What is a Metropolitan Planning Organization?

A Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is a federally designated transportation policy-making body composed of representatives from local governments and transportation agencies in the designated planning region.

Federal legislation passed in the 1960s required urbanized areas with a population over 50,000 to establish a metropolitan planning organization to ensure that existing and future transportation expenditures in a particular region are conducted in a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive fashion. MPOs also work with state departments of transportation and public transit operators to establish spending levels for federally designated transportation funds in the region. 

By law, the MPO is a policy board of locally elected officials. Representatives from local governments and transportation agencies serve on Metropolitan Planning Organizations’ policy boards and perform the following core functions: 

  • Establish a setting for effective decision-making: MPOs establish and manage a fair and inclusive setting for regional decision-making in the planning process.
  • Identify and evaluate transportation improvement options: MPOs develop transportation improvement options and use supporting technical analysis and data to determine if improvement options are consistent with the performance measurement targets. Planning studies are included in the Unified Planning Work Program (UPWP).
  • Prepare and maintain a Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP): An MPO must develop and maintain a Metropolitan Transportation Plan for a future planning horizon of at least 20 years for the region.  The MTP (analogous to the LRTP) is developed to meet established regional visions and performance targets.  
  • Develop a Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP): An MPO develops a short-range plan with priority projects pulled from the LRTP. The TIP must be financially constrained with funding sources and project limits identified. 
  • Identify performance measurement targets and monitor whether implemented projects and policies are achieving targets: MPOs coordinate with state and local government representatives and transit authorities to establish performance measurement targets for the region as set forth in Federal law. LRTPs include a System Performance Report that tracks progress in meeting performance targets. In addition to federally mandated requirements, MPOs may identify additional local performance measures that support the decision-making process. 
  • Involve the public: An MPO must involve the public in all the preceding steps. Emphasis should be given to including public input into the regional goals and performance measures.

My previous experience with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council gives Sain a unique insight into the preparation of long-range plan documents, travel demand forecasting, future needs assessment, multi-modal project prioritization, public engagement, and incorporating climate change and emerging technologies, like Electric Vehicle infrastructure, into the long-range planning process.