106 Iowa L. Rev. 2241 (2021)
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In the United States, all three levels of government, federal, state, and local, are engaged in coordinating the movement of goods and people. Recognizing the importance of an inter-connected transportation system, Congress enacted legislation in the mid-twentieth century that conditioned federal transportation funding upon continuing, comprehensive, and coordinated (“3-C”) transportation planning linking cities and suburbs. Thereafter, Congress mandated that the states create Metropolitan Planning Organizations (“MPOs”) to undertake 3-C planning on a metropolitan scale. Congress has now expanded the scope of transportation planning criteria to include environmental protections, energy conservation, local planned growth, economic development patterns, mitigation of storm water impacts, and resiliency and reliability improvements. The states also undertake regional multi-functional, integrated planning that includes both economic development and environmental factors. This Essay argues that MPOs should be engaged in the planning of other metropolitan functions as well as 3-C transportation planning.

Because multi-functional criteria guide MPOs’ planning, MPO roles have evolved beyond transportation planning. Further, Congress in 2012 required MPOs to develop their plans through a performance-driven, outcome-based approach, making MPOs accountable for the achievement of specific performance thresholds. The Essay argues that this expansion in MPOs’ roles requires an examination of whether MPOs’ institutional structures facilitate the performance of these enlarged functions. Because Congress has granted the states flexibility with respect to MPO formation and organization, MPOs vary greatly in their planning capabilities. Yet, federal legislation treats all MPOs the same. The Essay analyzes the structural impediments to MPOs’ performance of assigned functions and offers suggestions as to how MPOs might be restructured for more equitable and efficient results. The Essay argues that representation on MPO boards should include representatives from the metropolitan geographic area as well as local and state officials. It argues that proportional representation should be instituted for MPO boards. Further, MPO performance would be enhanced by granting them the power to implement their plans, an independent funding source, and some land use powers.

The Essay concludes that Congress should recognize MPOs’ valuable experience in coordinating planning among different levels of government. MPOs, as federally mandated bodies acting in the states on a metropolitan-wide scale, possess expertise in securing partnerships that will be vital to success in infrastructure and climate change implementation. MPOs’ future roles may very well include regional, multi-purpose planning. MPOs may also evolve into metropolitan service providers for a range of public functions with the power to implement their plans.

Thursday, July 15, 2021