Which way to simpler, clearer regional coordination?

March 2019 – Commentary and update from Beth Alden, AICP, MPO Executive Director

Counties in Florida are the size of small states, and each county faces many complex challenges to meet its people’s transportation needs. So, it’s not surprising that many Florida MPOs – like Hillsborough MPO – are aligned with counties.

In our part of Florida, there are also a couple of agencies that focus on connections across and among the counties.  Think of FDOT’s state highway system (SR 580 for example) and TBARTA’s regional vanpool program. When organizations like all of these decide to collaborate to address shared issues, where and how should that collaboration occur?

In Tampa Bay, the question has been answered in many ways, through many multi-county groups, have been formed over the years. Just on the topic of transportation, consider:

  • Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council, 1962-present
  • Tampa Bay Commuter Rail Authority, active 1990-1997
  • Tampa Bay MPO Chairmen’s Coordinating Committee 1993-2000, succeeded by West Central Florida MPO Chairs’ Coordinating Committee, 2000-2014, and TBARTA MPO Chairs’ Coordinating Committee, 2015-present
  • Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA), 2007-2017, succeeded by Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority, 2017-present
  • Tampa Bay Transportation Management Area (TMA) Leadership Group, 2014-present

All of these groups – except for the Commuter Rail Authority – still exist, even if they’ve been reshaped over the years to focus on various geographic areas and subject matter.

Over the last 18 months, a study was conducted for the MPOs of Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Pasco Counties to consider whether they should merge and no longer align with counties. The report released in January ultimately did not recommend that in the short term. Rather, it pointed to a list of cooperation steps that could be fruitful with or without a tri-county MPO merger at some point in the future.

So, where does that leave us? How do we best come together on issues of mutual interest? You might be thinking, how many regional groups are useful to have, and when does an additional layer of regional coordination add confusion rather than clarity?

The TMA Leadership Group, which currently meets five times a year, had a lengthy discussion on this topic on February 8, after a staff recommendation to use the TBARTA MPO Chairs’ Coordinating Committee (CCC) as a base group for regional coordination. The staff recommendation was based on the CCC being the most inclusive group – both geographically and addressing all modes of transportation – while also having organizational infrastructure with operating and financial procedures in place.

Staff recommended that after the TMA prepares its Tri-County Long Range Transportation Plan in 2019, that regional plan be expanded in 2020 to the larger CCC area, to address the economic ties between Tampa and Lakeland, New Port Richey and Spring Hill, St. Petersburg, and Sarasota-Bradenton.

The consensus among the Leadership Group was that there is value in continued regular tri-county meetings, but potentially set up as a named subcommittee of the CCC, to eliminate redundancies and unnecessary bureaucracy. Meetings of the eight-county CCC and tri-county TMA sub-group could occur on the same day, starting next year, to further streamline regional coordination.

While it’s imperative we serve our local communities, especially those with greatest needs, it’s also critical we leverage the strength of our growing region together to achieve regional transportation priorities, increase competitiveness for federal funding against other major metro areas, and continue to elevate the Tampa Bay region in the global marketplace.

For the MPO Regional Coordination & Best Practices Research for the Tampa Bay Region final report and background, links to available documents for the project, and meetings of the project study management team, visit the TBARTA study page.

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