President Trump recently signed into law a repeal of the MPO Coordination and Planning Area Reform rule less than a year after the rule was finalized by the Obama administration’s Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration. The rule, which was largely unpopular with local metropolitan planning organizations (“MPOs”) across the country, aimed to consolidate many MPOs. As a demonstration of just how unpopular the rule was, the bipartisan repeal effort unanimously passed in the Senate and overwhelmingly passed in the House.
The MPO Consolidation Rule was championed by former Transportation Secretary Foxx following his experience as the Mayor of Charlotte, North Carolina, where he was frequently frustrated in his efforts to coalesce support for major infrastructure projects among multiple MPOs. The rule sought to ensure MPO planning took place at a regional level, encompassing entire urbanized areas. Critics of the rule pointed out that it removed from local authorities the ability to plan their own infrastructure initiatives and placed increased control in the hands of federal agencies, including the USDOT.
Congress swiftly repealed the rule, but did not do so under the Congressional Review Act. Because of this, future Administrations are not prohibited from attempting to implement a new rule that approaches the subject slightly differently. However, the Trump administration has not indicated any interest in doing so.
MPOs were first established through the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1962 and have been strengthened by several generations of legislation since. The nation’s 409 MPOs provide regional perspectives and help departments of transportation in each respective state determine priorities for certain regional infrastructure needs. Under the now-repealed rule, MPOs whose jurisdiction overlapped with urbanized areas were to be consolidated into a single, larger MPO.
With the Public Law 115-33 repeal of the MPO Consolidation Rule, the former MPO structure remains in place. While many industry experts agree the infrastructure planning process can be improved at the local and regional level, the industry consensus is that the MPO Consolidation Rule was not the proper vehicle for improvement and its repeal has been widely praised.