On the one hand, forming a regional transportation planning organization could put Tampa Bay in a better position for attracting federal dollars for projects.
On the other, Pasco County officials worry a regional board could put Pasco at a disadvantage in securing transportation dollars to address its needs.
So, for now, the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is resisting any effort to become part of a regional MPO board.
Board members said they might feel differently if the composition of the new board is made up of equal numbers of county commissioners from Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties.
The Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough transportation planning agencies must participate in preparing a report that lists the pros and cons of creating a regional transportation planning agency, Carl Mikyska, executive director of the Pasco MPO said during its June 8 meeting.
That report must be submitted by Dec. 31 to the Speaker of the House, the Senate President and the Governor, he said.
Under the proposed regional board, Pasco County would have four representatives, Hillsborough County would have 12 and Pinellas County would have nine.
That composition did not sit well with the Pasco MPO’s Citizens Advisory Committee, Technical Advisory Committee or its Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee.
All three expressed concerns that the new approach would diminish Pasco’s voice as it relates to transportation needs and priorities.
The proposed number of representatives on the board is based on the April 1, 2020 U.S. Census figures, Mikyska said.
However, he noted: “We have explosive growth here. We are the fifth fastest-growing county in the nation.”
The topic is expected to be discussed at a regional meeting on June 23, Mikyska said, asking the board to convey their thoughts on the issue.
Board members expressed concerns about Pasco County’s projects securing enough votes to make it to the top of priority lists.
Zephyrhills City Councilman Lance Smith said: “As a small city, my fear is getting lost in the shuffle. We may never get funds for anything, really. I would hope that it would be equitable, but who is the staff going to be?
“I think there’s a lot of questions that need to be answered, on who’s going to staff it.”
Smith also noted that it can be difficult to make it to the top of Pasco’s priority list, let alone a regional list.
MPO board chairman Matt Murphy, who is deputy mayor of New Port Richey, said he doesn’t think that having four votes will work for Pasco County.
Pasco County Commissioner Seth Weightman agreed: “I think we’re all a ‘Hard No’ for four votes.”
Pasco County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said working together as a region could have significant benefits, in terms of having a greater regional voice and working together on regional transportation issues.
“There’s potential,” Mariano said.
Pasco County Commissioner Ron Oakley said he opposes moving forward with the proposed level of board representation.
“I definitely wouldn’t want this to go forward with this kind of membership,” Oakley said.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, who was not at the meeting, previously has advocated for a regional approach.
She has said that previous efforts have failed to provide transportation solutions for the region and a regional perspective is needed to address issues that cross governmental boundaries.
David Gwynn, secretary for the Florida Department of Transportation’s District Seven office, also has previously said that establishing a regional MPO may bring more federal dollars to this part of the state.
“With 3.2 million people in an MPO, you’re going to be the largest MPO,” Gwynn said, during a meeting with officials from across the Tampa Bay region earlier this year.
He also said if that happens, then more improvements could be accomplished throughout the region.
The Pasco County MPO is the lead transportation planning agency for Pasco County. Its board is made up of members of the Pasco County Commission and an elected official representing New Port Richey, Port Richey, Zephyrhills and Dade City.
Published June 21, 2023