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

Transportation Planning Capacity Building Program

— Peer Exchange Report —

Best Practices for Small and Medium Sized Metropolitan Planning Organizations

Location: Fort Smith, Arkansas
April 28-30, 2004
Exchange Host Agencies:    
Bi-State Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) and Northwest Arkansas Regional Transportation Study MPO
Exchange Participants:

Bi-State MPO, AR and OK Hot Springs Area MPO, AR
Johnson City MPO, TN
Jonesboro Transportation Study MPO, AR
Northwest Arkansas Regional Transportation Study MPO, AR
Pine Bluff Area Transportation Study MPO, AR
Rapides Area Planning Commission MPO, LA
St. Joseph Area Transportation Study Organization MPO, MO
Texarkana Urban Transportation Study MPO, AR and TX
West Memphis-Marion Area Transportation Study MPO, AR

Transit Providers
Fort Smith Transit, AR
Razorback Transit, AR

State DOTs
Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD)
Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT)

Federal Agencies
Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Arkansas Division Office
FHWA Headquarters Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Region 6
U.S. DOT Volpe Center

I. Summary

This Peer Exchange was held as part of the Transportation Planning Capacity Building (TPCB) Program. The FHWA and the FTA jointly sponsor this program. The Bi-State and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Transportation Study Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPO) hosted the two and one-half day Peer Exchange for MPOs and representatives from State and Federal transportation agencies. The purpose of the Peer Exchange was to highlight issues facing small and medium-sized MPOs and to facilitate information sharing among the agencies. The Peer Exchange was held April 28–30, 2004 in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Michael Meyers of the Georgia Institute of Technology’s School of Civil and Environmental Engineering facilitated the roundtable discussions held on the first two days of the Peer Exchange. Steve Albert of the University of Montana’s Western Transportation Institute conducted the Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) workshop held on the last day of the Peer Exchange.

The Peer Exchange was intended to be a sharing and discussion of effective practices used by small and medium-sized MPOs. Many of the sessions accomplished this and some focused on the challenges certain issues present, rather than solutions or suggestions. Recommendations generated for specific topics are listed in this report.

The roundtables were structured to focus on hearing from the MPOs’ staff members about the proposed topics, with representatives from the transit providers, State Department of Transportations (DOTs), and Federal agencies included as a supporting role in the discussions. The list of proposed discussion topics for the roundtables, not all of which were addressed, is provided in Section X below.

I. Background

MPOs located in small to medium-sized urbanized areas face issues and challenges, distinct from those of MPOs in large urbanized areas. This Peer Exchange was convened on the premise that much of the information and instruction prepared for MPOs may not be applicable for smaller MPOs. For this reason, providing a forum for such MPOs to exchange information and advice would convey a benefit not normally available to them. The MPOs represented at this Peer Exchange have planning areas varying in population from 38,000 to 172,000 and ranging in population density between 1,100 and 2,300 people per square mile. Sections XI and XII provide additional information about the demographics of the participating MPOs’ planning areas.

III. Metropolitan Planning Practice

This roundtable was intended to address the broad topic of how transportation planning occurs at the MPO and regional level, in terms of the parties involved and their respective responsibilities and how these stakeholders can work together to make the planning process more successful. The principal themes addressed during this session included:

  1. Primary goals and challenges
  2. MPO’s role in the planning process
  3. Public involvement
  4. Coordination
  5. Cooperation
  6. Unified Planning Work Programs
Each section of the discussion is summarized below.

A. Primary Goals and Challenges

At the outset of the Peer Exchange, the participating MPOs identified what they feel are the guiding objectives of the planning process, as well as the typical challenges they face. While these items were not addressed in detail, the lists helped guide the discussions during the roundtables that followed. These lists are not in order of priority.

Primary Goals:
  • Economic development
  • Maximization of roadway carrying capacity
  • Mobility
  • Safety
  • Sensitivity to existing businesses
  • Traffic congestion mitigation
Primary Challenges:
  • Air quality compliance
  • Credibility/clarity of mission
  • Differing administrative structures and/or requirements that limit certain opportunities
  • Education of officials and the public about MPO mission
  • Effective coordination between MPOs and State DOTs
  • Fiscal constraints
  • Funds/plans for bridges
  • Identification of local funds to contribute to projects
  • Motivation for government and public participation
  • Population growth and its demands
  • Public buy-in for transit
  • Reconciliation of urban and rural components of a region
  • Term limits on municipal funding
  • Transportation needs of the elderly
  • Updates to Alternative Transportation Plans (ATPs)
B. MPO’s Role in the Planning Process

Participants agreed that an MPO’s fundamental responsibilities are to be a facilitator, bring all of the relevant parties together, and serve as a liaison among local- and State-level agencies and organizations.

There was some discussion about the appropriate governing structure for an MPO, specifically whether the Board should have weighted voting. Several attendees have this structure in place, but some feel that weighted voting can alienate smaller municipalities in the MPO’s planning area. Others believe that weighted voting fairly reflects the varying involvement of different stakeholders in the planning process.

