Why do Comprehensive Planning? Part 2.

Part One talked about how planning for sewage drives comprehensive planning.  But comprehensive planning is also about transportation.

The Twin Cities have had traffic problems pretty much since the rise of automobiles. But until the Federal Highway Act in 1956, most congestion was street congestion. But when the federal government said it would pay for 90% of the cost of building highways, the game changed. The race was on to build highways. But who would get the new interstates? And when? The new interstates would determine how the suburbs would develop and where population would grow. This would, in turn, determine sewer needs.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962 created the federal requirement for urban transportation planning. The Act required that there be a cooperative process between states and local governments for “continuing, comprehensive and cooperative” planning. This was to be done by a federally designated “metropolitan planning organization” or MPO. When the federal government required that MPO’s include local elected officials in 1974, the function of the MPO was moved to the Metropolitan Council.

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Now you may know that the Metropolitan Council is appointed by the Governor and not made up of elected officials. So the function of the MPO is technically carried out by a committee called the Transportation Advisory Board or TAB. TAB reports to the Metropolitan Council but in practice, TAB approves actions and the Metropolitan Council concurs. If they differ, they have to come to consensus for actions to be approved.

The TAB consists of 33 members: ten elected city officials; one member from each county board in the metropolitan area; the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation; the Commissioner of the Pollution Control Agency; one member of the Metropolitan Airports Commission; one person appointed by the Council to represent non-motorized transportation; one member representing the freight transportation industry; two members representing public transit; one citizen representative from each Council district (for a total of eight); and one Council member. The TAB chair is appointed by the Council from among the 33 members. This diversity is meant to reflect the diversity of levels of government that need to be involved in transportation planning.

What does TAB oversee? First off, all federal transportation money spent in the Twin Cities has to be approved by TAB and the Met Council. This includes not just highway money but also federal money for transit, airports, freight and trails and any other federal transportation money. Because this money usually has a local match, they also have approval over a large amount of state and local funding. And because of this, they have a say over much of the planning in the region.

Because transportation planning can take years or even a decade, the Metropolitan Council adopts a long-range transportation plan. This plan lays out where investments will be made and when. When freeways were being constructed, this plan laid out where new interchanges would be built and thus where population growth would occur. So population forecasting has to be integrated with transportation investments.

MnDOT coordinates its plan for the metro area with the Metropolitan Council plan so both plans are in sync. In this way, MnDOT’s investments made where the Metropolitan Council forecasts population growth. Because the Metropolitan Council is also in control of where the sewer system is being built, sewer planning is coordinated with transportation planning which is coordinated with planning for population growth. The Metro Council is then responsible for coordinating these plans with cities in the metro region through their comprehensive planning processes.

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But how does this sewer and transportation planning get conveyed to cities?

Please read Part 3.

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