yet TxDOT is adopting rules for them!

TxDOT approves rules to strengthen MPOs

By Jon Vanderlaan, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Plano Courier

Published: Thursday, September 2, 2010 3:23 PM CDT

Texas’ Metropolitan Planning Organizations have secured their authority in planning decisions with new rules adopted by the Texas Department of Transportation.

According to news release from TxDOT, the rules will enhance the role citizens and communities play in planning the state’s transportation system.

Michael Morris, director of transportation for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which is the Dallas-area MPO, said the rules changes were based on House Bill 300, which did not pass in the last legislative session.

  Morris said the biggest change is authority that previously was rooted in policy is now written in rule and much more difficult to change.

“I think clearly TxDOT got a message from the legislature that they want metropolitan planning organizations to be recognized as entities within each of the metropolitan regions,” he said, “to be decision makers when it comes to transportation questions.”

One of the best examples of the changes, Morris said, is the allocation of Surface Transportation and Environment Planning funds.

Previously, programs to benefit from STEP funds were picked in Austin, Morris said, but now 50 percent of those revenues will be available to the Regional Transportation Council to decide what projects will benefit.

Rep. Joe Pickett, D-El Paso, said in a released statement the changes put more control in the hands of leaders, planners and citizens of a community, who better understand the needs of the communities.

“For the first tiem, the new rules make sure that local decisions are made in each community across the state, rather than handed down by officials in Austin,” he said.

According to a TxDOT news release, the rules will allow MPOs to develop long-, mid- and short-range transportation plans.

The process also will include the use of an extended cash forecast to provide additional flexibility in planning.

Rep. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, said in a released statement the rule changes put control in the hands of MPOs and will help them do a “great” job for communities.

“Under the new rules, MPOs will be better armed with the information they need to craft plans that transparently and accountably address the infrastructure needs in their communities,” he said.

The new rules may also help the RTC allocate Proposition 12 bonds that were authorized by the legislature in 2009, Morris said.

“It’s being made clear that the elected officials on the RTC want the Prop 12 fund to be allocated,” he said, “and we have the foundation now for that given the rulemaking that has been adopted.”

The $2 billion in bonds that were authorized are backed by state revenue and will go toward highway improvements, according to the TxDOT website.

Morris said the formula for allocation of those funds was always a question with the RTC -- TxDOT districts and MPOs identified more than $8.9 billion in possible projects to benefit from the funds.

Rural Planning Organizations also were officially recognized with the rules changes, which Morris said is important because of the implications of metropolitan planning in rural areas.

“Often the visions in the metropolitan regions cross over into the rural,” he said.