Several participants stated it was sometimes difficult for an MPO to adequately guide the planning process, particularly when it is not the lead agency for a project. A potential solution for this issue is for the MPO to co-host planning events with other agencies. For example, a New York MPO has such an arrangement with the New York State Department of Transportation (NYSDOT), which increases both the MPO’s involvement in the planning process and its visibility to the public.

C. Public Involvement

The participants emphasized the importance of public participation in the planning process. All expressed frustration with the limited public involvement that occurs in their planning areas. They feel this is due to the lack of interest on the public’s part, rather than by any obstacles the process itself imposes.

Many feel the biggest problem is that the public has little understanding of the planning process, and therefore has little motivation to participate. The obvious response, stated participants, is to devote additional effort to explaining and promoting the public’s role in the process to increase knowledge and subsequent participation. MPOs need to convey the significance of what is being done and how it affects the community and peoples’ lives. Some of the attendees have held meetings to present critical findings of identified needs, both to educate and encourage public feedback.

Another comment was that the people who attend public meetings are not necessarily representative of the public at large. Particular viewpoints are often over-represented by special interest groups, sometimes preventing an equitable debate of an issue.

  • Focus on specific topics. MPOs should structure opportunities for public involvement around specific projects and issues, rather than general topics. People are typically more motivated to address specific topics directly related to them and are not motivated to address things such as broader regional studies. One participant described how the State of Massachusetts has engendered public interest in its Transportation Plans by structuring them as a series of corridor studies targeted on specific geographic areas.
  • Use controversial topics to the MPO’s advantage. An MPO can use controversial topics to generate greater public reaction and subsequent participation. These also typically generate more media attention than routine projects.
  • Establish focus groups. The St. Joseph MPO uses focus groups to gain equitable representation, stronger attendance, and maintain consistency among participants. This has proven to be a successful throughout the planning process. One attendee suggested modifying this approach to create focus groups targeted at specific issues (e.g., freight, environmental justice, pedestrian travel), because people are motivated to address specific topics and to provide an appropriate forum for special interest groups.
  • Implement a two-way process. Public involvement should be a two-way process, in which MPOs both share and solicit information. The Jonesboro MPO has used newsletters and subscription-based e-mails to disseminate information to the public and to promote the MPO. The MPO also holds regularly scheduled meetings, which have increased its media coverage.
  • Treat public involvement as a marketing strategy. One participant emphasized that MPOs must approach public involvement as a marketing strategy. They need to strengthen their "product" – the services they perform – by developing better projects and plans, to make their work more significant to people. A better product will ultimately attract more public participation.
  • Use workplace surveys to collect data. Surveys distributed through local employers often have a high response rate because they are a targeted effort aided by the companies’ management.
  • Provide multiple opportunities for public participation. Provide as many chances as possible for people to give their comments and feedback. These opportunities can assume the same format every time (e.g. monthly meetings) or be different formats, such as meetings and online surveys.
  • Offer compensation to participants. The St. Joseph MPO has found that offering formal compensation to focus group members and providing food at public meetings, has increased the level of public participation. Many participants, while agreeing with this approach, said that funding regulations prevent them from spending money in this manner.
D. Coordination

Participants agreed there is room for improvement in their MPOs’ coordination with other agencies and organizations. Some expressed that they often feel as if they are competing with other organizations (e.g., the Chamber of Commerce and downtown improvement districts) for limited funding and attention from officials and the public. This hinders an MPO’s planning process and can create a counterproductive sense of rivalry between the MPO and other agencies.

Ideally, an MPO would coordinate its planning process with those of other agencies resulting in better plans which public officials will be more willing to accept and endorse.

  • Improve the MPO’s knowledge of other organizations. To increase awareness of other organizations’ plans and goals, an MPO should solicit information from other organizations to learn of their ideas and plans. This enables the MPO to plan its own activities and efforts accordingly.
  • Clarify understanding of the MPO’s mission. Because they are unfamiliar with what the MPO plans and intends to accomplish, local organizations may be opposed to a new MPO. MPOs should market themselves and communicate both the roles they intend to play and the benefits they can offer. This should serve as a foundation for building relationships with relevant local organizations.
  • Partner with Chambers of Commerce. Participants identified Chambers of Commerce as critical allies. These organizations can be extremely powerful in small, urbanized areas, controlling sizeable resources.
  • Ask the State DOT to promote partnerships. State DOTs can promote coordination between MPOs and other agencies by directing organizations to the MPOs for guidance on transportation-related projects. This gives MPOs an active role and improves their credibility with the agencies.
  • Use Memorandum of Understandings (MOU). Where appropriate, an MPO can develop an MOU to formalize and clarify the respective roles and responsibilities of the different stakeholders in a project. This has proven to be a beneficial mechanism for preventing misunderstandings and promoting interaction among agencies.
E. Cooperation

An MPO needs to work in conjunction with other agencies and organizations to achieve its objectives. Often, this process is hindered by the lack of communication and cooperation among agencies. Several participants expressed frustration with the fact that their work is sometimes constrained by the limited work capacity of other agencies and by how low the MPO-related work falls on those agencies’ priority rankings.

