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Modeling and Analysis Needs and Resources for Small Metropolitan Area Transportation Planning: Report on a Peer Exchange

2. Introduction

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) convened a peer exchange meeting on August 29 and 30, 2011 at the Keck Center of the National Academies of Science in Washington, DC. The purpose of the peer exchange meeting was to explore the travel modeling and analysis needs and resources of small Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), those with populations under 200,000. The peer exchange meeting included staff representing small MPOs, and State DOTs that provide various levels of support to small MPOs in travel forecasting. Twelve small Metropolitan Planning Organizations and three State DOTs were invited to participate, covering a range of size, organizational structure, and technical capacity.

The peer exchange sought information regarding the experience of small MPOs in the following areas:

This document reviews and summarizes the discussion and conclusions from the peer exchange meeting. It is intended both to capture the participants' discussion as well as to summarize useful ideas, practices, and resources that were identified during the meeting. The focus here is on strategies for meeting policy needs of small MPOs through modeling and technical analysis. Readers seeking an overview of MPO organizational capacity should consult the 2010 report entitled Staffing and Administrative Capacity of Metropolitan Planning Organizations1, prepared by the Center for Urban Transportation Research.

2.1 Relevance of the Peer Exchange

The peer exchange sought and obtained information about the planning needs of small MPOs in relation to their technical capacity. The peer exchange identified certain tools, strategies, and practices that may be of interest to MPOs and State DOTs who are seeking to improve their practices and deploy their resources more effectively and efficiently. These strategies may enable State DOTs and small MPOs to provide effective technical analyses despite resource limitations. The central goal of the peer exchange was to improve the ability to conduct an effective transportation planning process in small urban areas.

Recent discussions of transportation reauthorization in Congress as this report was drafted have considered changing the criteria by which small MPOs are designated2. Regardless of the status of small MPOs under in the future, the need for transportation planning in small urban areas will continue. The Federal Highway Administration and State Departments of Transportation will continue to have to provide support for those planning activities (at least under the legislative mandate for a statewide planning process, if not explicitly through an MPO process in small areas). The technical, staffing, and organizational issues discussed in the peer exchange, while focused on MPO processes, will prove helpful in assembling staff support, data, and analytic tools for an alternative planning process with different organizational structures. The results of the peer exchange illustrate how various types of planning and policy needs could be addressed with suitable data, models, and analytic tools supported by sufficient organizational capacity.

2.2 Peer Exchange Structure and Participation

2.2.1 Genesis

The peer exchange project was initiated by a request to AASHTO from the Minnesota Department of Transportation regarding recommendations for a useful role of the DOT in supporting small MPOs. That request was referred to the FHWA Office of Planning, which oversees the MPO process defined in transportation authorization legislation, and which supports capacity building and deployment of modeling and analysis tools and techniques to support the MPO process. Planning for the peer exchange meeting began in January 2011.

2.2.2 Participation

Table 1 lists staff members of invited MPOs and State DOTs and others who were present at the meeting. Participants (Table 1) were selected by the peer exchange planning committee, who sought to bring together representatives who reflected a diversity of size, technical capacity, and geographic location. State DOT representatives were included from several States since State DOTs often support modeling and technical analysis for their State's MPOs. The focus of the discussion was nevertheless on the concerns of MPO staff related to technical and analysis capabilities.

2.2.3 Sponsorship and Funding

The peer exchange was organized by a planning committee that included staff representatives from FHWA (Ed Christopher, Brian Gardner, Jeremy Raw [committee chair], Scott B. Smith, and Sarah Sun), the Transportation Research Board (TRB; Kim Fisher), American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO; Matt Hardy), Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations (AMPO; Rich Denbow), the Duluth-Superior MPO (Ron Chicka), and the Minnesota DOT (Sara Aultman, Kirby Becker, Lynn Bly, Jonette Kreideweis, and Bobbi Retzlaff).
Funding to host the peer exchange meeting and report preparation was provided by the FHWA Office of Planning, and staff support for the meeting was provided under contract by the Transportation Research Board and the Volpe Center for Transportation Research.

This report was prepared by Michael Razo and Scott Smith of the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, and Jeremy Raw of the FHWA.

2.3 Topics addressed by the peer exchange

The peer exchange addressed five topics, covered sequentially in the remainder of the report. First is the types of issues that call for modeling in a small MPO environment. Second is the modeling needs that go beyond traditional demand models. Third is data resources. Fourth is the use (or non-use) of consultants. Fifth is the issue of dealing with significant resource constraints.

Table 1 Peer Exchange Meeting Participants

Organization City State Participant 2000 Population
Metropolitan Planning Organizations        
Bangor Area Comprehensive Transportation System Bangor ME Rob Kenerson* 59,000
Bay County Transportation Planning Organization Pensacola FL Gary Kramer* 170,000
Bryan-College Station MPO Bryan TX Bart A. Benthul 195,000
Champaign County Regional Planning Commission Urbana IL Rita Morocoima-Black 130,000
Charlottesville-Albemarle MPO Charlottesville VA Stephen Williams 120,000
Cheyenne Wyoming MPO Cheyenne WY Tom Mason 70,000
Duluth-Superior Metropolitan Interstate Committee Duluth MN Ron Chicka 150,000
East Central Intergovernmental Association Dubuque IA Chandra Ravada 185,000
Fargo-Moorhead Metropolitan COG Fargo ND Joseph P. Nigg 173,000
Farmington MPO Farmington NM Joe Delmagori 100,000
Gainesville-Hall MPO Gainesville GA Srikanth Yamala 190,000
Thurston Regional Planning Council Olympia WA Bharath Paladugu* 175,000
Organization City State Participant Number of Small MPOs
State Departments of Transportation  
Minnesota DOT St. Paul MN Kirby Becker 3
North Carolina DOT Raleigh NC Dan Thomas 8
Ohio DOT Columbus OH Sam Granato 6
Organization City State Participant
Federal Highway Administration, Office of Planning Washington DC Jeremy Raw
Federal Highway Administration, Resource Center Matteson IL Ed Christopher
Transportation Research Board Washington DC Kim Fisher
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center Cambridge MA Scott Smith*
Volpe National Transportation Systems Center Cambridge MA Michael Razo*
Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations Washington DC Delania Hardy
Association of Metropolitan Planning Organizations Raleigh NC Rich Denbow*

*Due to weather-related flight disruptions (Hurricane Irene), these participants joined the meeting by telephone.

1 http:/ 6/22/2012) That document discusses the structure, staffing, governance, and operation of MPOs around the country. It allows MPO leaders to compare their agency to others, and to identify potential solutions to organizational problems. The project was funded by the FY 2008 FHWA Surface Transportation and Environment Cooperative Research Program, and it consisted of a survey, follow-up interviews, and case studies from 133 MPOs.

2 For example, MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century") as proposed in December 2012.

Updated: 10/20/2015
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