What Would MAP-21 Mean for MPOs?

Stephanie WeberOn Wednesday, March 14, the full Senate passed MAP-21, a two-year transportation reauthorization bill (more details). I’m going to bypass the details regarding the incredible amount of work to get to this point and instead talk about what the Senate’s vote on Wednesday could mean for bicycling and walking at the regional level—which is, after all, the focus of this blog.

Keep in mind, Congress still has much work to do before a transportation bill becomes reality. No one really knows what the House of Representatives is going to do at this point.  However, the passage of MAP-21 in the Senate certainly generates some thought as to what the current provisions of this bill would do for bicycling and walking and, in particular, Safe Routes to School if it were to become reality. 

As you may have read, MAP-21 included a “manager’s amendment” which affected the distribution of funding for Safe Routes to School, Transportation Enhancements and Recreational Trails—which are lumped together in the new program “Additional Activities.” The new provision stipulates that the state departments of transportation must allocate 50 percent of the funding for “Additional Activities” to Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) and smaller areas. Furthermore, MPOs would award these funds through a competitive process (e.g. a grant process). This provision means that regional governments (and local governments and school systems) would have decision-making authority on how these funds get spent—truly a sea change. 

With that in mind, we encourage you to think about the MPOs in your state. While the structure and authority of MPOs vary widely across the country, they are all required to maintain regional transportation plans (RTPs) and develop their transportation improvement programs (TIPs). If MPOs find themselves in a position to allocate federal funds, they may very well be scrambling to figure out how to make this happen. 

And therein lies an opportunity. 

Regardless of whether or not MAP-21--in its current form--becomes the next transportation funding bill, regional governments may very well have greater decision-making authority. If you do not currently have connections at the regional and local levels, now would be a great time to start building them. Learn how they are currently structured.  Get to know key staff. Invite local decison-makers to see what is happening with Safe Routes to School in your community. 

Recognizing the key role regional governments have in the transportation planning and funding processes, the Safe Routes Partnership launched the regional network project in 2009. We have regional policy managers working in Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Greater Washington, DC region and Atlanta. The policy managers have focused on building these connections, working to improve policies for active transportation and ensuring that bicycle and pedestrian projects make their way into the regional TIPs. 

These efforts help build the framework at the regional level that may very well be necessary with the changing landscape of federal funding.