In a race with a tight deadline, the Metro Council voted July 24 to update the Regional Transportation Plan.
The plan, which is updates the 2010 version of the plan, is a federally mandated roadmap of city, county, regional and state priority projects. Projects that get on to the list are then eligible for federal funding.
While the 2010 plan was an ambitious overhaul of both projects and policies, the 2014 plan was intended to be a quick maintenance update – with pressing, important deadlines.
The air-quality determination of the plan expires Sept. 20. After Metro adopts the plan, it must then be approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.
Metro planner John Mermin said missing that deadline would cause serious consequences for transportation funding.
"If we weren't to meet that date … we wouldn't be able to spend any federal transportation dollars in our region," Mermin said. "This is obviously a really negative outcome we wanted to avoid."
Ted Leybold, a transportation manager from Metro, presented an air quality analysis that showed the region being far under carbon emissions limits.
He also spoke on the civil rights assessment of the plan, with a focus on how transportation decisions effect communities of concern – people of color, people with low income, older people, younger people and people who do not speak English well.
Leybold said those communities were being served well by transportation plans.
"In almost every way we've looked at it, for both our Regional Transportation Plan and our short-term investments in the transportation improvement program, we are investing in those communities at a higher rate than in the rest of our region," Leybold said.
Some community partners think there wasn't enough time to engage with these communities of concern.
Elizabeth Williams, a transportation advocate with the Coalition for a Livable Future, said Metro should go out to community organizations and meet with them.
"To get the community members engaged, Metro needs to go to them and explain to them what the process is, " Williams said in an interview after the plan's adoption, "and to let them know how this could impact their community and why it's important."
For Williams, meeting face to face is important if Metro is trying to reach people who do not have access to a computer, or don't easily speak English. These communities of concern are often best reached through their community organizations.
Metro engaged community organizations in the winter to get input on the benchmarks for the analysis, and provided public notice of the 45-day comment period in the spring as well as the 30-day comment period on the civil rights assessment. More than 250 comments were received from groups ranging from large government organizations to neighborhood associations to individual residents, while 1,200 residents offered thoughts on the region's transportation system.
"One thing we know about public involvement is there is always the opportunity to do more," said Metro spokesman Cliff Higgins
Councilor Bob Stacey said this version of the RTP was a balancing act between doing a lean and efficient overview and having complete discussions on policy with outside advisory groups and partners.
Despite the concerns about the process, the RTP was approved unanimously. Williams said that her interactions with Metro were positive and she intends to work with Metro in the future.
"I believe that ultimately, Metro wants to do the right thing," Williams said. "I think that going forward that we have a good working future, that we will be able to make some good progress going forward."
Stacey said the RTP is still a great plan and the discussions around it are part of a learning process that would ultimately improve future regional transportation planning.
"It's a terrific product, I want to make note of that important learning at the end, that we need to build in time for deliberation … with partners and I am confident that we will all understand that better now," Stacey said.