Metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) are responsible for transportation planning in metropolitan areas; however, little is known about what has been achieved by the planning efforts. This congressionally requested report describes (1) the characteristics and responsibilities of MPOs, (2) the challenges that MPOs face in carrying out their responsibilities, (3) how the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) provides oversight for MPOs and the extent to which this improves transportation planning, and (4) the options that have been proposed to enhance transportation planning. To address these objectives, GAO surveyed all 381 MPOs (with an 86 percent response rate) and conducted case studies of eight metropolitan areas and conducted a survey of program managers.
Matter for Congressional Consideration
|Congress may want to consider making MPO transportation planning more performance-based--for example, by identifying specific transportation outcomes for transportation planning and charging the U.S. Department of Transportation with assessing MPOs' progress in achieving these outcomes in the certification review process.||In 2009, we reported that DOT's Federal Transit Administration and Federal Highway Administration work together to oversee Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), but given the process-oriented approach of the oversight, it is difficult to determine whether their oversight is improving transportation planning. For example, MPOs representing more than 200,000 in population are subject to federal certification reviews, but the certification reviews focus on procedural compliance with planning requirements, not transportation outcomes. We recommended that Congress consider making MPO transportation planning more performance-based by, for example, identifying specific transportation outcomes for transportation planning and charging DOT with assessing MPOs' progress in achieving these outcomes in the certification review process. On July 6, 2012, President Obama signed into law P.L. 112-141, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act. The Act made the MPO planning framework more performance-based by: (a) establishing national performance goals for federal highway programs in several areas, including the safety and condition of the nation's highways; (b) requiring the Secretary of Transportation, in consultation with MPOs and others, to establish performance measures linked to national goals; and (c) requiring MPOs to establish performance targets for those measures and report their progress in achieving performance targets through system performance reports. Finally, the Act required the Department of Transportation to evaluate and report on the effectiveness of the performance-based planning process of MPOs. As a result, the federal government will have the information it needs to measure the results of its investment in MPO planning to ensure that MPOs' planning activities are contributing to the achievement of national goals and improved transportation outcomes.|
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of Transportation||1. To improve the transportation planning process, the Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrators of the FHWA and the FTA to establish guidelines for MPOs to apply for, and implement, the abbreviated planning clause for small MPOs, and share these guidelines with existing MPOs.|
|Department of Transportation||2. To improve the transportation planning process, the Secretary of Transportation should develop a strategy to improve data gathering and modeling efforts among MPOs, including establishing a timeline for implementing the modeling and data recommendations for the federal government in the Transportation Research Board's Special Report 288.|