Friday, December 21st, 2007

A New MPO for Indianapolis?

Every urbanized area greater than 50,000 people has a designated Metropolitan Planning Organization. This MPO is responsible for long and short range transportation planning and a variety of other things needed to qualify transportation projects for federal funding. One of the documents that MPO’s are required to put out is called a Unified Planning Work Program. This is a fairly dry document in most cases that few apart from a handful of people such as Yours Truly ever read. It is basically a list of everything an MPO plans to do in the coming year, which normally boils down to “more of the same stuff we did last year” spread across 80-100 pages.

I scanned the 2008 Indianapolis MPO UPWP document and saw some interesting things. I noted previously that Indianapolis is in dire need of a new MPO structure. This need is clearly recognized in the UPWP document. Among the problems cited:

  • The MPO only has half as many people as it needs
  • One reason being that it is still largely funded by the city of Indianapolis, even though Indy makes up an ever smaller percentage of the metro area. Mike Dearing has been going around with a tin cup begging donations from other regional governments which have mostly, to their credit, contributed.
  • The Indianapolis MPO is territory is the smallest legally allowed by law, and the boundary lines between Indianapolis, Anderson, and Columbus are blurring.

The various MPO’s are in discussions about a restructuring. Columbus may cede the portions of Johnson and Shelby Counties in its planning area to Indianapolis. And Indianapolis and Anderson are considering merging, though we will see how much appetite there is for this in Anderson. Part of this effort would include a rebranding of the MPO.

My belief is that there should be a nine-county MPO which coveres the entirety of the nine county Indianapolis area. This would be structured and funded as an intergovernmental council and not as part of the Indianapolis Department of Metropolitan Development, though the existing staff could form the nucleus of the new organization.

I also believe INDOT should restructure its districts to create a new Indianapolis District that covers the exact same geography as the new MPO. They could even share the same offices. Right now even Marion County is split between three INDOT districts, the only place in the United States I’ve been able to identify where a state’s largest city is split between multiple DOT districts. Also, INDOT has been missing in action when it comes to MPO coordination in Indianapolis (and possibly elsewhere). It basically just sends over its project change list to be amended into the LRP and IRTIP, but they do not appear to be actively engaged at the planning table. More close integration of the two planning functions would be a major win for the area.

The UPWP also cites a lack of standards and coordination in the GIS area.

Two of the major documents produced by the MPO are the Long Range Plan and the Indianapolis Regional Transportation Improvement Program, a four year short range plan. Both of these are out of date. The MPO plans to do an update to the LRP next year, but plans to leave the IRTIP as is. Most cities publish a new TIP annually. Indianapolis hasn’t done one in two years, but has simply been surviving by making quarterly amendments. The fact that they do not appear to be creating one next year either is troubling, but with the city of Indianapolis being broke, there is probably no money. This is one reason restructuring the MPO is so important. Hopefully incoming mayor Greg Ballard will make some progress on this.

There are a number of local studies that the MPO plans to support and fund next year. These are:

  • Mt. Comfort Rd. corridor study (linking I-69 to I-74 along Mt. Comfort Rd)
  • Feasibility study on a new primary arterial in the Geist area of Lawrence
  • Danville thoroughfare plan
  • Johnson County thoroughfare plan
  • Indianapolis county-wide signal corridation (the lack of a computer interconnect system controlling all signals in the county is an embarrassment)
  • Johnson County new east-west corridor study

Keep in mind these are all just studies, not construction projects.

This is some of what is going to be going on in Indianapolis transportation planning in 2008.

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Topics: Transportation
Cities: Indianapolis

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