Transportation planning

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Plans for creating a metropolitan planning organization for Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Scott City and Cape Girardeau County are back on the front burner.

An MPO is considered important to the area mainly because it gives more local control over transportation planning: highways, interchanges, bridges, airports. And an MPO would be able to integrate transit operations that currently are segmented among several funding sources and responsible agencies.

An MPO doesn't have any planning authority other than transportation. Its purpose is to plan for future transportation needs and work with the state highway department to meet those goals. The MPO would not, for example, have any authority in other planning areas within the three cities or the county.

An area is eligible to form an MPO if it has more than 50,000 population with a density that meets federal standards. The three cities involved in this effort have a combined population of 51,887. A previous effort to obtain the MPO go-ahead failed because the Census Bureau determined the density standard was not met. There are gaps in the tri-city area due to flood plains, cemeteries and parks.

More recently, the Cape Girardeau Area MAGNET industrial recruiting association hired a consultant to make the case that the areas where development cannot occur should not be included in the density figures. A congressional oversight committee agreed with that argument. Now a final determination is up to Gov. Matt Blunt.

Missouri already has seven MPOs, three large ones (St. Louis, Kansas City and Springfield) and four smaller ones (St. Joseph, Columbia, Jefferson City and Joplin).

While an MPO gives local officials more say in determining transportation priorities, it also bestows more responsibility -- and expense -- for transportation planning. In addition, transportation funding for the area would be funneled through the MPO, including any future funding for a public transit system, which currently is being studied by a consultant under contract with the Missouri Department of Transportation.

Local leaders say there is much to be gained by having the MPO designation. They are encouraging the governor to act swiftly. Once approved, the MPO could be operational by next year.

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