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AASHTO Journal

Senate Votes to Repeal FHWA-FTA Rule on Reshaping Metropolitan Planning Organizations

​The Senate voted March 8 by unanimous consent to repeal a controversial regulation issued last year by the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration that would revamp how metropolitan planning organizations must define their areas, and which could force some to merge.

capitol0816.jpgA companion bill has been introduced in the House, and should the measure become law the Obama administration's MPO rule would be dead.

As previously reported, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials and many state departments of transportation had filed formal comments about the original version of the regulation urging the FHWA and FTA to withdraw a rule they said would force major changes on the MPO system that state DOTs viewed as working well.

AASHTO and some other commenters also objected that the federal agencies had introduced this rule suddenly and without the lengthy preparation of stakeholders that normally precedes major regulatory changes, and pursued it on an expedited basis that left little time for public comment and reconsideration.

State DOTs work closely with their local-area MPOs, in order to incorporate local needs into statewide transportation programs, so the regulation stood to affect those state agencies as well as hundreds of MPOs.

The FHWA and FTA issued a revised, final version in December that simplified some aspects, but which also retained much of the complexity of the proposed rule. It took effect Jan. 19, one day before President Trump took office, and was not subject to his order that stalled still-pending regulations.

As recently as March 1, Carlos Braceras, the Utah DOT's executive director and AASHTO's secretary/treasurer, told the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on behalf of both his state agency and AASHTO that the MPO rule was a "problematic USDOT regulatory action" that imposed an "onerous and unanticipated" new coordination requirement.

"Although state DOTs and MPOs already exemplify the kinds of coordination sought," Braceras testified, "the new regulation is anticipated to impose costly requirements with no benefits."

Eno Transportation Weekly reported that the Senate repeal measure did not use the Congressional Review Act process, which would have prevented a future administration from revisiting the issue in essentially the same form without congressional approval. Under the Senate's direct repeal approach, Eno said, "a future administration will be free to try again with a rule that approaches the subject a bit differently."

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