Cape area creating transportation planning organization

Friday, August 24, 2012
Marvin Scott drives Cape County Transit Authority's south route Thursday afternoon, Aug. 23, 2012 in Cape Girardeau. "I'd like to see more passengers ride," Scott said. The St. Louis, Mo. native has been a driver with CTA for a year. (Laura Simon)

A growing population heightens the demand on every facet of a community's infrastructure. An essential piece of that infrastructure, transportation, has to keep up with those demands to avoid traffic jams.

Under federal rules, population levels in the Cape Girardeau region now dictate the formation of a plan to keep transportation issues from arising in the future. The region's communities must collaborate in a metropolitan planning organization, or MPO, according to representatives of local governments and entities who are forming one for the first time in Southeast Missouri.

"This is to recognize that as areas get to a certain size that their problems become more complicated, and that means there needs to be more cooperation between different entities," said Scott Meyer, Cape Girardeau's city manager, who has been leading recent meetings to plan the MPO's formation.

An MPO, which consists of a voting board of directors and a technical committee, makes recommendations for planning of regional transportation needs and helps government agencies determine how to best spend federal transportation dollars at the local level.

In Missouri, there are MPOs in operation in St. Louis, Kansas City, Springfield, Columbia, Joplin, St. Joseph and Jefferson City.

An area containing more than 50,000 people that includes Cape Girardeau, Jackson and part of East Cape Girardeau, Ill., received the federal designation as an urbanized area following the 2010 census count, which qualified the area as needing an MPO per rules set by the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962.

The region's MPO leadership will consist of a board of directors; any public entity can have a seat. The board will have voting representatives from Cape Girardeau and Jackson, the Southeast Missouri Regional Planning and Economic Development Commission and, most likely, the Cape Girardeau County Transit Authority, Southeast Missouri State University, the Cape Girardeau County Commission and the Cape Special Road District.

The university and transit authority as of right now plan to alternate as voting members every two years, said Drew Christian of the regional planning commission. Cape Girardeau County commissioners said Thursday they would also like to see the same setup with the Cape Special Road District, since the area the MPO would focus on encompasses a majority section of the district.

A technical committee would assist the board with project plans in the MPO-designated area. Serving on the committee would be organizations from regional airport representatives to local chambers of commerce, according to Christian.

"Basically anybody associated with transportation would have a voice," Christian said.

Municipalities on their own have similar processes for determining the priority of transportation-related projects, Christian said, and the function of the MPO would be to group and prioritize projects in order to see the entire MPO area benefit. As the MPOs plan and rank projects with board approval, recommendations are made to the Missouri Department of Transportation, which aids the federal government in making determinations on how to fund transportation projects.

"It makes sense to do this as areas grow," Meyer said. "It gets us working together and planning better, so that one day, by the time we reach 100,000 people in this area, we aren't stuck with issues that evolved because we didn't make allowances for transportation that was necessary."

Meyer gave examples of how those issues can occur -- such as in and near St. Louis, where community expansion resulted in neighborhoods with many cul-de-sac streets and few arterial roads.

"With the way that was set up, you get local traffic on interstates to get somewhere 10 or 15 miles away," he said. "With a better plan to connect more towns, you could have had the alternative of taking city streets and avoid clogging up interstates."

While the Cape Girardeau region isn't to that point of growth and may not be for many years, Meyer said, there are areas where transportation routes could improve with an MPO, such as a way to drive from Scott City to Cape Girardeau and then to Jackson without taking Interstate 55. An "outerbelt" road system is an example of a project the MPO would plan for, Meyer said.

With the formation of the MPO, Cape Girardeau and Jackson will no longer receive federal Surface Transportation Program funds for local transportation projects, according to Christian. The cities now receive a combined total of $200,000 annually, around two-thirds of which go to Cape Girardeau because its population is larger. Those funds will, however, be replaced with the federal funding that creates and maintains the MPO. A federal distribution of $120,000 is also provided to the MPO to use for planning, and a $30,000 local match is split between the municipalities and entities that participate on its board of directors.

The official duty of the MPO is to develop and manage the distribution of a transportation improvement program, according to Christian.

Cape Girardeau will likely be home base for the MPO, and representatives for the city on the board of directors will be among existing city staff.

Municipalities have until the end of March to finish organization of the MPO, and the formation must be approved by the governor.

eragan@semissourian.com

388-3627

Pertinent address:

1 Barton Square, Jackson, MO

401 Independence St., Cape Girardeau, MO

One University Plaza, Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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