Why the Regional Approach?

Stephanie WeberAs I have reflected on yet another busy month with the Regional network project, I have thought about why the work the regional policy managers are doing is so unique, yet so pivotal, at this point in time. In my March blog, I contemplated the possibility if Congress were to pass a transportation bill that looked similar to MAP-21. We still don’t know what a final Congressional transportation reauthorization bill will look like right now, but the chatter about giving Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) more authority over federal funds continues.

As the regional policy managers go deeper into their work, each of them has been questioned as to why they are focusing on the regional level when we all know it’s at the local level that the “real” decisions about funding and planning are made. We don’t deny the importance of local-level decisions, but since our efforts center on policy change, we also recognize that the MPOs can (or have the potential) to wield significant influence on how decisions are made within the region. 

And we have seen that power of MPOs play out in poignant ways this month in a couple of our regions: 

  • —In the San Francisco Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) adopted their Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), which includes regional funds through the One Bay Area Grant (OBAG). OBAG is significant as it provides a regional source of funds for Safe Routes to School—$20 million over the next four years. In this latest iteration of the RTP, MTC requires its jurisdictions to adopt Complete Streets policies as a prerequisite for receiving OBAG funds. Read more here
  • —In the Greater Washington, DC region, the Transportation Policy Board (TPB)—the local MPO—adopted a regional Complete Streets policy as well. While the TPB is not mandating its jurisdictions to adopt local Complete Streets policies, it certainly provides impetus to work toward more such policies throughout the region, which encompasses not only the District of Columbia, but also parts of Virginia and Maryland. Again, the MPO leadership is notable, and the ultimate outcome for the region could also be significant. Read more here.

Our work at the regional level is seminal, as I expect that the regional governments will become even more important in the near future. If I’m right, we’ll be able to use many of the lessons we’ve learned through the Regional network project to help in other MPOs throughout the country. That’s pretty exciting.