Chesterton Tribune



NIRPC President Jim Ton rips federal effort to merge NIRPC with Illinois agencies

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The Northwestern 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.

NIRPC--like other 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,” Ton states.

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 stakeholders well.”

Killing local 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.”



Posted 8/26/2016








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