Participants agreed that the best opportunity MPOs have to improve cooperation is by facilitating the exchange of information with other agencies. A steady flow of information makes it easier for the agencies to accomplish their respective tasks and encourages interaction and familiarity among the staff of agencies and key players. This improves communication for the future. A representative from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) suggested that a listserv e-mailing could convey significant benefits in increasing cooperation and information sharing.

F. Unified Planning Work Programs (UPWPs)

The discussion about UPWPs focused on the planning data that are compiled and how they are managed. Some agencies, such as the Texarkana MPO, do their own traffic counts to supplement the data provided by the State. They have found this to be more useful to local organizations and developers.

Most participants agreed that a logical role for an MPO is to serve as a central repository for data collected from various sources. This enables the MPO and other agencies to access all data in a single location. This is particularly useful for GIS data coordination and allows an MPO to reconcile conflicting data to make it consistent among agencies. Approximately one-half of the participants’ MPOs do GIS work in-house.

IV. Transportation Improvement Programs (TIPs)

Participants discussed the process of preparing an MPO’s TIP, in terms of both the procedure itself and the types of information and stakeholders involved. The principal themes addressed during this session were as follow:

  1. Preparing the TIP
  2. Setting relative project priorities in the TIP
  3. Sub-allocation
  4. Desired changes to the TIP process
  5. Fiscal constraints
  6. Project cost estimation

Each section of the discussion is summarized below.

A. Preparing the TIP

Participants’ agencies employ a wide variety of methods for preparing TIPs. Some follow their Long Range Plan (LRP) very closely while others compile a list of short-term projects from their LRP, but supplement it with other projects that have been conceived since the LRP was prepared.

In comparing their approaches, participants identified a number of common challenges they face. The biggest was dealing with changes to the LRP, typically based on a State adding or removing projects. One MPO staff member expressed frustration that his TIP, intended to guide a three-year period, typically ends up being accurate for six months or less because of such changes. Other problems included difficulty timing TIP preparation to coincide with the development of the LRP, and the conflicts involved in responding to multiple LRPs when an MPO’s planning area is adjacent to or overlaps multi-State boundary lines.

Participants emphasized the importance of flexibility when dealing with such issues. Almost all have faced amendments and revisions to the LRP, and have become used to responding to them. One MPO suggested the use of an "Illustrated List of Future Needs" to serve as a rough wish list of projects. This list should be fairly consistent with the LRP and can help constituents to understand and support common goals. Another suggestion was to structure the LRP with five-year increments, that roughly coincide with TIPs.

B. Setting Relative Project Priorities in the TIP

Participants use a variety of methods to determine the relative priorities of the projects included in the TIP. While no method was singled out as being better than others, a number of recommendations were proposed.

  • Establish formal ranking criteria. Ideally, project selection criteria (e.g., mobility, quality of life, environmental justice) are established in the LRP, and then applied again in the TIP. In reality, however, these criteria often change over time.
  • Use modeling to identify the area’s needs. Use travel demand modeling to prioritize projects that match needs.
  • Collect stakeholder feedback. Some MPOs solicit feedback from stakeholders on the proposed order of projects, and adjust the projects’ relative priorities accordingly.
  • Rank projects within categories. The Rapides Area Planning Commission groups projects into categories and ranks them within the categories. Stakeholders can lobby within their areas of expertise.
  • Consider funding availability. Priorities can be set based on projects’ funding requirements and the availability of types of funding within the planning period. This approach may be less useful now, since most projects already have funds committed.
  • Set completion deadlines. If an included project is not completed after a certain number of TIP updates or cycles, it is removed from the list. Planners can decide how committed funds may or may not affect this approach.
  • Factor in local-level needs. The planning area’s priorities established in the LRP and TIP should reflect local-level needs and goals as much as possible.
  • Be opportunistic. Treat projects opportunistically. Do not be reluctant to deviate from the LRP if a special opportunity to carry out a project develops.
  • Use categorical prioritizations. Use categorical prioritizations to prevent State-level projects from monopolizing the available funding.
C. Sub-Allocation

Participants were divided in their opinions about sub-allocation of funds. This process is used in some of the States represented at the Peer Exchange, and local matching funds are typically involved. Some see this as an opportunity to motivate local-level participation in the funding of projects. Others feel this creates an equity issue, because some jurisdictions have insufficient financial resources to comply with the matching funds requirement, effectively making such options unavailable to them.

The other issue raised was "overmatching", by which jurisdictions that provide more matching funds than required can get their projects placed higher on the priority list for Federal funding. Most participants were not in favor of overmatching, saying it unfairly benefited wealthier jurisdictions and was merely a cost reduction measure on the part of State or Federal governments. One participant suggested channeling the State and Federal funds "saved" through overmatching to poorer jurisdictions, thereby enabling the latter to participate in the sub-allocation process.

