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Transportation planning and investment decisions influence far more than the accessibility and mobility of individuals. Through years of observation in the great social laboratory of our communities, transportation planning and investment decisions have proven to have immense influence on the social, environmental and economic health of an area. Today the planning community is faced with a new spatial form encompassed within the concept of the megaregion. This fresh urban structure and the associated interactions and relationships between metropolitan areas within a region has called for a new approach to transportation planning that is more highly geared toward a new regionalism; and the need for increased coordination and cooperation between authorities, void of political boundaries, is imperative. This innovative approach to transportation planning will not replace other planning approaches at the local or regional level, but it would provide an additional tool for practitioners, authorities, academics and policy makers so that more effective planning and investment decisions can be made.

Ross et al. (2008) has characterized megaregions as linked networks of metropolitan centers and their surrounding areas that share or interact through environmental, economic, infrastructure and social factors. With the progressive concept of the megaregion has come a new spatial and relational form in the urban landscape for which we must plan. This research is geared toward providing a planning structure or framework that can effectively address the challenges of this new urban form. To better understand the evolution in planning and to ultimately frame this movement into planning for the megaregion, this section will provide a literature review of the current and historical structure and function of local, regional, statewide and trans-boundary transportation planning.

A. Historic Structures and Function of Regional and Statewide Transportation Planning

Transportation planning occurs in a very dynamic, diverse and ever-changing environment. However, in order for this planning to be effective it should be responsive and able to adapt to changes in factors such as population patterns, travel preferences, social needs, environmental concerns and economic activity. Through this dynamism it is possible to trace the evolution of this discipline over time. Work done by Ross, Barringer and Amekudzi (2009) has summarized the evolution of transportation planning into six eras each with its own distinct planning nature and functions (Figure 3).

This graphic represents the evolution of Transportation Planning in the U.S. The phases include the Classical Transportation Planning phase 1950s-1960s, the Neoclassical or open transportation planning phase 1970s, the Fragmented transportation planning phase 1975-1980s, the Consolidated transportation planning phase mid 1908s , the Integrated planning and contact sensitive solutions phase 1990s, and the Sustainable transportation planning phase 200s.

Figure 3. Evolution of the nature and function of transportation planning in the US (Ross et al., 2009b)

With the commitment to develop a national highway system in the United States, came the beginnings of early transportation planning. The nature and function of planning in this era was highly influenced by the purpose of constructing the national interstate highway system and was thus motivated by its related goals and values. As such, early transportation planning was focused on highway construction. As the needs of certain groups were not addressed by government planners the neoclassical period of transportation planning was riddled with a sense of mistrust in government planning to promote the interest of certain social groups. In response to this perception, many planning efforts were advanced through advocacy planning groups by taking efforts into their own hands.

Through the decades, planning activities moved from being fragmented in nature, focusing on small area improvements and planning to enhance the performance of the system as it related to distinct areas such as safety or capacity, to being more consolidated and inclusive in nature. This period of consolidated transportation planning, emphasized planning in a more holistic manner and placed special focus on multimodal approaches. The current culture of transportation planning has continued to move in this general direction, addressing more and more complex issues associated with planning for large spatial areas and complex systems, such as the urban metropolitan areas with their integrated systems. Transportation planning and decisions are now highly responsive and sensitive to environmental impacts, social issues such as health and equity, integrated transportation and land use relationships, and advancing economic competitiveness, in addition to reducing congestion and promoting a better quality of life for system users.

B. Regional Multi-Modal Transportation Planning

Historically, transportation planning has been voluntarily conducted by state and local agencies in the United States; however, not until the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962 was urban transportation planning federally mandated in the US. This mandate required transportation projects in urbanized areas with populations of 50,000 or more to be based on an urban transportation planning process (Weiner, 1997). This Act, which promoted continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive (3-C) transportation planning, was significant since it expanded the planning process beyond the scale of the city, to the larger metropolitan or regional level. It also required planning coordination and cooperation between the state and local jurisdictions. Not too far removed from the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 which launched the construction of the National System of Interstate and Defense Highways work program, much of the planning climate at that time was geared toward highway and road projects in the country (Weiner, 1997; Solof, 1998). In an effort to promote a more regional and comprehensive approach to transportation planning, federal legislation passed during this period (1960s -1970s) attempted to integrate other facets such as mass transportation, environment and community development into urban transportation planning (Sanchez and Wolf, 2005; Solof, 1998; Weiner, 1997).

Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) [or organizations that served similar functions] in the United States have been in existence since the 1950s (Sanchez and Wolf, 2005).Following the 1962 Act, the level of planning that was needed called for more qualified planning agencies or organizational arrangements to be created that were capable of executing the required planning process (Weiner, 1997). There was however, no formal requirement for what this planning agency or organization should be. Regional organizations such as Regional Planning Commissions and Councils of Government at this juncture were mostly utilized in an advisory capacity providing technical support to and promoting coordination between planning agencies (Solof, 1998). Decisions over project selection and funding allocation were not under their influence. It was not until the passage of the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1973 that federal law required urbanized areas of populations of 50,000 and more to have a designated MPO to be part of and facilitate the transportation planning process (Mallett, 2010; Ross et al., 2008; Solof, 1998; Weiner, 1997). This legislation provided the federal backing and funding to establish a more formal planning organization which would meet or carryout the federal mandate.

MPOs represent local governments and work in coordination with state departments of transportation and other major transportation service providers to conduct the regional transportation planning process for urbanized areas. In order to receive federal transportation funding for projects in an urbanized area, these projects must emerge from the planning process undertaken by the relevant MPO and state department of transportation (US Government Accountability Office (GAO), 2009). Although MPOs carry out the federally mandated transportation planning process and its core membership is dictated by law, the organizational structure and staff arrangements are determined by agreement between local officials and the state. Of the 381 identified MPOs in the United States, 52% of these organizations represent populations less than 200,000; 36% represent areas with populations less than 1 million but greater than 200,000; and the remaining 11% of these MPOs represent populations over 1 million persons (GAO, 2009). The 11% of MPOs representing the largest population areas of over 1 million persons actually represents approximately 49% of the country (GAO, 2009).

All MPOs have the same basic requirements which include the production of a long-range transportation plan covering at least a 20-year horizon,production of short-range Transportation Improvement Programs (TIP) covering a 4-5 year period, an annual statement of planning priorities and activities or a Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP),and public participation plans. An area's transportation goals and visions are determined by the MPO board including representatives from member jurisdictions, transportation operators, area-wide stakeholders and the general public. MPOs must develop their plans and programs in cooperation with their respective state departments of transportation, local transit providers, land-use entities, environmental resource agencies as well as with tribal governments,airports, Amtrak, or any freight rail entities (GAO, 2009).

With the growing complexity of the urban environment, many MPOs have experienced their responsibilities and activities being extended beyond their mandated transportation activities. These extended responsibilities or activities include land-use planning, selection of projects from the TIP for development, project implementation, transit operations, and environmental planning (GAO, 2009). Due to the changing transportation planning environment which has become highly integrated with other system factors, MPOs have had to adapt to and address the needs that arise. However, MPOs have identified that their ability to plan effectively for these diverse needs, although important, is constrained by the MPO's funding and staffing limitations, the lack of authority by MPOs to implement the plans that they develop, and the lack of technical capacity within some these organizations to address the complex issues that an area might face (GAO, 2009).

C. Recent Literature of Megaregion Planning

Recently,there has been a development in the research community that focuses on identifying and addressing the challenges that might be faced in planning for a megaregion or mega-city area both in the United States and internationally. The major issues and tasks that consistently arise out of these works include how these regions engage in the planning process (especially in developing a regional vision and goals); determine regional needs; identify regional strategies; identify, prioritize and select projects of regional significance; determine funding options and arrangements across jurisdictions to finance regional projects; develop innovative and more standardized data collection systems and knowledge transfer strategies; and the needs and benefits that emanate from adapting to an overall new governance structure for the megaregion. Exploration of the benefits and challenges that face this new spatial structure has been championed by both individual researchers as well as by international collaborative institutes or think-tanks. The following section provides a snapshot of the state of megaregion research that is currently underway. Focus is placed on any suggested new governance or planning structures that might facilitate better megaregion transportation planning.

1. Identification of Megaregions

As the concept of megaregions increasingly gets attention from academics, planners, and policy makers, the boundaries of megaregions become critical. The scale of megaregions varies by country and policy purposes. For example, existing studies of megaregions can be classified as mega-city regions, multi-metropolitan regions, and international planning.

Some authors argue that the megaregion evolved from the city-region concept, which debuted in the early 1900s. The most commonly used form of the city-region in the United States are metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), which encompass the urban core, as well as the related surrounding areas. Mega-city regions are those who contain a global city within the city-regions. Cases of greater London and Paris regions are included in mega-city regions, where one dominant global city, such as London and Paris, forms a big geographic region and influences both surrounding regions and global markets.

