The Dover/Kent County Metropolitan Planning Organization was formed in November 1992. It originally consisted of the urbanized area with the state capital of Dover as its center and a population of just over 50,000. The MPO region was expanded in 1996 to include all of Kent County, the New Castle County portion of the Town of Smyrna and the Sussex County portion of the City of Milford to better address air quality conformity issues. This decision also increased the MPO's share of planning funds. Although the number of people living in the urbanized area as of the 1990 Census was 51,000, the population of the MPO planning area was 114,523 in 1990, and 134,242 as of the 2000 Census. There are six members of the MPO's policy board or council:
· Governor's designee,
The first five were original members and the additional Kent County municipality was added when the MPO boundaries were expanded in 1996. FTA and FHWA are non-voting members of the policy board. DelDOT is the cabinet level transportation department for the state. DTC is the statewide transit provider. Since the formation of the MPO, DTC has become a division of DelDOT after previously being an independent entity.
In addition to the Policy Board, the MPO has two standing committees: the technical advisory committee and the public advisory committee. Membership on the technical committee is determined by MPO agreement or unanimous vote of the MPO Council and consists mainly of representatives from member governments or related agencies. Public advisory committee members are appointed for two-year terms by Kent County local governments.
The Dover/Kent County MPO is a stand alone MPO that deals only with transportation issues. At one time it was the only non-Transportation Management Area (TMA) stand-alone MPO in the country. The MPO's primary duties are the development of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, the Transportation Improvement Program and the Unified Planning Work Program.
Steps Leading to Designation
After the two local governments agreed to base policy board membership on the Intermodal Surface Transportation and Efficiency Act (ISTEA) guidelines, approval was demonstrated through the policy board members' signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU). The package of documentation forwarded to the governor to request his designation of the MPO included the MOU, the planning area map, and a resolution explaining the federal regulations and the need for the MPO's creation. The DelDOT official said that the time between FHWA notification of Dover's designation as an urbanized area and the official MPO designation by the governor was approximately six months. The governor designated the Dover/Kent County MPO on November 2, 1992. The first meeting of the MPO Council was held on March 12, 1993.
Issues and Challenges
The lack of regionalism may have been a function of the state-county dynamic. In Delaware, the county governments do not own any of the roads. The state owns 92% of the roadway system, with the remainder owned by municipal governments. In other states where county ownership of roads is more common, the county government may provide some level of "regional" coordination. Without any significant jurisdiction over transportation facilities, Kent County had not provided that forum. Decisions and discussions about transportation at the regional level were the purview of the state government. State officials indicated that, although there was not a body whose sole mission had been outreach and advocacy, the state had made efforts at coordination before the MPO was formed.
Unique Delaware Challenges
Another challenge faced by Dover/Kent County (as well as the state's other MPO in Wilmington) is the existence of two statewide organizations with missions overlapping with those traditionally falling to MPOs. The state's Council on Transportation (COT) is a citizens-based committee appointed by the Governor to determine statewide priorities for transportation projects. COT predates the MPO by twenty years and at times overshadows the MPO's role in this area.
The Population Consortium is another body that has oversight in the area of demographic information. The amount of successful coordination with these organizations has varied. The MPO has worked with the Population Consortium to refine forecasts and ultimately determines distribution of population and employment at the traffic analysis zone level. With COT, DelDOT is still trying to determine how to best have the two groups work together.
Administrative and Financial Resources
The City of Dover was also a significant supporter of the MPO. During the first years, the City performed the function of financial administrator for the MPO. The City of Dover believed that it made more sense for one of the partners to handle the organization's finances than to hire an independent accounting firm. The state was looking for an area where the city could contribute, and Dover already had a history of providing financial administration services for several local civic organizations. The MPO used the city's purchase orders, checks and accounting system. After the MPO submitted a reimbursement request to DelDOT, the state would send the money to the MPO, which then turned it over to the City for deposit. According to the MPO and the city, this relationship ended after a few years because delays in the reimbursement of funds at the state and federal level were costing the city too much money. Since then, the MPO has maintained its own financial system. The MPO's director cites cash flow as an ongoing concern for a small MPO.
Kent County has been a significant resource in the area of mapping. The MPO is working to further develop its skills in these areas. In addition to assisting the state in modifying TAZ boundaries, the MPO has a staff person with experience in GIS who is working with the county to coordinate map work.
Another important source of technical support has been the technical advisory committee. Members of the committee have been very involved in the MPO process. The city's planning official suggested that, in order for the MPO to be effective, agencies and local governments must give their representatives on the technical committee sufficient time to devote to the process.
After five years, the staff had grown to include a director, executive secretary, GIS/planner and public affairs officer. The director places great importance on the hiring of staff with different skill sets. She cites the hiring of the MPO's public affairs person over the pressure to add another planner as one of the best staffing decisions she has made. One state official would have focused on technical skills, noting that nothing works better than "a giant map that says here is where the problems are and here are the conflicts." He believes that some tasks are better contracted out and does not view the responsibilities of a small MPO as necessarily requiring a large staff. He emphasized that small MPOs must be encouraged to focus on coordinating transportation efforts-"making sure the town is not going to tear up Main Street to put in a sewer line right after the state has finished repaving it."
The first Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) was the same as the statewide Capital Improvement Program. This has changed over the years as all projects submitted to the Dover/Kent County TIP are listed in addition to those programmed by the state. The primary challenge with early Unified Planning Work Program development was that the MPO would often identify traffic problems in more rural areas of the county that the locals did not want fixed due to historic preservation or aesthetic reasons.
Note: Four officials involved in the early formation of the Dover/Kent MPO were contacted for this study. These officials were the MPO Director, a representative of the City of Dover, and two state officials.
Source: Dover/Kent website: http://doverkentmpo.org