Indiana Regional Planning Commission (NIRPC) is formally protesting a
proposed rule change--being pushed by the Federal Highway Administration and
U.S. Department of Transportation--which could force it to merge with other
metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), most notably the Chicago
Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP).
In a letter dated
today and signed by the chair of NIRPC’s Executive Committee, Chesterton
Town Council Member Jim Ton, NIRPC makes the case for the status quo and
suggests strongly that things not broken ought not be fixed.
Because the fix, in
this case at least, is both “overreaching in its application and impractical
in its implementation,” Ton states in the letter.
MPOs--is charged with transportation planning and prioritizing and with the
awarding and disbursement of federal grant funds to local municipalities.
And its jurisdiction is well defined: Lake, Porter, and LaPorte counties.
Under the proposed federal rule change, however, NIRPC could be forced to
merge with CMAP and possibly also with the MPOs serving Southeastern
Wisconsin and Southwestern Michigan.
“In that large a
geography”--four MPOs covering 11,368,245 people--simply “agreeing upon the
governing board composition, approval processes, and funding would very
likely exceed the two-year phase-in requirement, leaving the newly merged
MPO out of compliance and encumbered in a potential bureaucratic quagmire,”
Any merger would
also have result in an imbalance in the local disbursement of federal
transportation funds, Ton states. “The larger, more dominant area of Chicago
in Illinois would receive the majority of the funds. NIRPC has worked above
and beyond the federal requirements in ensuring all communities are not
discriminated against when distributing federal funds and during the project
selection process. The proposed rule will further dampen NIRPC’s work in
ensuring all communities, especially those in Environmental Justice areas,
have equal access and opportunity to planning. Regional planning, likely
based in Chicago, would serve neither the residents nor the regular
control of transportation planning and replacing it with a one-size-fits all
model, Ton adds, would be disastrous. “Input from local elected officials
and the public into plan development and the project prioritization process
will be difficult,” Ton states. Given “the diverse populations, travel
trends, transportation needs, different budgets, policies, and governance
within the multi-state area, in a single long-range plan would lack
significant focus and a single (transportation incentive program) or
performance measure target would be near impossible.”
“Routine actions .
. . would become bureaucratically challenging to the extreme,” Ton
emphasizes, “and meaningful engagement would be substantially reduced to the
point of being water-downed at best and near-meaningless at worst.”
And the heck of it,
Ton concludes, is that NIRPC, CMAP, and the other nearby MPOs already have
excellent working relationships. “It is our belief that the MPOs do not need
another mandate or layer of bureaucracy to require cooperation and
collaboration,” he states, as the three in Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin
have long “worked together as a region to promote and coordinate
large-scale, coordinated investments in our transportation system.”
Ton’s advice to the
feds: “we suggest that US DOT coordinate and discuss possible changes to
metropolitan transportation planning regulations that would benefit all.”