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Peer Exchanges, Planning for a Better Tomorrow, Transportation Planning Capacity Building

Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program

— Peer Exchange Report —

Integrating Land Use and Transportation Planning

Location: Fort Collins, Colorado
Date: August 7–8, 2007
Host: North Front Range MPO
Participants: North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization,
Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization

I. Summary

The following report summarizes the results of a Peer Exchange held through the Transportation Capacity Building Program (TCBP), which is jointly sponsored by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). The North Front Range Metropolitan Planning Organization (NFRMPO) hosted a two-day workshop for the Hidalgo County Metropolitan Planning Organization (HCMPO) to facilitate the exchange of best practices on land use and transportation planning, visioning, and public involvement.

The HCMPO proposed this peer exchange to learn from the North Front Range's development and buy–in process for their recently completed long–range transportation plan, as well as their recent successful visioning and public involvement activities. A primary objective of the Peer Exchange was to provide the Texas–based Hidalgo County MPO with ideas, explanations, and sometimes, anecdotal insight into how Hidalgo County might start institutionalizing new visioning and planning strategies similar to those used by NFRMPO. Currently, HCMPO is evaluating its planning processes and is seeking to become better equipped with the knowledge and information necessary to improve its operations.

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II. Background

The North Front Range MPO is comprised of 13 member governments generally covering the urban areas of Colorado's Larimer and Weld Counties, and includes the 11 town and 2 county governments in the planning region. The region covers 1,600 square miles and includes almost 390,000 northern Colorado residents. Larger communities within the region include Fort Collins, Greeley, and Loveland. The MPO's objective is to provide information, public input, and the tools needed for improving the transportation system's performance in the North Front Range.

As the fastest growing region in Colorado, the North Front Range must address significant transportation challenges including population growth–600,000 new residents by 2050–and rapid urbanization, the need for new water resources, increased crowding and congestion, rising business and personal costs, and greater infrastructure and maintenance needs. These needs must be addressed in the face of severe funding limitations.

Promenade Shops at the Centerra development in Loveland, CO
Promenade Shops at the Centerra development in Loveland, Colorado
at the Intersection of Interstate 25 and U.S. 34. Centerra is one of the
fastest growing new communities in Colorado's Front Range.

Hidalgo County, like the North Front Range, is faced with funding limitations and insufficient highway infrastructure, while experiencing rapid population growth–4.5 percent a year. The Hidalgo County region is encumbered by moving people and goods, as it is the largest metropolitan area in Texas with no interstate highway. The region also faces unique challenges such as high poverty rates, a lack of transit, seasonal population influxes, and has the most colonias and highest number of colonia residents in Texas. Colonias are unincorporated subdivisions with low–income populations dwelling in substandard housing often lacking access to water and sewage service and other basic infrastructure. Faced with these challenges, the MPO wants to educate the public as well as local officials about the true cost of continued urban and suburban development. Recently, the state formed Regional Mobility Authorities (RMAs) and there is one in its infancy in Hidalgo County. For seed money for the RMA, HCMPO is working to pass a $10 increase in vehicle registration fees.

Having recently completed a 2035 Regional Transportation Plan to serve as a guide for future transportation plans and projects, as well having recently undertaken successful public outreach and education, and visioning, the NFRMPO can positively impact HCMPO's future planning and visioning activities by sharing experiences and lessons learned, as well as difficulties in and downsides to the development and evolution of similar efforts. Through this exchange, Hidalgo County MPO staff acquired essential information and knowledge, and strategies to apply to their own future long–term planning, visioning, and public involvement endeavors. The two–day Peer Exchange included both formal presentations and opportunities for informal group discussion, allowing for many perspectives and issues to be explained and engaged.

The first day of the Peer Exchange was spent at the NFRMPO offices followed by a scan tour of the transportation planning region. In the morning, NFRMPO officials and planners gave presentations that focused on general transportation issues in the North Front Range as well as the specifics of their successful 2006 Transportation Summit. In the afternoon, participants went on a driving tour of the region. The second day was spent at the NFRMPO offices and included presentations focusing on Economic Forecasting and the Land Use Allocation Model, Regional Visioning, and Public Involvement.

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III. Perspectives and Issues

A.  Presentation: Overview–Land Use in North Front Range Area
     John Daggett, Cliff Davidson

The North Front Range MPO is a stand–alone independent association comprised of 13 member governments, and is responsible improving regional transportation and air quality in Colorado's North Front Range. NFRMPO is involved in short–range and long–range transportation planning in the dynamic North Front Range, and prioritizes which projects will receive state and federal funding. The North Front Range is the fastest growing region along the Colorado Front Range with a projected population increase of 55.8% between 2005 and 2030. The planning region represents and must accommodate the needs of a diverse set of communities with varying needs that spans parts of Larimer and Weld Counties.