D. Desired Changes to the TIP Process

Participants were asked what changes they would like to see in the TIP process. Their responses included the following:

  • Determination of the definite amount of funding available
  • Elimination of the TIP entirely, instead relying upon the first three years of the LRP
  • Better-prepared and defined LRPs
  • Discretionary MPO approval of jurisdictions’ project priority changes
  • Increase in locally-based funding sources
  • Involvement of MPOs in the State-level planning process
  • Consistent project cost estimates
  • Planning process that reduces the "silo effect" among agencies, departments, and organizations
  • Streamlined process to involve fewer politicians and bureaucratic requirements
  • Better communication of MPO’s goals to the State DOT
  • Ability to add low-cost local projects without a formal amendment process
  • More timely notification of TIP/STIP approval by Federal government
E. Fiscal Constraints

All participants were concerned with how to predict the amount of funding available for projects, both now and in the future. They regretted the fact that MPOs have virtually no role in the process of determining how much money is dedicated to transportation projects. At the same time, it is extremely difficult to ensure that State and/or municipal government will have the funds to match Federal funding. Since an MPO often provides money for projects at the outset, it needs to ensure it can recoup that funding.

  • Ask the State DOT. Collect as much information as possible from the State DOT about program funding.
  • Add up project costs. Determine total funding from the sum of project costs, since projects are not approved until funding has been committed.
  • Track changes in funding. Track trends in the funding changes and project them forward.
  • Be aware of local trends. Track trends in State and local funding, since an MPO gets a percentage of both.
  • Get local assurances. Get assurances from local governments that funds will be committed to projects.
  • Provide reminders to local matching fund sources. Send letters to city governments reminding them about their required financial participation in projects that are about to start.
  • Be aware of the effects of bonds. MPOs need to realize that variations in bonds have undermined long-term forecasts in funding availability.

The discussion about fiscal issues made it apparent that MPOs would benefit from further assistance with financial planning. While many MPOs have extensive economic analysis capabilities, some small MPOs need to have a better understanding of financial planning. This was suggested as a topic for future TPCB offerings.

F. Project Cost Estimation

The challenge of determining project costs was identified as a common concern among participants. Project costs are often under-estimated, leading to insufficient funding in later years of a project’s construction period. This problem can be further exacerbated if newer, higher-priority projects take precedence for funding in subsequent years.

Participants agreed that it is unrealistic to budget more than five years into the future; any cost estimates beyond that should be considered merely "illustrative." Participants also stated that for some critical projects, they often just assume sufficient funding will be available because it "has to be", based on the projects’ importance.

A common complaint was that projects that remain in the TIP or LRP for multiple cycles often have outdated cost estimates. Local governments lobby to keep certain projects in the TIP because they cannot be started unless they are in the TIP, but the locality may not be able to provide the matching funds necessary to begin the projects. Some States also impose an unrealistic cap on cost estimate increase, making it even harder to implement a project that has been listed in the TIP for some time.

V. Local/Regional Growth and Development

This roundtable was intended to explore the effects local and regional development has on the transportation planning process. Certain areas of growth were discussed, as were the means of addressing them. The principal themes addressed during this session included:

  1. Land use forecasting
  2. Growth issues to address
  3. Demographic trends
  4. Freight
  5. Transit

Each section of the discussion is summarized below.

A. Land Use Forecasting

Participants feel strongly that MPOs should be involved in land use planning to ensure adequate transportation capacities for projected populations. The goal is to achieve a balance among land use, zoning, and implementation of projects.

Approximately one-half of the MPOs participating in the Peer Exchange perform their own forecasting and modeling in-house. Some feel the data they receive from other sources is insufficient and others simply feel they can answer certain questions more thoroughly if they undertake the work themselves. It was pointed out that this is an option only for larger MPOs because it is such a labor-intensive process and the standard Federal funding MPOs receive is usually insufficient to support such activities.

Several participants stated their desire to see more assistance from the State for MPO-based forecasting efforts, not only financially, but also in the development of standards and encouragement to cities to assist the MPOs.