The form of multi-metropolitan regions includes several metropolitan centers that are located far apart in geographic distance but are connected by network infrastructure and interact with each other. The Randstad in the Netherlands and most megaregions in the U.S. are included in this form. Asian megaregions present good examples of transportation and infrastructure projects relevant to the U.S. For example, the megaregions and the geographical scale found in China are similar to the U.S., especially in locations where mega-city regions grow into multi-jurisdictional regions; although the population, political and planning systems are very different. Similarly, the Seoul mega-city region with more than 20 million people in South Korea has increased its interactions with the Busan metropolitan area through the opening of a high-speed rail network, forming the Seoul-Busan corridor. The EU level of infrastructure planning is also a good example of transnational or international planning at the scale of the megaregion.

The common characteristics of these megaregion forms, regardless of the scale, are that they form by interacting with nearby cities, regions, and countries via certain types of networks, such as highway and high-speed rail, for the purposes of economic competiveness and sustainable development.

In addition, there are particular parameters that can consistently define a megaregion. The environment, demographics, immigration, culture, technology, the economy and consumption are key components that contribute to delineating the megaregion. Furthermore, specific phenomena such as globalization and advances in technology, including e-communication and high-speed rail (HSR), cause changes in the formation and boundaries of regions.These factors act as catalyst agents in facilitating and reshaping urban regions.

In the U.S., there have been a number of studies on the identification of megaregions at both the regional and national scales. The studies at the regional scale have been undertaken by several organizations, including the Northeast undertaken by the University of Pennsylvania, Piedmont Atlantic by Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), Northern California by San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR), Great Lakes by the University of Michigan, and Texas Triangle by the University of Texas, Austin (Ross et al., 2009a).

At the national scale, the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech and the Regional Plan Association (RPA) provide systematic criteria to identify megaregions and draw the boundaries using the county as the basic unit of analysis (Ross et al., 2009a). Ross and Woo (2009) propose a conceptual framework of identifying megaregions using both quantitative models and theories in spatial planning, including ‘relational' and ‘essentialist' approaches proposed by Healey (2004). The proposed methodologies were empirically conducted in the megaregion report (Ross et al., 2009a), Megaregions: Delineating Existing and Emerging Megaregions throughout The United States, prepared for the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration.

Figure 4 illustrates the three stages of the identification procedure: (1) identification of metro regions with core areas and their areas of influence; (2) identification of functional regions and measurements of interactions among regions; and (3) delineation of megaregional boundaries with proximity and contiguity conditions (Ross and Woo, 2011), and the delineation results are shown in Figure 1 in Section II.

This graphic shows the 3 stages if Delineating Megaregions. Dr. Ross 09. It includes 1st stage as Metro Regions (Core Areas, Areas of Influences), the second stage as Functional Regions (Clusters of Metro Regions) and the 3rd stage as Megaregions (Considering local and regional characterists. All three stages have periodic reviews.

Figure 4. The Procedure for Delineating Megaregions

It is important to recognize, however, that the spatial boundaries of megaregions are not rigid blueprints, but are malleable based on growth and development. For practical purposes, megaregion boundaries can be flexible depending on the planning purposes.The delineation of transportation investment by mode, environmental planning, economic development, or other factors, may require different selection criteria by which megaregions are delineated.

2.Governance and Structure

Research conducted by Innes, Di Vittorio and Booher (2010), of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development - University of California, Berkeley, described in Governance for the Megaregion of Northern California: A Framework for Action, offers a framework for improving the resilience of the Northern California megaregion and addressing its challenges in a more coordinated and effective manner. Drawing from world experiences with regional governments, Innes and others consider the potential for regional governance in the Northern California megaregion in comparison to the more traditional rigid government structure currently in use that seems to be inflexible and incapable of adapting to changing conditions.Drawing from theories of complexity science, the authors offer a framework or guiding principles for the design of a governance system that is more adaptive to the changing nature of the megaregion. The cases and ideas explored in this report illustrate the benefits that can be reaped from having adaptive governance practices. The cases used include:

With the high degree of economic, social and ecological linkages and interdependences that exist in the Northern California megaregion it is suggested that adopting an innovative and adaptive governance structure could link "interdependent actors across jurisdictions, sectors, and organizations in fluid networks that exchange ideas and resources" (Innes et al., 2010). Adaptive governance also provides the opportunity for a region to experiment and benefit from pooling information and receiving feedback from a diverse range of sources or participants. The experiences show that "collaboration, network-building, boundary-spanning, and monitoring and feedback are all key tools" (Innes et al., 2010).This innovative governance structure is not put forth as a replacement for formal government but rather it is put forward as a model that will allow regional actors to experiment with and select strategies that appear to work and combine ideas in various manners. Through this process authorities could gradually change existing practices.

