Tuesday, May 15, 2012

No more MUMPO. Get ready for ... MILUMPO?

The Charlotte-region transportation planning agency known as MUMPO (Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization) is almost certainly in for a name change.

That's because a large piece of Iredell County, including Statesville and Mooresville, plus a decent-sized chunk of Lincoln County are now part of what's known as Charlotte's "urbanized area."

I, personally, am hoping it will call itself MILUMPO. (Mecklenburg-Iredell-Lincoln-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization). Other waggish types, using the Catawba River basin as a unifying slogan, are musing about CRAMPO (as in, Catawba Regional Area MPO) or SCUMPO (Southern Catawba-Union MPO).

What is an MPO and why does it matter? See below. You may also wonder what is this "urbanized area" and why does it matter? The short answer is, "It's complicated."

The U.S. Census Bureau decides what an "urbanized area" is, via a complex formula that takes into account historical population centers. For the detailed answer click here. Do not expect common sense to play a large role. For instance, Gastonia, Rock Hill and Concord are not part of the "urbanized area," but Statesville now is. Got that?

This piece by my UNC Charlotte colleague John Chesser and me last month, "A region by many other names," goes into some of the absurdities under which the greater Charlotte metro region is divvied into this or that "region."

Metropolitan planning areas, a.k.a. MPOs, set priorities for divvying up state and federal transportation money. They are required to take in the "urbanized area," unless for some reason they decide to try to find another MPO who'll agree to take it over. According to Bill Coxe, Huntersville's transportation planner and chair of MUMPO's technical coordinating committee, it's possible some of the smaller non-Mecklenburg territories that are, as of this year, part of Charlotte's "urbanized area" (examples: a very small part of western Gaston County and eastern Catawba County, and parts of northern Lancaster and York counties, S.C.) may end up becoming part of other MPOs, such as RFATS (Rock Hill-Fort Mill Area Transportation Study), or GUAMPO (Gaston Urban Area MPO). For that to happen, MUMPO must seek out and arrange with another MPO to take over the territory.  If MUMPO wants to keep that territory, it does. If no MPO exists to take it over, as is the case in Lincoln and Iredell counties, MUMPO keeps it. If another MPO does not want the added territory, MUMPO keeps it.

Why does any of this MPO stuff matter? Here's why. Transportation planning, to be done well, should be undertaken at a fully regional level, with decisions made that balance needs in one area against needs in another. That is not what happens in the Charlotte region.

Depending on how you count, the region is split among as many as five MPOs, plus two Rural Planning Organizations. Those five are MUMPO, GUAMPO, RFATS plus Cabarrus-Rowan MPO (CRMPO), and, if you consider the Hickory area part of the greater Charlotte metro area, the Greater Hickory MPO (GHMPO). (An aside: in the Hickory area, the MPO is lodged in the regional land use planning agency, the Western Piedmont Council of Governments, a sensible arrangement yet to be adopted elsewhere in the Charlotte region.)

Bob Cook, MUMPO secretary, made a presentation on much of this to the Charlotte City Council's Transportation and Planning Committee on Monday. Wednesday he'll give a similar presentation at the MUMPO meeting, which starts at 7 p.m. in room CH-14 of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Government Center.

Want to know more? Links:
MUMPO's map of the new urbanized area.
Close-up of the Gaston County portion of the urbanized area
Close-up of the Lincoln and Catawba County parts of the Charlotte urbanized area
A summary of what new territory is in Charlotte's urbanized area, and likely MPO scenarios