The Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) has approved a memorandum of understanding involving a study to examine a potential merger of individual county MPOs to create a regional transportation planning board for Tampa Bay.
Currently, Pasco, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties each have a transportation planning body, which sets priorities for transportation projects within their counties.
But the Florida Legislature has mandated a study outlining what would be the benefits and drawbacks of shifting to a single regional MPO.
On one hand, creating a regional MPO would harness the political power of a region of more than 3.5 million people, and expectations to grow by 1 million more over the next 20 years.
On the other hand, representatives of areas with fewer people are worried priorities for their communities could be lost in a big regional shuffle because they would not have a big enough voice to be heard.
The issue has been debated on and off for months, but the deadline for complying with the legislature’s mandate is approaching, so members of the Pasco MPO agreed to support a memorandum brought before them at their Oct. 12 meeting.
The Pasco County MPO is the lead transportation planning agency for Pasco County. Its board is made up of elected leaders in Pasco County, Port Richey, New Port Richey, Dade City and Zephyrhills.
Pinellas and Hillsborough counties also have transportation planning boards.
Historically, there have been issues in getting all three boards to agree on how to resolve regional transportation issues.However, not everyone is sure combining the three into a regional board is the best approach, either.
The Pasco MPO technical advisory committee raised concerns about language in the memo of understanding. They said verbiage within the memorandum creates the impression all of the MPOs are on the same page regarding the need for a regional MPO.
The committee said it would prefer more neutral language.
Some Pasco MPO board members also wondered if the language should be changed.
But David Goldstein, Pasco’s senior assistant county attorney, said the memo is not legally binding.
Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, a proponent for a regional approach to transportation planning, said acting as a region would create a much better opportunity to attract federal funding for regional transportation needs.
Starkey said she understands small communities may worry about not being represented, but she believes David Gwynn, secretary for the District 7 region of the Florida Department of Transportation, would make sure no one is overlooked.
Pasco Commissioner Ron Oakley, who has argued for and against the regional approach during previous discussions of the issue, said he believes creating the regional MPO will bring more to the area to address transportation issues.
He’s also confident funding will continue to come into individual counties for projects. Banding together, however, will give the region a much stronger position to compete for federal funds, Oakley said.
Dade City Commissioner Scott Black said he understands the concept of strength in numbers, but said it’s important to ask questions before merging the MPOs.
Starkey said she’s sure there will be considerable discussion before a final action occurs.
Published October 18, 2023