B. Growth Issues to Address

Participants identified a number of impacts from local and regional growth that planning efforts should address. They feel it is important for MPOs to be proactive in this area, so they can "stay ahead of the curve" and guide future development to coincide with planned transportation networks. The issues they described are:

  • Sprawl. Sprawl is the fundamental issue almost all regions are trying to address. This includes a steady population shift from urban cores to the outer edges of developed areas, often resulting in the growth of cities beyond established ring roads.
  • Subdivisions. Residential subdivisions are being added to rural areas at an incredibly high rate, putting a strain on existing infrastructure and contributing to sprawl. Participants said they have focused their efforts on trying to determine accurate growth rates and to convince developers to locate subdivisions closer to urban cores where they can be better supported by existing transportation networks.
  • Rural connector roads. As a result of population growth, connector roads are beyond capacity in many regions. Upgrading these roads, however, would constitute an extensive expansion project for which sufficient funds are unlikely in most places.
  • Retail. Rapid growth in retail has shifted traffic patterns in some regions, placing unexpected burdens on certain roads and causing congestion. An unrelated problem is the effect of new highway bypasses around downtown centers, resulting in significant economic impacts on local businesses.
  • Outdated plans. Many of the changes listed above occur so rapidly that regional transportation plans quickly become inaccurate and outdated. Planners have difficulty in reflecting the reality of the situation and anticipating the future needs that plans must address.
C. Demographic Trends

Two trends were discussed during this portion of the roundtable:

  • Aging populations. Significant increases in the numbers of older residents in many areas have necessitated adjustments to standard transportation planning strategies. An older population influences the traditional balance between urban density and traffic, because many forego private cars in favor of other modes of travel. Participants cited marked demand increase on their point-to-point Dial-a-Ride services. This requires an increase in the scheduling and carrying capacity of local transit providers, on which older people typically rely. MPOs in some areas have implemented transit voucher programs for elderly residents, to enable people to run errands and participate in social activities that might otherwise be inaccessible to them.
  • Ring cities. Substantial growth is occurring in cities on the outer edges of urban areas. Housing developments have become larger to take advantage of the inherent economic efficiency of size. These areas often have larger families, a younger average age of residents, and may include ethnic concentrations with particular cultural needs or patterns. Such areas typically have targeted transportation growth needs. Participants stated that many of these areas also requested more recreational features, including bike paths and walkable streets; this was a pattern many of the participants support, but had not expected.
D. Freight

Freight transport can have a significant impact on transportation networks and participants cited mixed levels of participation by freight transporters in the planning process. Among the more structured types of participation, the Texarkana MPO has a focus group solely for freight and the St. Joseph MPO involves representatives from all freight modes except trucking. At a minimum, participants feel that freight should be included in modeling efforts and questioned the accuracy of the data available to MPOs.

  • Involve shipping customers. Where an MPO has a large manufacturing or retail services facility in its jurisdiction, gaining support from such companies can be beneficial because they have the clout to influence the shipping companies they use to participate in the planning process.
  • Use commercially-provided data. Freight data is available from a number of commercial sources (Reebie Associates was cited as one example used by some MPOs). Participants feel that such data is a useful starting point, but that they could use assistance to extrapolate the data pertinent to their regions and their traffic models.
  • Collect data from shippers. MPOs can request data from shippers, and from large shipping clients in their regions.
  • Attend or become involved in FHWA seminars. Some participants have found the FHWA’s "Talking Freight" series helpful. (Information is available at
  • Consider the effects of storage sites. MPOs need to remember to take container storage sites into account when predicting and planning freight movement.
  • A standardized model would help. Participants expressed the desire for a national, standardized model for forecasting freight traffic, to promote consistency among analysis efforts.
E. Transit

All participants emphasized the importance of focusing on transit as an integral element of transportation planning. Many of the attending MPOs have representatives from local transit agencies as members on their Policy Committees. In one case, the MPO actually manages the relatively small local transit service.

Many participants expressed frustration with the difficulty of increasing transit ridership. Obstacles they cited included the social stigma transit has in some regions, and a lack of infrastructure to support transit riders (e.g., sidewalks between transit stops and likely destinations).

  • Include transit in the plan. Be sure to include a transit component in the MPO’s plan.
  • Collect transit data. An MPO can support transit planning by sponsoring ridership surveys ad providing that data to the transit agencies.
  • Coordinate with transit stakeholders. Transit scheduling should be planned with input from social service programs whose participants often rely on transit. In some cases, these programs may be able to contribute partial funding of transit activities.
  • Integrate transit with school busing. School buses can be used for regular transit service during off-hours, or vice versa. This leverages assets more efficiently (rather than having redundant vehicle fleets) and can be supported by pooled funds. MPOs should note that this approach is not permitted in some jurisdictions.
  • Educate potential riders. Provide information on how to use the local transit system, especially buses. Emphasize that mobility is more than just private cars, that it also includes transit, biking, and walking.
  • Provide walkable streets. MPOs can encourage cities and developers to include pedestrian-friendly elements in areas served by transit.
  • Target young riders. Encourage transit ridership from a young age, to establish a pattern of usage early. This can be done in conjunction with transit-based school busing.

VI. Cooperative Decision-Making

This roundtable intended to develop strategies for improving the collaborative effort in the planning process. All stakeholders were discussed: MPOs, government agencies, local organizations, and the public at large. The principal themes addressed during this session included:

  1. Educating decision-makers and the public
  2. Cooperation among MPOs
  3. Resources for MPOs

Each section of the discussion is summarized below.

A. Educating Decision-Makers and the Public

Participants discussed how to improve the quality of public officials’ and the public’s involvement in the planning process. Much of this focused on the need to educate these people so they can participate more effectively.

