Organizing LATS, a New MPO: from Start-Up to Plan Approval
Project dates: February 2013 to January 2016
Project topic areas: Intergovernmental Cooperation and Coordination, Multi-Modal Transportation Planning, Utilization of Social Media to Enable Effective Community Involvement, Motivation to Plan for Transportation Projects Knowing that No Money is Available for Them.
Partners: Beaufort County, Jasper County, City of Beaufort, Town of Bluffton, City of Hardeeville, Town of Hilton Head Island, Town of Port Royal, SCDOT, FHWA
Description: This was the first entirely new MPO formed from scratch in SC in more than 20 years. As a result, no one in any of the partner organizations had direct experience with the process, and that process turned out to be more complicated than the general guidelines show. A SWOT analysis of the process--after the fact--would be a very useful training tool for other areas in a similar situation, whether about to form an MPO or another type of regional, multijurisdictional planning organization.
At the beginning, there was not even agreement as to what jurisdictions would be in the MPO--only those included in the Census Urban Area (UZA) or the larger growth area. SCDOT planning staff counseled that the larger area should be included, and that recommendation was accepted. The next decision point was which organization should staff and serve as a fiduciary agent, etc. Since the jurisdictions would not accept each other in that role, again SCDOT advised using the COG (the "Switzerland" of local governments), and that too was accepted.
Because of the somewhat contentious nature of the formation, LCOG determined that utilizing a consulting firm to prepare the PPP, TIP and LRTP would be preferable to doing that work in-house. The firm chosen had experience in preparing those documents for established MPOs but, like everyone else had not worked on a start-up. However, they did have an innovative approach to public participation, which was important in an area that has had more than its share of public meetings, etc. over the past decade.
There were three key components of public participation that worked particularly well, and that may not have been used everywhere in the US at this time (we've already used them on other non-transportation projects):
- The use of Facebook for a variety of purposes: project updates, the announcement of meetings, provision of links, a forum for comments. We found that when a very popular local state legislator and a couple of local county council members advised their constituents to go to the page or to complete a survey, etc. the number of "Likes" and the number of completed surveys shot up.
- Interactive map and on-line survey. Well used, large numbers and useful input.
- Public meetings that were organized to ensure that not only did participants enjoy themselves, but input from everyone was included (and the usual floor-holders did not have the opportunity to give their usual and well-known speeches).
The other part of getting through this set-up and planning phase was keeping both the Technical and Policy Committees motivated in spite of the fact that not only were we financially constrained, but we literally would have NO funds available for any projects until well after 2020; all of the MPO's and COG's funding allocations were committed to one major project until that time.
Your organization's role: Officially, we "staff" the MPO. In real terms, it meant that the planning director served as the CHIC (Cat-Herder-in-Chief).
Project budget: The funds to get from start-up to plans approval was approximately $300,000.
The funding sources were FHWA/FTA/SCDOT (80%) and the local partners for the 20% local match, share determined proportionately by population.