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Rapidly Urbanizing/Dixie MPO - St. George, Utah

In rapidly urbanizing rural communities, local officials are sometimes unaware of the requirements for metropolitan planning to qualify for urban area funding after designation as an urbanized area. However, in the case of St. George, Utah, the process for metropolitan transportation planning began prior to designation as an urbanized area in May 2002.

Strategy

The Five County Association of Governments (FCAOG) and the Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget demonstrated foresight by anticipating the combined population of the cities of St. George, Washington, Ivins and Santa Clara would exceed 50,000 in the 2000 Census. In cooperation with the area cities, Washington County and the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), FCAOG embarked on a three-year work program to develop a long range planning process, prepare for urbanized designation, and establish a metropolitan planning organization (MPO) in the area known historically as "Utah's Dixie."

The regional cities, the FCAOG, and UDOT entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) in June of 2001 to establish a 'partnership charter' whereby the stakeholders agreed to work together for the common good and to act and represent the agencies in the MPO development process. The MOU further documented a mission and vision for the MPO.

The long range planning process began December of 2001 with an open house to promote the long-term involvement of stakeholders and other groups interested in transportation for the Dixie area. The Utah Governor ultimately designated Utah's newest MPO on September 20, 2002. The Dixie MPO is administered and staffed by the Dixie Transportation Planning Office (DTPO) located at the FCAOG.

The FCAOG and the city of St. George anticipated the transition from Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5311 non-urbanized (rural) area transit funds to Section 5307 urbanized area formula funding. In September 2002, the St. George City Council voted in support of taking over the public transit responsibility for the urbanized area from the rural provider, and became the FTA grant recipient for Section 5307 funds. Utah's Governor designated the city as the designated recipient for FTA funds and FTA concurrence was received in November 2002. The FCAOG continues to facilitate transit development in rural areas. The foresight and early action prevented any potential lapse in transit funding in the transition from rural to urban status for the urbanized area.

The urban transit system, "SunTran," operates a fixed route system over three routes, with hourly headway and a separate dial-a-ride system for individuals with special needs. Back-up vehicles are available to feed into the systems to maintain scheduled service. The city is planning to transition to 30-minute headways in the near term.

Policy

The Dixie MPO policy board, known as the Dixie Transportation Executive Council (DTEC), was in place by November 2002. The DTEC is comprised of elected officials representing the cities of St. George, Washington, Ivins and Santa Clara and the Utah State Transportation Commissioner representing the southwestern part of the state. Hurricane City and the Dixie Area Rapid Transit System (DARTS) were named as ex-officio, non-voting members.

The region's transportation needs exceed anticipated funding. In the initial one to three year transportation development plan, the Dixie MPO is focusing on existing corridor preservation and transit. The policy is to use formula funding for needed improvements to the transit system before funds lapse, and also direct annual roadway funding towards design and engineering of proposed highway projects currently in the UDOT Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) and the MPO TIP. The southwestern Utah area has been successful in obtaining discretionary funding for the construction of needed transportation projects.

Process

The Dixie Transportation Advisory Committee (DTAC) serves as the technical advisors to DTEC and is comprised of the public works officials for the member cities and Washington County and the Cedar District Engineer for UDOT.

The Dixie MPO utilized a corridor-based approach to assess future transportation planning needs in the urbanized area. In 2001 DTAC members identified the most significant corridors for improvement within the expected urbanized area and recommended improvement projects along with detailed cost estimates of the improvements. Originally a list of 30 projects was identified by DTAC. Ultimately a list of six projects was placed in the first Dixie MPO TIP. The remaining projects on the original list of 30 were identified as improvements for "corridors of need" and served as a financially unconstrained list of projects needed along significant transportation corridors to meet travel demands over the next 20 years. The technical decisions on the corridors were reached by consensus among the members of DTAC based on a long history of cooperative planning processes in the region

Technical

The Dixie MPO uses Quick Response System II (QRS II), a travel demand model created by Professor Alan Horowitz. The Quick Response System II operates using the four-step planning process – trip generation, trip distribution, mode split, and traffic/transit assignment – for highway and transit forecasting. QRS II operates in the Windows environment and permits fast setup of simulations, retrieval of results and data transfer to many other Windows applications, such as spreadsheets, word processing software and graphic packages. QRS II can provide traditional region-wide forecasting, as well as site impact analysis and corridor analysis. The Dixie MPO sees many advantages to using QRS II in that it is inexpensive (under $1,000), easy to use, flexible and appropriate for a small MPO. With fewer than 200 transportation analysis zones (TAZ), the Dixie MPO is able to manage the travel model in-house with help from the City of St. George and consultants to conduct updates, calibrations and forecast..

Table: Dixie MPO Summary

Planning Area

Notable Practice

Strategy

  • The agencies that are responsible for transportation planning entered into a memorandum of understanding to establish a 'partnership charter' whereby the stakeholders agreed to work together for the common good and to act and represent the agencies in the new MPO development process.
  • The responsible agencies had the foresight to take early action and transition public transportation services from a rural provider to an urban sponsor willing to serve as the designated grant recipient. This early action prevented any potential lapse in transit funding.

Policy

  • The policy of the new MPO is to use formula funding for improvements to the transit system before funds lapse and to allocate annual roadway funding towards design and engineering of proposed highway projects in the transportation improvement program.

Process

  • The new MPO embraced a long history of cooperative planning processes in the region to ease the transition to the metropolitan planning process.
  • The MPO found the list of projects for the first transportation improvement program exceeded the funds available. The MPO identified improvements along "corridors of need" to serve as a financially unconstrained list of projects to meet travel demand projected in the long-range transportation plan.

Technical

  • The new MPO selected the Quick Response System (QRS II) travel demand model as appropriate for a small urbanized planning area.

Contacts

Lowell Elmer, Dixie MPO Director, 435-673-3548, lelmer@fcaog.state.ut.us
Kenneth L. Sizemore, Executive Director, Five County Association of Governments, 435-673-3548, ksizemore@fcaog.state.ut.us

Website

Dixie MPO: http://www.fcaog.state.ut.us/dep/mpo/index.php

Updated: 03/26/2013
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