Transportation infrastructure forms networks both within and between cities and regions and as such, is inherently a megaregion issue. Therefore, conceiving a framework for governing megaregion transportation planning in the United States, particularly across political boundaries, requires a thorough understanding of the background of current megaregion planning initiatives. At present, transportation planning is typically conducted by individual states regions, cities or towns or it may be undertaken by the Federal government where multiple states are involved.
Megaregions: Literature Review of Organizational Structures and Finance of Multi-jurisdictional Initiatives and the Implications for Megaregion Transportation Planning in the U.S. were prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. The report provides theoretical concepts of governing structures, reviews case studies of innovative international and national approaches to analyze structures under which successful transportation projects were undertaken under non-traditional, inter-regional and trans-boundary geography and discusses opportunities and challenges in megaregion transportation planning.Shift of Institutions
Over the next several decades, transportation infrastructure within urbanized areas in the U.S. will face a wide range of challenges. Population growth and expansion of economic activities over the last several decades are already placing stress on roadways, airports, transit, and shipping infrastructures. If current trends continue as projected, transportation infrastructure will continue to deteriorate. However, focusing transportation planning at the level of megaregion may mitigate or alleviate some of these problems. Planning and implementation of transportation infrastructure improvements at the megaregion level can be more coordinated and comprehensive than the piecemeal improvements that occur at the level of an individual jurisdiction.
At present, there is no incentive for individual actors involved in local and regional planning to coordinate their efforts. Frequently, they instead compete against each other for resources, despite the presence of potential benefits of cooperation. Thus, in order for megaregion planning to be effective, a shift in how planning is conducted and perceived must occur. Several models for this shift have been proposed. Many of these models originate from Europe, where megaregion planning has progressed farther than in the United States. They include city-regionalism, functional polycentric development, reform-consolidation, market public choice, and new regionalism. None of these theories is without its drawbacks, however, and creating a framework for megaregion transportation planning in the U.S. will require further refinement. In addition to the trend of regional governance where public and private sectors and other interest groups form an alliance for regional interests rather than creating a new government, what is clear is that there remains an important role for the federal government in providing leadership for megaregion planning efforts, while local and regional actors must develop the capacity and willingness to coordinate and undertake joint development of transportation infrastructure.Transportation Planning and Megaregions
The federal capacity for coordinated national transportation planning is clearly demonstrated in transportation planning with the commitment to develop the national interstate highway system in the 1950s. Early transportation planning was primarily focused on highway construction, often without consideration for other needs and factors affecting transportation system performance. Later transportation planning was characterized by greater fragmentation, with emphasis on improving small areas. Over time, this emphasis has shifted to an integrated system of transportation planning, giving consideration to multiple modes and how transportation infrastructure interacts with issues of environment, public health, economic growth, and quality of life.
Since the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962, transportation planning within urban communities has been mandated by the United States (U.S.) government. This established a level of transportation planning above the scale of individual municipalities which encompasses the entire metropolitan area of 50,000 or more. Since 1973, metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) have been a part of this process. MPOs serve a major function in metropolitan transportation planning, in consultation with other planning entities, transportation organizations, and officials within their jurisdictions. They produce long-range (20-year) transportation plans for their jurisdictions, 4-5 year Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs), and annual Unified Planning Work Programs (UPWPs), and ensure public participation in the transportation planning process. Recent movement toward integrated transportation planning has also increased the focus of MPOs on other aspects of planning outside of transportation, while the emergence of megaregions suggests that it is time to consider planning beyond the scale of the metropolitan area.
As transportation planning has developed, megaregion planning has emerged. Recent literature has included case studies for several of the identified U.S. megaregions. For the Northern California region, researchers have emphasized a focus on the use of an adaptive and innovative form of governance that will take its place alongside existing governing authorities to provide structure and guidance at a grander scale than the lone municipality or metropolitan area. In Arizona, the focus is on developing the region's vision for itself as a region of global economic importance. Economic development, infrastructure investment needs and the need for cooperative and collaborative planning are being used to achieve this vision. In addition, the need to strengthen the region's identity as a single entity is recognized.