Over the next 30 years, the MPO region will face a number of transportation and traffic issues as well as significant funding obstacles. Traffic volumes, already high, will be exacerbated by small and limited east–west corridors and only one major north–south corridor (I–25). The NFRMPO sees improved east-west and north-south connections and a transit or rail connection with Denver as priorities; however, budget concerns limit opportunities for their construction.

By 2030, congestion is expected to increase significantly. The travel time from Fort Collins to Denver is currently 73 minutes, but by 2030 this travel time is expected to increase 63% to 119 minutes. The 2030 Regional Transportation Plan estimates approximately $1.3 billion from federal, state, and local funding sources will be available to address these issues during this period. Almost one-half of the highway funds are generated locally, including transportation impact fees. At the same time, with a fixed per gallon federal and state gas tax rate, increased fuel efficient cars and trucks, and inflating construction and maintenance costs, revenues are effectively decreasing annually as the region's transportation needs are increasing exponentially. The region is now looking to new sources of revenue, particularly local sales taxes, to pay for transportation infrastructure.

Discussion

Following are highlights of the discussion that followed this presentation

  • NFRMPO–MPOs have had their mission changed as the burden of raising transportation funding is gradually being shifted to local governments. In addition to planning activities, MPOs now have to identify sources of project funding.
  • HCMPO–Cities are often resistant to protecting right of way land for future development. In response, a funding strategy to encourage cooperation was developed. To receive money for projects with a specified category of funding, cities have to have 100 percent of the right of way in place.
Transportation Summit participants work together to address transportation challenges through a simulation game.
Transportation Summit participants work together to address
transportation challenges through a simulation game.

B.  Presentation: 2006 Transportation Summit
     John Daggett

The Transportation Summit was a four–hour event held on the morning of Tuesday, June 13, 2006. The primary objective of the event was to bring people together from a cross-section of communities and interest in order to educate them and receive valuable feedback on the transportation challenges facing the region over the next 30 years and beyond. Planning the Summit involved significant front–end work including acquiring in-name sponsorship from local stakeholders including business, environmental, homeowner, homebuilder, farming, and other interests. The NFRMPO also identified contacts at over 90 organizations to develop a matrix of relationships with community and regional "movers and shakers."

The Summit featured speaker Bill Kaufman, Colorado Department of Transportation Commissioner for District 5, followed by a game-board simulation intended to demonstrate the transportation problem and explore alternative solutions with the public . Before the simulation game, participants viewed a presentation explaining future growth trends for population, employment, traffic volumes, congestion, and subsequent increased maintenance costs. As the area becomes a regional city, most travel will remain within the region, and even with funded improvements of $1.3 billion severe congestion will occur, and maintenance costs will escalate as time progresses.

After receiving an overview of potential transportation improvements including roadway, rail, transit, and bike and pedestrian modes, nearly 300 participants were divided into 27 tables each with a facilitator, game board, cost sheet, and explanation of the rules. Attendees were pre-assigned to tables to ensure a cross–section of the community was represented at each table, ensuring interaction between diverse interests. Each table featured a game board depicting the North Front Range region and game pieces with specific costs representing specific transportation improvements and the budget to spend on hypothetical transportation improvements was limited to the projected funding estimate of $1.3 billion.

A successful event can help earn credibility and publicity for an organization and the Summit put the NFRMPO "on the map" while also solidifying its relationship with stakeholders. The event, which resulted in discussion, useful commentary, and a better understanding of the problem among the North Front Range communities, received significant positive feedback and led to widespread interest relating to the event and other MPO activities. The summit also allowed the NFRMPO to increase its funding to continue to build and educate the public about problems. The funding challenges still remain, but the problem is now defined, and the community has received the message. The intended next step was to be the creation of a Regional Transportation Authority (RTA); however, at the time of this report, the NFRMPO had not yet succeeded in overcoming obstacles to community agreement for an RTA.

Discussion

Following are highlights of the discussion that followed this presentation

  • Facilitators were critical to the success of the event. NFRMPO established contact with an organization of people that facilitate in the area. For additional facilitators they recruited volunteers from planners from the three major cities in the region. All facilitators received training the night prior to the event.
  • Some people understood the concept of visioning while others thought the suggestions were going to be implemented. It is important for people to understand the context of the activities and what outcomes they may expect.

C.  Presentation: Community Growth Model–Scan Tour of surrounding area (MPO region)

The afternoon featured a scan tour of the MPO region including visits to both Larimer and Weld Counties. Peer Exchange participants were shown new development in the region including housing, commercial centers, isolated industrial parks, and medical facilities. Participants were again briefed on the issu