Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration
Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)

Literature Review of Organizational Structures and Finance of Multi-jurisdictional Initiatives and the Implications for Megaregion Transportation Planning in the U.S.

Executive Summary

A. Research Background

The megaregion is a new approach for defining regionalism, creating a new spatial strategy for those areas hosting a significant portion of the country's population and economic activities and thus confronting intense traffic congestion and a constrained environment. The advent of the megaregion also represents a new and potentially fruitful context for American transportation planning. Megaregions are characterized as networks of urban centers and their surrounding areas, connected by existing economic, social, and infrastructure relationships (Ross et al., 2009a). The power of a megaregion framework is that it can be adapted to different scales in different places, so that it may be used to pursue different strategies to address current challenges and enhance future competitiveness.

Effective transportation infrastructure, which links together neighborhoods, towns, and cities to regions, regions to megaregions, and megaregions to nations, is essential to economic growth in a global economy. In contrast to current planning, which is either nationally directed or limited to individual metropolitan areas, megaregion planning for infrastructure to support economic functionality is critical to ensuring regional competitiveness in a global context. It is of increasing importance in the improvement of inter-state and inter-regional mobility. Within a megaregion framework, metropolitan areas linked by transportation corridors can work together to strengthen their own competitive advantage while contributing to the economic capacity of the extended region. Thus the megaregion approach may provide a more effective strategy for spatially-based development, taking into account key regional issues: transportation, natural environment, utilities, land use, and economic competitiveness.

Historically, numerous strategies have been put forward outlining the importance of the regional context in infrastructure investment planning, yet multi-jurisdictional and multi-state transportation and infrastructure planning has been difficult to accomplish within the United States. Transportation objectives, shared environmental resources, and economic development have occasionally spurred inter-state cooperation, but the most influential attempts at regional planning in the U.S. have originated at the federal level. The major challenge for future regional efforts will be to combine the effectiveness of federally-proposed initiatives with the cooperative nature of interstate compacts driven or undergirded by local support. Elsewhere in the world, in areas such as the European Union (E.U.) and China, transportation investment is being approached regionally by both federal governments and local actors, generating significant regional advantages.

Rather than have state or local governments compete against each other for funds and projects, the megaregion offers a framework for inter-jurisdictional cooperation (Ross et al., 2009b). As we have seen in the U.S., locally-originated regional associations have tended to be weaker than those sponsored at the federal level. It may be that megaregions can be the first (North) American example of regionally cooperative approaches with enough local buy-in to be able to act decisively. Presently, our planning structures are divided into vertical (functional) classifications and horizontal (hierarchical) classifications. Hierarchical classes include the federal, state, metropolitan, county, and local levels with some auxiliary agencies. Functional classes include transportation, agriculture, land development, natural resources, housing, economy and urban affairs. However, the functions of public and private actors interact in complex ways on our citizens, resources, settlements, and infrastructure.

Over the past few years several research forums have been held by Georgia Tech's Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD), the Regional Plan Association (RPA), and at national conferences held by the American Planning Association (APA), the American Collegiate Schools of Planning (ACSP) and the Transportation Research Board (TRB) to address the challenges and potential associated with megaregional planning. Additionally, new organizations such as the Piedmont Alliance for Quality Growth (PAQG) are being convened to consider prevailing development challenges and opportunities in the context of megaregions, and to develop a research and policy agenda for moving forward with megaregion planning. These forums have brought together leading academics, decision and policy makers and business leaders. A common theme of discussion running through these forums and groups is the need for and current lack of a functional framework through which to pursue megaregion planning.

The purpose of this report is to identify lessons from current multi-jurisdictional approaches in the U.S. and around the world through a review of relevant literature to craft approaches for addressing infrastructure needs and planning at the scale of the megaregion.

B. Report Organization

Building on the work done in FHWA's report, entitled Megaregions and Transportation Planning, this report aims to provide a basis of knowledge of the current state of thinking on regional and statewide transportation planning structures and opportunities for megaregion planning, which will contribute to the literature and practice of megaregion planning. This report also strives to broaden the constituency and identify appropriate strategies for the pursuit of a practical and actionable approach to megaregion planning in the U.S.

Section II explores the theoretical discussions on the evolution of the institutional structure to inform the development of megaregion governance. This review presents three different concepts of governance, including "reform-consolidation", "market public choice", and "new regionalism" concepts, and examines implications for megaregion governance. Section III examines current and historic structures and function of regional and statewide transportation planning, and reviews recent literature on megaregion planning.

Section IV provides case studies of multi-jurisdictional cooperation in three categories: multiple MPOs, multi-state MPOs, and other multi-scale initiatives crossing state boundaries. First, the MPOs' areas of responsibility have grown with the expansion of metropolitan areas and the areas have begun to overlap with neighboring metropolitan areas, resulting in collaboration of multiple MPOs. Second, another type of multi-jurisdictional collaboration is a multi-state MPO, which is charged with the increased challenge of planning for a region or metropolitan area that falls under the jurisdiction of two or more states. Thirdly, other large- and multi-scale initiatives that cross state boundaries are examined. This not only includes multi-scale transportation initiatives, but also includes a targeted exploration of megaregion initiatives in other infrastructure sectors, such as the Northwest Power Planning Council created in the four primary states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, and the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) among the Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states.

Section V identifies opportunities and challenges of megaregions through the results of this report and preliminary analysis. Section VI draws conclusions from the body of literature and case studies examined in this report to frame the next steps in the examination of megaregions for transportation planning and investment in the United States.

Updated: 9/5/2013
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000