  • Develop a presentation. Many MPOs have a standard presentation they use to explain the MPO’s functions and other’s roles in the planning process. One participant strongly recommended that such presentations be given to organizations at their locations rather than at the MPO, to enable a comfortable environment for the discussion.
  • Publish a newsletter. Some MPOs produce semi-regular newsletters to inform relevant parties of their activities, findings, and future plans.
  • Develop a curriculum. MPOs have contributed to the development of a transportation curriculum at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
  • Offer trainings to key people. Training for board and committee members can be incorporated into regular meetings. One participant suggested that training sessions be limited to a reasonable length and frequency, to avoid overburdening members.
  • Publicize the MPO’s findings. Any time an MPO conducts a study or a survey, the results can be reported to relevant organizations and to the press. This helps to publicize the mission and accomplishments of the MPO.
  • Encourage participation through conferences. An MPO can hold planning conferences for relevant policy makers to help ensure everyone is "on the same page" as the planning process takes place.
  • Establish a regular meeting schedule. One participant’s MPO holds regularly scheduled meetings for all committees. The MPO feels this gives the committees more legitimacy and provides more opportunities for guest attendances.
  • Target the media. The media are a critical tool for reaching the public. The St. Joseph MPO holds an annual Media Day to present its five most significant plans for an area, especially any that are controversial and many generate public response.
  • Provide background support. Some participants advocated deferring to the local government to publicize plans and projects; their MPOs serve in the role of background support so as not to compete with the cities for publicity.
B. Cooperation Among MPOs

Effective cooperation among MPOs becomes increasingly relevant as their geographic regions grow towards each other. All the participants agreed that such cooperation is a good idea but feel that it does not occur often enough.

  • Share resources among agencies. MPOs should recognize that they sometimes rely on shared resources for which joint planning would be helpful. In other cases, MPOs can work to identify respective resources they can "trade" with each other to facilitate their work.
  • Use overlapping study areas to foster cooperation. One participant suggested that study area boundaries be set to straddle MPOs’ regions, effectively requiring cooperation among the MPOs.
  • Have the MPOs meet regularly as a group. A State’s MPOs should try to meet regularly, to share information and coordinate planning efforts. It is sometimes helpful if these meetings are each structured around a specific topic.
  • Look for examples in other States. Arizona and Pennsylvania were cited as States that have successfully promoted interaction among their respective MPOs. Georgia’s DOT ( provides resources through its website to help MPOs coordinate with each other.
C. Resources for MPOs

Roundtable participants were asked what additional resources would assist their planning efforts:

  • Provide links on State DOT website. Links to MPOs’ websites can be provided on the State DOT website as well as space for MPOs’ information and postings.
  • List studies and plans. Having the State DOT compile a comprehensive list of studies and plans, and making them available through its website, would enable MPOs to determine what data is available.
  • Separate TMA from non-TMA data. To make it easier for new and smaller MPOs to find the information relevant to them the FHWA website should divide its materials into two categories.
  • Offer local trainings. A representative from the Arkansas Division of FHWA informed participants that local FHWA staff are willing to offer requested trainings at MPOs’ offices.

VII. ITS Workshop

Steve Albert from Montana State University’s Western Transportation Institute gave a presentation on issues facing the use of ITS in rural areas. The presentation covered ITS challenges specific to rural areas, technology and applications available, past experiences with rural ITS systems and the lessons learned, case studies from several States, and key elements and recommendations for success. Examples of the solutions developed for the case study communities he presented are found at the Western Transportation Institute’s projects website:

Participants asked several questions during the presentation that generated discussion about certain topics not covered explicitly by the presentation; these topics are summarized below.

A. Transit-Specific Issues
  • In rural areas, transit is more relevant to quality of life (e.g., access to non-emergency medical services and shopping) than to regular commuting, and should be planned accordingly.
  • ITS can facilitate coordinated transit among multiple providers, to prevent redundant service.
  • Health and human services agencies have funds available, some of which can be used to subsidize local transit efforts.
B. ITS Challenges
  • The lack of information sharing among agencies and jurisdictions is a common problem impeding ITS efforts. Localized conditions (e.g., meteorological and traffic) can only be realistically generated by these sources, and will not be generally available unless better methods for information collection and exchange are implemented.
  • Agencies and States need to reconcile different ITS architectures that currently prevent the effective communication between some systems.
  • ITS systems often get initial seed funding, but insufficient funds are committed for ongoing operations and maintenance.
C. ITS Recommendations
  • Partner with academic transportation research centers at local universities, who are a good resource for research initiatives and additional sources of funding.
  • While an ITS project "champion" at the local level is helpful, it is often more realistic to rely on partnerships among motivated agencies to achieve critical mass in support of a project.
  • A strong argument for ITS implementation is tourism. An MPO can motivate government support by building a business case that ITS increases tourism, and therefore increases local revenues as well.
  • Stakeholder buy-in is critical. Strive to include representatives from critical agencies in the ITS working group.
  • Regional ITS plans developed with involvement by all stakeholders are usually much more effective than the collection of individual agencies’ respective plans.
  • Focus on deployment in the ITS plan, rather than the architecture. In areas where ITS is new, getting the project started is the biggest obstacle.

