03/31/11 — MPO officials say community does not attend meetings

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MPO officials say community does not attend meetings

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 31, 2011 1:46 PM

The Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization's Monday morning retreat was intended to provide MPO members with a nuts-and-bolts look at the organization's duties.

However, the meeting, which was open to the public, was still a reminder to MPO members of the difficulties they face in attracting people to the public comment sessions that are a required part of the MPO's decision-making process.

Only one person, other than members of the organization, attended Monday's session, which was conducted by federal and state highway officials.

MPO officials have expressed frustration for years that people do not take advantage of public comment sessions and then they appear surprised when the state announces a highway project in their community.

An MPO is federally mandated in every urbanized area in the country with a population more than 50,000. Urbanized areas are defined and updated with every U.S. Census.

County commissioner and MPO member Sandra McCullen questioned how the census would affect the Goldsboro MPO.

There is no official information available yet, said Jill Stark of the Federal Highway Administration.

"The census is independent of us," she said. "One thing that has been discussed is raising the threshold from 50,000 to 100,000 for a MPO. Does that mean you would be grandfathered in? Probably. But they haven't given us anything official.

The MPO actually consists of two committees.

*The Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) is the policy-making body made up of elected officials from each of the member governments, in this case the city of Goldsboro, the Village of Walnut Creek, Wayne County, and the state Board of Transportation.

*The Technical Communicating Committee is the staff level committee that provides recommendations to the TAC regarding transportation decisions.

The MPO is charged with the creation of:

*A long-range transportation plan that includes a 25-year plan for transportation improvements in the area.

*A planning work program, which includes an annual program of planning activities and programmed expenditures of federal planning money.

*A priority needs list that includes local priorities for transportation improvements that is submitted to the state for consideration in the development of the state Transportation Improve-ment Program.

The MPO does not have any authority to issue building permits or to zone property, DOT representative Nora McCann said. Those powers rest with local governments.

It was just over a year ago that MPO members found themselves fending off public attacks by people seeking to link the MPO with zoning and final establishment of highway corridors. MPO members said criticism that their decisions were made without public comment were unfounded, and that the problem was that people did not attend MPO meetings that were advertised as public forums.

"What are some ways that we can get public comment?" Mrs. McCullen asked. "We have alluded to that several times today. Do you have any suggestions?

Ms. Stark said she could come up with a list of ideas of how to get people to attend.

"Food always gets people in," she said. That is the actual No. 1 draw to a meeting -- having food there."

She also suggested using online surveys to solicit comments from the public on how the MPO is handling the public meetings -- are they being held at a bad location or at a bad time for people to attend.

"One (idea) is like having Saturday workshops or something. One of the most successful things that I have seen is when you just have maps of the area and you have the public come in and they say, 'You know what I want a stoplight right here.' Or, 'Wouldn't it be great if we had bridge right here?'

Ms. Stark also said events at which local government officials meet with the public offer opportunities for the public to get involved.

Mrs. McCullen suggested that maps of proposed highway changes could simply be erected at locations where people could just stop by and view without the formality of a workshop setting.