I attended the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) policy board meeting on Wednesday Feb. 20, 2008 to hear the discussion under the agenda heading "STIP/TIP/SYP Unifying the System Investment Process (USIP) Update." Here the STIP is the State Transportation Improvement Program; TIP is the local MPO's Transportation Improvement Program; and SYP is the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Six Year Plan. These are all funding documents that determine which transportation projects have funding and can move forward within the next few years. [See agenda summary material here].
I was disappointed to see that VDOT is proposing to develop their STIP prior to providing sufficient funding and other information to the local MPOs thereby making decisions about which local transportation projects will be moved forward before the priorities of the local MPOs (locally that is the Charlottesville and the urbanized portion of Albemarle County transportation projects). The VDOT proposal is part of an effort to streamline the process of utilizing Federal-aid Highway funds through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Unfortunately, this also essentially removes the public from setting local transportation project priorities. It also puts the MPO policy board in a position of objecting to VDOT's priorities rather than being the body that sets local priorities and requests that VDOT fund projects accordingly.
I see this VDOT proposal as a return to centralized transportation planning in Richmond with local MPO's having little if any influence in setting and ultimately meeting our local transportation priorities. I will urge our local MPO voting members (Dennis Rooker and David Slutzky from Albemarle Board of Supervisors; Julian Taliaferro and Satyendra Huja from Charlottesville City Council) not to approve the proposed process until it is clear that our MPO and the public they represent have significant input into setting local transportation priorities. The current fiscal year MPO budget is about $435,000 for its planning and research efforts in identifying and promoting solutions to our transportation needs. If the MPO and public have little say in what will be done, what is the purpose of investing this much money in planning at the MPO?
Charlottesville Tomorrow recorded the meeting. If you are as concerned about this loss of local decision making authority to the Commonwealth that is being promoted as I am, I hope you will listen to the podcast when it is posted on the Charlottesville Tomorrow website and let your city and/or county representatives know your thoughts on this matter. If we don't speak up now for local prioritization of our federal and state transportation investments, we may not have any meaningful say about priorities or project funding decisions in the future.