VIII. For More Information

Key Contacts: Ken O'Donnell and Ellen Tynon
Address: Bi-State MPO
P.O. Box 2067
Fort Smith, AR 72902
Phone: (479) 785-2651
Fax: (479) 785-1964
Key Contacts: Jeff Hawkins and John McLarty
Address: Northwest Arkansas RPC
1311 Clayton St. #A
Springdale, AR 72762
Phone: (479) 751-7125
Fax: (479) 751-7150

IX. List of Participants

Agency/Address/Fax Name Phone E-Mail
Bi-State MPO
PO Box 2067
Fort Smith, AR 72901
(479) 785-1964
Ken O’Donnell
Ellen Tynon
(479) 785-2651
Hot Springs Area MPO
PO Box 700
Hot Springs, AR 71902
(501) 321-6809
Angie Byrne (501) 321-4804
Johnson City MPO
137 West Market St.
Johnson City, TN 37604
(423) 434-6280
Alan Bridwell (423) 434-6272
Jonesboro Transportation Study Area MPO
PO Box 1845
Jonesboro, AR 72403
(870) 933-4626
Muhammad Amin Ulkarim (870) 933-4623
Northwest Arkansas RPC
1311 Clayton St. #A
Springdale, AR 72762
(479) 751-7150
Jeff Hawkins
John McLarty
(479) 751-7125
Rapides Area Planning Commission
5610 Coliseum Blvd. Suite E
Alexandria, LA 71303
(318) 487-5406
Luke Haynie (318) 487-5401 Ext. 11
St. Joseph Area Transportation Study Organization MPO
1100 Frederick Ave.
St. Joseph, MO 64501
(816) 271-5355
Andrew Clements (816) 271-4653
Pine Bluff Transportation Study MPO
PO Box 8398
Pine Bluff, AR 71611
(870) 534-1555
Allan Skinner (870) 534-4247
Texarkana Urban Transportation Study MPO
220 Texas Blvd.Texarkana, TX 75501
(903) 798-3773
Brad McCaleb (903) 798-3927
West Memphis-Marion Area Transportation Study MPO
796 West Broadway
West Memphis, AR 72301
(870) 735-8158
Eddie Brawley (870) 735-8148
Transit Agencies
Fort Smith Transit
PO Box 1908
Fort Smith, AR 72902
(479) 494-7347
Ken Savage (479) 783-6464
Razorback Transit
131 Admin. Services Bldg.
Campus Mail Stop ADSB 131
Fayetteville, AR 72701
(479) 575-2356
Gary Smith (479) 575-3304
State DOTs
Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD)
PO Box 2261
Little Rock, AR 72203
(501) 569-2597
Danny Chidester
Julia Hart
Dorothy Rhodes
Paul Simms
(501) 569-2477
(501) 569-2602
(501) 569-2100
Oklahoma Department of Transportation (ODOT)
200 N.E. 21st St.
Oklahoma City, OK 73105
(405) 521-6917
Terry Jessup (405) 521-2705
Federal Agencies
FHWA Arkansas Division
700 W. Capitol Ave., Rm. 3130
Little Rock, AR 72201
(501) 324-6423
David Blakeney
Amy Heflin
(501) 324-6438
(501) 324-6435
FHWA-HEPP400 Seventh St., SW
Washington, DC 20590
(202) 366-3713
Liz Fischer (202) 366-0349
FTA Region
6819 Taylor St., Rm. 8A36
Fort Worth, TX 76102
(817) 978-0575
Jesse Balleza (817) 978-0559
U.S. DOT Volpe Center
55 Broadway, DTS-929
Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 494-2957
Jordan Karp (617) 494-3155
Georgia Institute of Technology
School of Civil & Environmental Engineering
Atlanta, GA 30332
(404) 894-2201
Michael Meyer (404) 894-2278
Western Transportation Institute
416 Cobleigh Hall
Montana State University-Bozeman
Bozeman, MT 59717
(406) 994-1697
Steve Albert (406) 994-6114

X. Peer Exchange Agenda/Discussion Questions

Day 1: Roundtable

Morning: Metropolitan Transportation Planning

  • Who are the major participants in your metropolitan transportation planning process?
  • What are the respective responsibilities of the MPO, State DOT, transit operator, local governments, etc. with respect to the transportation planning process?
  • How would you describe the level of cooperation with your partner agencies in conducting the transportation planning process? Are there specific strategies or actions that you have taken to foster improved cooperation?
  • How would you describe the level of coordination among your transportation partners that occurs in developing the transportation plan? Are there specific strategies or actions that you have taken to foster improved coordination?
  • What are some of the special work efforts that are in your UPWP? Why have you placed them in your work program?
  • What are the specific elements of the transportation planning process and of the transportation plan that best characterize what you are trying to accomplish in your region?

