The Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council (ITCTC) in New York was formed and 1992 and has oversight on regional transportation planning matters. In addition to staff, it consists of a policy committee and a transportation planning committee. The policy committee or board is the MPOs final decision-making body, while the transportation planning committee is charged with coordinating the areas transportation planning work and providing technical advice to the board. The policy board originally had six voting members and one non-voting member (Cornell University), but in the last ten years two changes were made to its composition. The Town of Dryden was added at the town supervisors request, although only a portion of Dryden lies within the urbanized area boundary. When Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit (TCAT) inherited the systems of three pre-existing transit providers, it was added as a non-voting member of the policy board. The planning area boundary for ITCTC is the same as the Tompkins County boundary, although the urbanized area covers only a portion of the county.
Steps to Designation
NYSDOT initially recommended that the MPO be hosted by the state rather than by the county. After discussions with the states other MPO directors, the county became more convinced of the merits of a locally hosted MPO. In an effort to build consensus around the locally hosted model, Tompkins County drafted A Plan for Establishing the Ithaca MPO and distributed it to the areas municipalities and Cornell University in January 1992. The Plan outlined a possible hosting arrangement including the MPOs use of office space and sources of budget revenue. In March 1992, after local officials had agreed to support the locally hosted MPO, Tompkins County forwarded a letter to NYSDOT expressing their desire to host the MPO. At this point, the state officially announced its preference for a state-hosted MPO. The NYSDOT proposal featured a state employee based out of Cornell University. In late March, a meeting was held in Ithaca at which Tompkins County and local officials and staffs heard presentations from both NYSDOT officials and two New York state MPO directors on the different options for hosting. The support for the county-hosted MPO by local officials was reaffirmed after this meeting and the state acceded to their wishes.
In the state of New York, NYSDOT acts on the behalf of the Governor for matters relating to MPOs. Since the NYSDOT had been involved in the process of forming the MPO, it was not necessary to send a formal package of documentation to support designation of the MPO. Instead, ITCTC was designated when NYSDOT, Tompkins County, and the four municipalities signed the Memorandum of Understanding on June 11, 1992. The process of forming the MPO after the initial expression of interest by the county had taken roughly seven months.
ISSUES AND CHALLENGES
Policy Board Membership
Cornell University, an institution with considerable impact on the region economically, intellectually, and in the area of transportation as a key provider of public transportation, was left off of the policy board. The university is an active member of the transportation planning committee. ITCTC policy members agree that the needs and interests of Cornell have been very closely considered. Still, both Tompkins County and MPO staff involved at the outset agree that, as the dominant non-governmental organization and a large partner in the transit system, Cornell should have been included on the policy board. As for the transit system, no representative was named to the policy board initially as there were multiple transit providers (Ithaca, the county, and Cornell) in the region, and all were represented on either the transportation planning or policy committees.
The ITCTC policy boards decision-making is guided by a consensus system whereby all affected parties (defined as the City of Ithaca, Town of Ithaca, NYSDOT, and Tompkins County) had to agree on policy board decisions. According to county staff, the system has worked very well in Ithaca due to a political culture where people try to be responsible and see it as being in the collective interest to reach agreement. Although the consensus system effectively gave each policy board member a veto, it was in the interest of members not to use it frivolously. The state was reluctant to use its veto since they had an interest in moving products like the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) along. As a result, local officials were successful in negotiating to get some additional projects approved that were not state priorities. Local officials also hesitated to use their potential veto power as there was concern that NYSDOT would move some of its spending outside of Tompkins County. In addition to the consensus system, another strong point of the policy board was that an early chair of the policy committee was the chief elected official of Tompkins County. Having the chief elected official of the hosting agency as the policy board chair was viewed as important, since it can be difficult to get the host agency to understand the nuances of MPOs otherwise.
Funding and Staffing
The first person hired to the MPO staff was the Director. He was hired during the first year and his initial focus was on investing in GIS capabilities. Tompkins County and the MPO Director worked together to simultaneously enhance their respective capacities to do mapping work. For highway-side travel demand modeling, they contracted for assistance with Cornell, although in recent years the MPO has done this work itself. Until recently, the MPO staff had grown to four (director, administrative assistant, planning analyst with TIP and GIS responsibilities, and a modeler). Currently the staff has been reduced to three full-time employees and one part-time employee whose responsibility includes modeling and other data needs. Some GIS work is contracted out to the county.
After the creation of TCAT, the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County, and Cornell continued to be strong advocates for transit. Now TCAT itself has a voice as non-voting member of the board as well. Some of the policy board representatives from the former transit operators also sit on the TCAT board. Since some of the ITCTC board members are wearing many hats, there is motivation to not leave TCAT as the sole advocate of transit on the board. The TCAT planner explained that, although there may not always be enough money around to fund all of the transit project or studies the board supports, transit is at the heart of the MPOs transportation planning process.
With the TIP, NYSDOTs Regional office had a priority of projects that predated the MPO. The initial TIP bore a strong correlation to the state list, but as both the state and the local officials on the policy board were educated on the proper role for an MPO, the state and local project selection process was melded over a few years.
The first Plan had been a challenge because there had not been a regional framework for thinking about transportation planning before. One body, the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Commission, predated the MPO and had attempted to achieve consensus for the construction of new arterials in the urban area. It had been an advisory group that was defunct as of the formation of the MPO. It took time for all of the stakeholders to adapt to an organization with the authority and the access to resources that the MPO wielded.
Work on the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP) and the other certification documents was enhanced by the access to documents produced previously by the MPOs peers in the state. In the pre-internet era, it was difficult to get copies of documents. The former ITCTC director considered the New York State Association of MPOs (NYS AMPO) to be a great resource in the early years. The ability to obtain hard copies of other MPOs certification documents contributed greatly to the development of ITCTCs own documents in the early years. Over time, ITCTC became even more involved with NYS AMPO.
Note: Four individuals involved in the ITCTC were contacted for this study. They included both the first and the current MPO directors, a Tompkins County planning official now employed by TCAT, and NYSDOT official from the regional office. Much of the information on the formation of the MPO was obtained from a 1993 paper written by Dwight Mengel titled A Short History: Creating the Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council.
Source: Ithaca-Tompkins County Transportation Council