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Committee Passes Buschon-Backed MPO Bill Early Friday

Under a bill that is heading to the U.S. House of Representatives, governors could change local metropolitan planning organizations transportation plans to fit with state and federal interests regarding interstates.

The U.S. House Infrastructure and Transportation Committee has approved a bill that could bypass local Metropolitan Planning Organizations or MPOs, when federal transportation projects like I-69 do not match the interests of local officials.

Under the American Energy and Infrastructure Jobs Act of 2012, the governor of a state could modify a metropolitan transportation improvement plan or TIP without the consent of the organization that wrote it.

The wording is part of a larger federal bill sponsored by committee Chairman John Mica of Florida (R-7th), but it was Indiana Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-8th) who helped create the language in the section regarding MPOs.

Monroe County MPO member Richard Martin, whose group has vigorously fought the Indiana Department of Transportation over I-69, says the bill could come into play when interstates need maintenance.

“Additions of interchanges, expansions of the highway, any of that kind of thing, there would not be a substantive way for a local MPO to make sure its concerns were being addressed,” he says.

Martin says he told Buschon’s office that he would be satisfied with the bill if it allowed MPOs to provide their input into transportation projects from the beginning, before economic and environmental studies were conducted.

In a statement, Buschon’s office said it was imperative that national projects are completed “in a timely fashion to promote economic growth and stability.”

“This common sense language allows Governors, not bureaucrats in Washington or special interest groups, to determine the best course for interstate projects through a state,” the statement said.  “The House bill preserves local input and Congressman Bucshon believes that they serve a necessary role in the local planning process.”

The statement pointed out that the bill go so far as to eliminate MPOs in small urban areas as does its similar legislation that is being considered in the Senate.

The way it works now, Martin says the governor and other state agencies decide on a plan and then ask the local MPOs to release the funds to pay for a road by including it in their TIP.

“The MPO is largely disregarded to begin with and our effort has been to say that that’s an inappropriate approach,” he says.

An amendment was proposed to modify the section and its language but was withdrawn during the committee hearing. The bill was passed early Friday morning and could go to the full House in mid-February.

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