How Metropolitan Planning Organizations Incorporate Land-Use Issues in Regional Transportation Planning

Published date01 March 2003
AuthorJames F. Wolf,Margaret Fenwick
Date01 March 2003
Subject MatterPractitioner's Corner
Pg.123-131_Wolf State and Local Government Review
Vol. 35, No. 2 (Spring 2003): 123–31
How Metropolitan Planning Organizations
Incorporate Land-Use Issues in
Regional Transportation Planning

James F. Wolf and Margaret Fenwick
METROPOLITAN AREAS face increas- cases state agencies. However, the actions of
ing pressures of congestion and
regional institutions that are involved in trans-
poor air quality, and citizens who
portation planning rarely affect decisions re-
live in these areas confront worsening mobil-
garding service provision. States have retained
ity. Land-use and transportation policies have
their traditionally strong control of the policy
both hindered and helped these problems. The
and program direction for major transpor-
separate institutional environments in which
tation projects. In fact, state departments of
land use and transportation issues are addressed
transportation (DOTs) remain powerful ac-
do not permit extensive integration. Never-
tors in important transportation decisions.
theless, regionwide intergovernmental efforts
MPOs are federally required and funded
have been attempting to address this discon-
planning bodies charged with coordinating
nect. This article reports the results of a sur-
federal transportation programs within met-
vey that examined the extent to which regional
ropolitan regions. Many MPOs have been des-
transportation planning agencies—metropoli-
ignated by their respective states to be part of
tan planning organizations (MPOs)—consider
existing regional councils of governments or
land-use factors in their planning processes.
regional planning commissions. In other places,
Land-use planning and zoning are closely
states have created freestanding MPOs. For
held powers of local jurisdictions. The prin-
the most part, MPOs are structurally similar
cipal land-use policies in metropolitan areas
to councils of government. MPOs were bol-
are determined by these localities. Other de-
stered by the Intermodal Transportation Ef-
cisions by local jurisdictions dealing with the
ficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) and the ensuing
development of water and sewer services,
Transportation Efficiency Act for the 21st
schools, and other public amenities also influ-
Century of 1998 (TEA-21).
ence land use in metropolitan areas. Many
Under ISTEA, MPOs have responsibility
services are provided by the same local juris-
for setting up the formal ISTEA/TEA-21 plan-
dictions, special regional authorities, or in some
ning process and then maintaining the process
once established. Moreover, they have taken
the lead in corridor studies in which major
An earlier version of this article was presented at the an-
nual conference of the American Society for Public Ad-
new investments are identified for a particu-
ministration, 25 March 2002, Phoenix.
lar transportation corridor in a given region.
Spring 2003

Wolf and Fenwick
Most important, MPOs have assumed a lead-
Coordinating Land Use
ership role in the development of two plans
and Transportation
that involve expanded planning criteria. The
Constrained Long Range Plan (CLRP) fea-
In their study of MPOs, Goldman and Dea-
tures projects that are to be developed over a
kin (2000) identified a growing emphasis on
20-year time frame, and the Transportation
coordinating land-use and transportation plan-
Improvement Program (TIP) is a shorter, 3-
ning activities. Progress has been inconsis-
year derivative of the CLRP that details spe-
tent, however, and the authors concluded that
cific projects planned for immediate imple-
few MPOs consider “questions of transporta-
mentation. Unlike many previous MPO long-
tion and land use” (2000, 60). Although reluc-
range plans that are little more than wish lists
tance among MPOs to address these issues is
for state and local jurisdictions, the CLRP
easing, the study found that most local land-
and TIP are fiscally constrained because rev-
use agencies are not interested in working
enue sources for projects have to be identi-
with MPOs. Goldman and Deakin concluded
that MPOs have not been significant actors in
The CLRP and TIP address criteria that
“regional or local land use debates decisions.”
consider seven factors: economic vitality, safety
Moreover, local leaders who sit on many MPO
and security, accessibility and mobility, qual-
boards have not shown an interest in increas-
ity of life (including environment and energy
ing the MPO role in these areas, and “few re-
conservation), integration and connectivity,
gions can point to more than occasional col-
system management and operation, and pres-
laborative land use/transportation planning
ervation of existing systems (McDowell 1999,
effort” (2000, 61–62).
10). The plans provide explicit participation
Calls for more conscious and deliberate co-
opportunities for stakeholders and the gen-
ordination of transportation planning and land
eral public. Larger MPOs are given a measure
use have increased. Growth management ad-
of control over allocation of a portion of trans-
vocates argue that there should be more of a
portation funds, but MPOs in nonattainment
focus on minimizing the threat of growth to
air quality areas have additional constraints
existing communities’ quality of life. They
and special funding.
seek to either limit or direct growth in an ef-
Although land use is given some attention
fort to end the cycle of unplanned or poorly
in the ISTEA and TEA-21 legislation, it is
planned suburban subdivision expansion and
not a major focus. Federal law does not direct
to control the scale and timing of develop-
MPOs to develop any specific kinds of link-
ment. Most growth management strategies
ages with local land-use planning efforts, nor
have tended to (1) use regulatory tools such as
does it give land-use agencies a formal role in
down-zoning, density controls, transfer of de-
transportation planning. The ISTEA require-
velopment rights, and agriculture land banks;
ment to make transportation and land-use
(2) create urban service boundaries for key
planning consistent was not included in the
services such as sewers and roads; (3) initiate
TEA-21 list of seven factors, but the later leg-
revenue policies such as impact development
islation did feature a program to encourage
fees and special assessment districts; and (4)
linkages between land-use and transportation
target government expenditures including pur-
planning. The federal program expected MPOs
chase of land for preservation (Smith, 1993,
to consider their transportation plans in light
46–51). These land-use policies have a direct
of existing land-use and related development
bearing on transportation planning. The re-
plans. It also included a Livable Communities
sults of these policies may mean fewer exits on
Initiative that provided limited incentives and
controlled-access highways, locating or up-
funds to link transportation and...

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