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Metropolitan Planning Organizations

Last Updated: 2006

Metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) are federally mandated bodies responsible for coordinating transportation planning in urbanized areas with populations over 50,000 people. MPOs bring together local officials in a decision-making body responsible for planning the transportation network of an entire region. MPOs, in conjunction with state and federal officials, create long- and short-term transportation plans that prioritize current projects as well as identify the future needs of growing metropolitan areas. Federal law mandates additional responsibilities for some types of MPOs. Urbanized areas with populations over 200,000 are also responsible for creating plans to reduce traffic congestion. MPOs in areas with poor air quality must incorporate pollution control mechanisms in their transportation planning. All MPOs must encourage public involvement in carrying out their mandated functions.

Congress created MPOs to impose order on the transportation decision-making process. The transportation network in the United States is not owned, operated, or funded by any single government entity. The system of roads, railways, airports, and waterways is an interlocking matrix supported by various local, state, and federal agencies. The creation of MPOs mandated cooperation and coordination among elected and appointed officials throughout the federal system. The Highway Act of 1973 created metropolitan planning organizations in response to criticisms that the existing decision-making process did not place enough emphasis on environmental and community issues. Congress strengthened the role of MPOs in 1991 as a result of increased concerns about suburban sprawl, vehicle-related pollution, and the economic costs of congestion. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act (ISTEA) increased MPO funding and gave the organizations more decision-making power in relation to state transportation departments.

SEE ALSO: Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency ActTransportation Equity Act for the Twenty-first CenturyTransportation Policy