Research done by the AECOM Global Cities Institute has also looked to address the challenges and opportunities that the Arizona Sun Corridor faces as it tries to establish itself as a megaregion. The work generated has focused on presenting the vision that the region has for itself and the implications for economic development, infrastructure investment needs and the need for greater cooperation and collaborative planning in order to achieve regional goals.The AECOM Global Cities Institute is an "urban laboratory" or think-tank that has been created to critically address the evolving role of cities and to bring together a diverse group of experts to address planning for cities in a more interdisciplinary manner. Its purpose is to promote true quality city-building which includes a wide range of components from economic, social and cultural infrastructure, transportation infrastructure and open space and public realms. The Institute focuses on partnering with cities worldwide in an effort to work cooperatively in developing solutions that address the cities' unique urban challenges and enhance their urban quality of life. Currently, the Institute is in partnership with four global cities which include:

The partnership between the Arizona Sun Corridor and the Global Cities Institute is focused on addressing the region's current conditions and future considerations that must be addressed to support and promote the development of the region in a more holistic and global manner appropriate for its new spatial structure as a megaregion.

Research is focused on issues including the region's transportation system, future land use, water supply management, regional coordination and governance, and economic development required to meet the needs of the approximately 5 million people in the region and the projected 2040 population of 7 million. The Global Cities Institute has produced the Phoenix-Tucson Ambitions Report. Sun Corridor, Future Corridor: A Global Megaregion in the 21st Century (2010) which addresses the current conditions and needs of the region as it seeks to establish itself as one of the ten identified megaregions in the United States.

One of the major findings or recommendations arising out of this report suggests that the Arizona Sun Corridor, if it is committed to establishing itself as a megaregion, will have to undertake innovative approaches in planning for and promoting its development. It further suggests that the Sun Corridor will have to consider a different form of governance, regional cooperation and infrastructure investment that will promote its global perspective and shift the paradigm to solidify it as a new geographic entity. One such milestone that has reflected this commitment is the 2009 joint planning agreement signed by the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG), the Pima Association of Governments (PAG) and the Central Arizona Association of Governments (CAAG) to coordinate their planning activities and to cooperatively work together to advance the Sun Corridor.

This shift in the planning paradigm is not unique to the Arizona Sun Corridor or the United States. As the region looks to redefine itself spatially, the report further provides examples of how other areas around the world are conceiving of and addressing similar issues. The following cases were identified to provide an international perspective of planning coordination and cooperation that might provide useful insight to the region:

3. Transportation Research for Megaregions

The USDOT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center is currently working on a study which focuses on the evolving role that MPOs and their partners play in transportation planning for megaregions (final report forthcoming). The report uses seven cases in the United States to explore the key aspects of planning for megaregions that they have identified regarding strategic planning, technical analysis, funding mechanisms, and institutional relationships. The cases highlighted include:

Through the course of the study, researchers communicated with directors and the staff of MPOs and state DOTs, other researchers and megaregion institutions to engage in a dialogue regarding planning for megaregions. The major conclusions from the study include:

Freight issues are frequently observed in megaregion transportation studies. Texas Transportation Institute's study in 2009 (the final version forthcoming), Mega-Region Freight Movements: A Case Study of the Texas Triangle, examines logistics networks serving megaregions (truck, rail, inland ports), the accommodation of megaregion planning by the Texas DOT that incorporates MPO needs, and a structure of megaregion governance without creating an additional layer of government.

Another study, Megaregion Freight Issues in Texas: A Synopsis, sponsored by Texas DOT and conducted by the Center for Transportation Research of the University of Texas at Austin in 2010 (the final version forthcoming), identifies costs and benefits associated with adopting a megaregion framework for transportation planning in Texas. The purpose of the research is to examine the feasibility of megaregion planning and its implementation in transportation, and the results were shared with Texas DOT planners, MPO staff, transportation providers, public transit agencies, and federal officials through a presentation at a workshop.

Updated: 1/31/2017
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