Afternoon: Transportation Improvement Program

  • What are the responsibilities of different transportation partners for providing projects to the programming process? Do you use a formal methodology for establishing priorities?
  • How would you describe the level of cooperation with your partner agencies in developing the TIP? Are there specific strategies or actions that you have taken to foster improved cooperation?
  • How would you describe the level of coordination among your transportation partners that occurs in developing the TIP? Are there specific strategies or actions that you have taken to foster improved coordination?
  • How have you met the fiscal/financial constraint requirement? How do you forecast future revenues and funding streams?
  • What is the formal process for approving the TIP?

Day 2: Roundtable

Morning: Impacts on Transportation From Local and Regional Growth and Development

  • Who participates in the land use forecasting process for your region?
  • What impact are expected growth patterns likely to have on your region’s transportation system?
  • What are the population and demographic trends for your region? What impact are they likely to have on travel behavior?
  • Do you consider freight movement in your transportation planning process? Are representatives from the freight sector involved with your transportation planning process?
  • Have you implemented, or are you considering, a traffic management center? If so, what role does the MPO have in fostering the creation of such a group?
  • If you have transit in your region, how is transit modeled in the regional transportation network? Does the transit agency actively participate in regional transportation planning?
  • What regional models are you using for travel forecasting? What enhancements, if any, are you contemplating for your model?

Afternoon: Cooperative Decision Making

  • How would you describe the transportation decision-making process in your region from the perspective of who is involved and what responsibilities each participant has? What can be learned about this structure that suggests ways of developing a more effective decision making process?
  • How do you educate key decision makers or opinion makers in your region about the transportation planning process, and about transportation in general?
  • What techniques do you use to structure the decision making process, if at all? What type of public involvement program do you have in place? Where could this program be improved?

Day 3

Morning: ITS Workshop

XI. Participant MPO Region Profiles

MPO 2000 Urbanized Area Population, Land Area (sq. mi.)
& Population Per Square Mile
MPO Location Population Land Area Population/Sq. Mi
Alexandria, LA 78,504 58.33 1,346
Fayetteville/ Springdale, AR 172,585 108.81 1,586
Fort Smith, AR 106,440 55.30 1,926
Hot Springs, AR 51,763 45.34 1,141
Johnson City, TN 102,456 90.92 1,127
Jonesboro, AR 51,804 39.91 1,298
Pine Bluff, AR 58,584 35.48 1,651
St. Joseph, MO 77,231 38.67 1,997
Texarkana, AR/TX 72,288 58.04 1,246
West Memphis, AR 37,961 15.95 2,380

Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) 2000 Population and Estimates
For 2001 & 2002
MSA Location 2000 2001 2002 % Change 00 - 02
Alexandria, LA 145,035 145,277 145,613 +0.003
Fayetteville/ Springdale, AR 347,045 358,845 368,043 +6.1
Fort Smith, AR 272,170 275,985 278,345 +1.9
Hot Springs, AR 88,068 89,188 90,059 +2.3
Johnson City, TN 480,091 480,637 482,934 +0.5
Jonesboro, AR 107,762 108,684 109,475 +1.6
Pine Bluff, AR 107,341 106,889 106,162 -1.1
St. Joseph, MO 123,336 Unavailable 121,832 -1.2
Texarkana, AR/TX 129,749 130,331 131,027 +1.0
West Memphis, AR (1) 50,866 51,219 51,219 +0.8
Arkansas 2,673,400 2,694,698 2,710,079 +1.36
Louisiana 4,468,974 4,470,368 4,482,646 +0.41
Missouri 5,595,211 5,637,309 5,672,579 +1.39
Oklahoma 3,450,654 3,469,577 3,493,714 +1.24
Tennessee 5,689,277 5,749,398 5,797,289 +1.90

(1) West Memphis is a part of the Memphis MSA that includes areas in southwest Tennessee, northwest Mississippi, and eastern Arkansas.

XII. Participant MPO Region Comparison
Similarities among Characteristics of MPO Regions
MPO College or University Riverfront Development Military Base or Presence Intermodal Port or Freight Facilities Transit Systems
Alexandria: Rapides Area Planning Commission X X X X X
Fayetteville/ Springdale: Northwest Arkansas RPC X       X
Fort Smith/ Van Buren: Bi-State MPO X X X X X
Hot Springs: Hot Springs Area MPO X       X
Johnson City: Johnson City MPO X       X
Jonesboro: Jonesboro Transportation Study Area MPO X        
Pine Bluff: Pine Bluff Transportation Study MPO X X X X X
St. Joseph: St. Joseph Area Transportation Study Organization MPO X X   X X
Texarkana: Texarkana Urban Transportation Study MPO X   X X X
West Memphis-Marion Area Transportation Study MPO X     X X

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