Representatives from the city of Casa Grande were present last month, Oct. 29, to give Council an overview of the city’s potential buy-in into a localized transportation planning organization that would focus on local area needs.
Called a metropolitan planning organization (MPO), the Casa Grande area this past year finally qualified to form its own MPO due to increased local population densities climbing over 50,000. Until now, the area has been serviced by Central Arizona Council of Governments (CAAG) for its transportation needs since the 1970s. But according to law, Casa Grande is now required to form its own transportation planning organization, which can include as many area cities as want to get involved. The group, then, gets federal funding directly.
“This is a very important decision for Eloy, going forward—and I’m not exaggerating—for the next 100 years or so,” Osuna told Council about the city’s potential involvement in the newly forming MPO headed by Casa Grande city staff.
Casa Grande Traffic Engineer Duane Eitel and Senior Management Analyst Ben Bitter made a presentation last month to Council about the MPO, and everyone’s role in the organization.
“If you don’t become an MPO, you lose all of your federal funding in the area,” Eitel explained to Council members. “And it’s not just the cities that loses it, but ADOT can’t spend any federal money. So it’s important. The reasons to not become one far from outweigh any of the issues of becoming an MPO.”
With funding so scarce, Eitel added, area cities can come together as a region and decide what projects and roads are important to spend their money on.
Council was assured that the MPO would be an independent organization, and not just an extension of a single city.
“It’s a separate, freestanding independent body. So no individual city controls the MPO budget or what the MPO does. It’s not a subset of the city of Casa Grande or Eloy. But all [cities] who appoint a director have influence.”
The MPO will be composed of representatives from all participating municipalities, who will set the bylaws and budget. A Board of Directors will then be formed. Eitel also defined the MPO as a “bottom-up organization,” where citizens offer advice to the group about projects that might be needed, etc., as a citizens advisory committee.
“The don’t have authority to set project priorities, but they can make recommendations,” he said.
The MPO will be basing its formation on Yavapai County’s, which formed in 2000 because they likewise have five cities involved. According to Eitel, the federal funds, state funds, and in-kind matches from area municipalities for equipment and other working costs have been enough to keep the Yavapai MPO afloat without asking for any particular city for funding. Costs include staff (average of three), supplies, equipment, legal and professional services, office space, furniture, and vehicles, phone, and internet.
While there are MPOs out there that do require funding, Eitel said that Casa Grande’s MPO should be “lean and mean,” and depend solely on its mandated funding.
“I don’t think anyone likes paying CAAG dues,” Bitter added. “Our hope is that we never have to pay a penny into the MPO other than what our taxpayers are paying to the federal government, which comes back to the MPO.”
Bitter also told Council that the MPO needs to be functional within the next five months, so that it can be in the hands of the governor and signed off on by March 26. In that time, the MPO has to define boundaries, recommend them to ADOT, which is then sent off to the Governor for approval, and then sent off to the Federal Highway Commission for the “final blessing” on the MPO designation.
The goal, then, is to have all cities who want to participate have resolutions of support on the books by the end of December. After that, the MPO would be eligible for funding to pay for administrative costs.
While the new MPO will negate the need for CAAG to act as the third party funnel for transportation funding and project planning, the cities will still remain members of CAAG for other economy-related projects such as economic development, workforce investment, population-number related planning, etc.
“It’s a much more locally controlled transportation board as opposed to having to vote on projects that are in Globe or Payson,” Bitter explained. “Now, we are just voting on transportation projects that are affecting Western Pinal.”
Councilwoman Belinda Akes asked what the Casa Grande MPO benefited from having area cities tie in to the regional MPO. “Do you receive more money the more towns you have?”
Bitter said that the MPO will receive the same administrative monies, regardless if we have just Casa Grande, or all area cities involved.
“Theoretically if you have a larger MPO, those administrative costs have to be stretched a little further,” he added. But in the end, the area Western Pinal cities may just see an increase. Instead of 19 cities in all of CAAG fighting for money, as a smaller MPO, that money will only be split up along five cities looking for transportation funding.
Vice-Mayor Joel Belloc asked how the MPO got started, and Bitter admitted there is still a little confusion over that. He has suggested that the mayors from each city or someone appointed by each mayor are chosen to set the basic bylaws, so that a board can be established. By law, a board or committee cannot form until there are laws to govern them, which Bitter defined as the chicken and the egg syndrome.
The MPO would include Casa Grande, Coolidge, Eloy, Florence, Maricopa, Arizona City, and Red Rock.
Its function is to consider local planning priorities, as well as a Long Range Transportation Plan (LRTP) that defines a 20- to 25-year project priority plan list, and a Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) that sets the schedule of projects to be addressed within the next year according to budget.