Urban Transportation:

Metropolitan Planning Organizations' Efforts to Meet Federal Planning Requirements

RCED-96-200: Published: Sep 17, 1996. Publicly Released: Sep 17, 1996.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed: (1) metropolitan planning organizations' (MPO) implementation of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 (ISTEA) planning requirements; and (2) whether the Department of Transportation's certification review process ensures that MPO in larger urban areas comply with those planning requirements.

GAO found that: (1) the MPOs have found three of ISTEA's planning requirements particularly challenging to meet: (a) requiring greater involvement by citizens; (b) limiting short- and long-term transportation plans to reasonable revenue projections (the financial constraint requirement); and (c) selecting transportation projects; (2) the MPOs found that the requirement to involve citizens had ensured that their transportation plans better reflected their regions' transportation needs; (3) the financial constraint requirement led the MPOs to obtain more reliable revenue projections from the state departments of transportation and transit agencies and to exclude those projects that could not be financed within budget constraints; (4) ISTEA's project selection authority required the MPOs to become consensus builders, effectively working with the states, localities, and transit agencies in identifying projects; (5) in some cases, the efforts of the MPOs and the local officials to assume greater authority have encountered resistance from the states; (6) despite the difficulties encountered, the MPOs that GAO interviewed said that their efforts to meet these three planning requirements had improved their transportation plans; (7) the 13 MPOs that GAO interviewed unanimously endorsed the continuation of the ISTEA planning requirements; (8) in contrast, state department of transportation officials that GAO interviewed did not uniformly support the continuation of ISTEA's planning requirements; (9) as of January 1996, the Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) had reviewed 55 MPOs; (10) 23 were certified without qualification, and 31 were certified subject to certain corrective actions being taken; (11) the certification of one MPO was held in abeyance because of significant areas of noncompliance; (12) in reviewing 55 certification reports, GAO found that the reports are of limited usefulness in assessing trends or problem areas in the ISTEA planning process; (13) the certification reports vary widely in format and content because the Department did not develop standard criteria for assessing or reporting the MPOs' compliance; and (14) three MPOs were conditionally certified despite significant deficiencies in their urban transportation planning processes.

Recommendation for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department concurred with GAO's recommendation and developed a report format that FHwA and FTA will use to structure future MPO compliance reports. Officials from the Department's Office of Planning issued guidance describing the new reporting format and its use on February 3, 1998.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, FHwA, and the Administrator, FTA, to develop reporting formats for assessing and reporting on MPO compliance with ISTEA planning requirements in such a way that the Department can identify any nationwide patterns in planning deficiencies, the underlying causes of these planning deficiencies, and the extent to which MPO have made progress in meeting the requirements.

    Agency Affected: Department of Transportation


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