House Clears Bill Repealing MPO Rule for White House

April 27, 2017

Earlier today, the House of Representatives gave final approval for legislation (S. 496) that will repeal a regulation issued by the U.S. Department of Transportation on December 20, 2016 that would have the effect of forcing many metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) around big cities to merge.

The bill passed the House by a roll call vote of 417 to 3. (The only “no” votes were Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) and Reps. Zoe Lofgren and Mark DeSaulnier (b0th D-CA)O). The bill passed the Senate on March 8 by unanimous consent, so today’s House action clears the measure for President Trump’s signature.

The House held de minimis debate on the bill on April 25. Rep. Jason Lewis (R-MN), the lead Republican cosponsor of the House companion bill (H.R. 1346), moved the adoption of the bill. In addition to the general objections cited by opponents of the rule (that it exceeds the intent of Congress, would force MPOs to consolidate across state lines, and would place a financial burden on MPOs), Lewis had a particular local concern:

…in the instances of unelected MPOs, like Minnesota’s Metropolitan Council, this rule encourages them to expand without any participation or control from local citizens. The MPO council representing the Twin Cities area is entirely appointed by the Governor. Through State statute, they have the ability to levy taxes, and, like all MPOs, they determine what transportation projects to pursue. An expansion of MPO boundaries could mean a new tax for surrounding counties to fund transportation projects that do not address their local needs.

Lewis also inserted into the Record letters in opposition to the rule from the trade associations representing MPOs, regional councils, and state DOTs.

The only speaker on the Democratic side was Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA), who noted that Atlanta mayor Kasim Reed had testified before the House recently on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and said that the rule “created unreasonable burdens for a number of regions” and thanked the committee for approving legislation to repeal the rule.

The Congressional Budget Office, in its cost estimate for H.R. 1346, estimated that nationwide, “MPOs would spend about $80 million less per year over the 2018-2021 period if the legislation is enacted because they would no longer need to comply with the rule’s requirements”

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) submitted remarks for the Record that used a real-world example to be critical of planning across state lines:

The NJTPA region covering my district already includes 6.7 million people and its TIP is over $2 Billion—adding any more to their plate would be unwieldy. We just need to witness the dysfunction at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to know that mandating New Jersey to undertake transportation planning with New York City and New York State in this way would be a recipe for disaster.

ETW has covered this issue extensively since the first draft rule was published last June, including not one but two rounds of dueling op-eds on the issue and a roundup of reaction to the final rule.

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