Transportation planning will play a large role in megaregion planning, as transportation networks form one of the key links between the major metropolitan centers that compose the megaregion. Key aspects of planning for megaregions include strategic planning, technical analysis, funding mechanisms, and institutional relationships. In addition, it will be important to determine the role of MPOs at the megaregion level and the conduct of transportation planning activities. As metropolitan-level organizations, the interactions between multiple MPOs will also be crucial to the success of megaregion transportation planning initiatives.Case Studies of Multi-Jurisdictional Cooperation
In regions where growing metropolitan areas have begun to overlap, interaction between multiple MPOs is already occurring. In some areas, this includes formal cooperation and coordination between several MPOs. Where these MPOs have met with success, the beginning of a framework for future interactions between MPOs within megaregions, as well as the greater scope of all megaregion transportation planning, can be seen. Examples include transportation planning in Florida, where state legislation encourages coordination between MPOs, and the Arizona Sun Corridor, where cooperation between local governments has been formalized through joint planning agreements.
Over time, metropolitan areas begin to merge across state boundaries. In these cases, joint transportation planning becomes more difficult as hurdles of differing state priorities, incentives, and regulations cause planning agencies on either side of the border to move in different directions. However, examples of cross-state cooperation between MPOs exist. The work of Grant (1955) serves as classic background reading regarding the difficulty and necessity of coordination for regions that span state borders. Some examples of successful multi-state MPO coordination include the Augusta-Richmond County Planning Commission, where a single MPO coordinates transportation planning for Augusta, GA and Aiken, SC; Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Council of Governments (OKI), an eight-county MPO serving three states; and the Western High Speed Rail Alliance of MPOs serving Denver, CO, Maricopa, AZ, Las Vegas, NV, Washoe County, NV, and Salt Lake City, UT. In addition, some multi-state MPOs cross national boundaries, such as the Canada-US-Ontario-Michigan Border Transportation Partnership, which serves transportation needs in Southwest Ontario and Southeast Michigan.
In addition to cooperation between MPOs, examples of megaregion cooperation and coordination can be found in a number of domestic and international initiatives, governing transportation as well as other initiatives and government activity. These include the Northwest Power Planning Council in the northwestern U.S., the Transportation and Climate Initiative in the mid-Atlantic and northeastern U.S., the I-95 Corridor Coalition serving communities on the Eastern Seaboard of the U.S., the Piedmont Alliance for Quality Growth in the southeastern U.S., the Randstad's Deltametropolis in the western Netherlands, and the Oresund Committee in Denmark and Sweden. With the exception of the Northwest Council, all of these initiatives govern transportation issues; however, several also encompass a broader scope. In particular, both the Randstad and the Oresund Committee involve regional planning that extends beyond transportation planning.Opportunities and Challenges
Megaregion planning poses both opportunities for comprehensive and coordinated planning as well as challenges that must be resolved for initiatives to succeed. Where political boundaries exist, cross-border planning becomes challenging, as regions must coordinate at higher levels to ensure success. In particular, in the Midwest, Northeast, and Piedmont megaregions, the large numbers of states incorporated into megaregions make forming cooperative alliances much more difficult. At a more granular level, areas with non-contiguous MPOs find that their transportation interests and priorities are less well-aligned than areas with more contiguity.
A major area in which the ability to coordinate megaregion transportation planning will be vitally important in the twenty-first century is in the movement of passengers and goods between and within megaregions. One aspect of this is the shift from traditional inter-city rail service to high-speed rail. High-speed rail can strengthen connectivity within and between megaregions, but the great expense and infrastructure investment necessary to achieve this connectivity will require careful coordination. Freight traffic also relies heavily on rail and roadway connectivity, which is challenged by an aging infrastructure that has expanded more slowly than freight volumes have increased. Additionally, air travel among cities is a growing sector of movement within the megaregion.
In order to meet these challenges, an improved framework for megaregion governance and funding must be created. Creating this framework will make it possible to shift participants in the transportation planning process from the current, less cooperative approach to one that emphasizes coordination and cooperation between governing agencies and officials. Doing so will help ensure that effective megaregion and cross border transportation planning can be implemented.