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AASHTO Journal

AASHTO, Many State DOTs Urge Federal Agencies to Withdraw Proposed MPO Rule

The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, and many state departments of transportation, filed formal comments urging federal agencies to withdraw a proposed regulation that would force major changes on metropolitan planning organizations across the country.

That follows a notice of proposed rulemaking that the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration issued June 27 that would require multiple MPOs in an urbanized area to develop a single plan for transportation projects.

State DOTs work closely with local-area MPOs to incorporate local needs into a statewide transportation program, so the proposal would affect the state agencies as well as hundreds of MPOs.

capitol0816.jpgNumerous stakeholders responding to the regulatory proposal said it could alter a system that has been working well for decades. "AASHTO does not see a basis for making the significant changes proposed in the docket," it said in comments filed Aug. 19. "We see no issues with the existing rule related to regional coordination . . . the current approach is working well."

AASHTO and other commenters also pointed out that the FHWA and FTA just on May 27 had issued a final rule for statewide and nonmetropolitan and metropolitan transportation planning after a long rulemaking process, and the federal agencies gave no sign that they would pursue further regulation.

"During the development of and comment period on that now final rule," AASHTO said, "there was no indication of concerns with regional transportation planning, much less major concerns that would support the additional rulemaking."

After noting the latest proposal would impose "significant additional legal and administrative requirements that would serve as barriers to constructive and flexible approaches," AASHTO recommended that the federal regulators withdraw the proposed rule. "Failing that, its provisions should be substantially revised so that they are voluntary, not mandatory," AASHTO said.

Dozens of state DOTs also weighed in, either individually or in regional groups, and nearly all raised similar concerns.

Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn commented that "the proposed rule creates unnecessary complexity and adds no value to an already successful and comprehensive process in Maryland."

Paul Mattox, secretary of the West Virginia DOT, wrote that "the WVDOT has a strong, healthy relationship" with that state's MPOs, and the federal rule "would create additional and unnecessary administrative functions of little value to a process that is already working successfully."

Five state DOTs – from Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming – jointly objected that the proposal "apparently would reserve to the federal government the authority to decide boundaries of metropolitan planning areas."

They also said provisions to put certain matters in the state-MPO relationships in writing, such as dispute resolution, "inherently make arrangements less flexible and will result in the misdirection of management focus by both MPOs and states from solving transportation problems to thinking about written agreements and frameworks for resolving disputes."

Florida DOT Secretary Jim Boxold wrote that Florida is more affected by this proposal than any other state, that "there is no clear direction for this NPRM in legislation," and that the rulemaking "should be suspended until legislation is enacted that clarifies the congressional intent." Commuting in america

Various commenters warned that the sudden introduction of a major rulemaking process, and the way this proposed rule was written, risked major unintended consequences.

New Jersey DOT Commissioner Richard Hammer offered a big one, writing that "the proposed rule would unwittingly create one large MPO that would span across seven states: Maryland, Delaware Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Massachusetts."

North Carolina Transportation Secretary Nicholas Tennyson not only said the proposal would create significant layers of complexity, but took the occasion to point federal officials to a different issue facing transportation planners.

"We feel strongly that the problem we are faced with as a state and as a nation is not one caused by a lack of coordination in the planning process, but a well-known lack of transportation infrastructure funding availability that should be addressed before implementing additional regulation that will both complicate the current process and increase the cost of providing service," Tennyson wrote.

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