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VOL. 127 | NO. 57 | Thursday, March 22, 2012

MPO Chief Shares Long-Range Transportation Plans

By Sarah Baker

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The Memphis Urban Area Metropolitan Planning Organization has been providing long-range transportation planning for the region for more than 30 years.

It’s the second largest of 11 MPOs in Tennessee, behind only Nashville. But when MPO administrator Pragati Srivastava is out making presentations or at public hearings, she often comes across a lot of people who are unfamiliar with the organization’s scope.

“My organization plays a really important role in the growing environment of the Memphis region overall,” Srivastava said Tuesday, March 20, at the Memphis Metro Certified Commercial Investment Member meeting, held at the Holiday Inn University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave.

“The whole purpose of having an MPO is to make sure everybody works together so that we can identify the future needs related to transportation in our area and make sure that the federal transportation funds that we get are going towards investing in those needs.”

Federal law requires MPOs in areas with a population of 50,000 or more. With these criteria, there are about 300 MPOs throughout the nation.

The Memphis MPO is a bi-state MPO, meaning the planning area covers the entire Shelby County in Tennessee, and also western Fayette and northern DeSoto counties, including Hernando.

“I’d almost say that we are a tri-state area because we work very closely with our friends across the river in West Memphis, Ark.,” Srivastava said. “They have their own MPO, but we work very well with them in terms of developing a plan, any projects that we are working on. We participate in their meetings and they participate in ours.”

“The whole purpose of having an MPO is to make sure everybody works together.”

–Pragati Srivastava, MPO administrator

The Memphis MPO is governed by a Transportation Policy Board, which is comprised of the executive governors and chiefs of each jurisdiction, as well as members of the Tennessee and Mississippi departments of transportation, Memphis Area Transit Authority, Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, and the Memphis and Shelby County Port Commission.

“The goal is to be a primary decision-making body,” Srivastava said. “It basically includes all of the mayors in the entire MPO area coming together and working together to ensure transportation planning or things we need to look at for the future of transportation of residents in our area.”

As an MPO, the federal law requires the development of various plans. Srivastava said one of the most important plans in place is the Long-Range Transportation Plan, which is updated every four years to provide major transportation strategies of the region and potential funding sources for the next 20 to 25 years.

The 2040 LRTP addresses bicycle and pedestrian concerns – of which more than 2,000 surveys have been completed to date – and identifies potential high-capacity transit corridors; high-priority projects in freight and intermodal facilities; complete, community-oriented streets; and maintenance and enhancement of specific roadway projects.

Srivastava said there are 145 roadway projects in Tennessee and 49 in Mississippi to be tackled by 2040. Of that 194 total, 72 percent of funds are dedicated to widening existing roads. The remaining funds are allocated to new roadway and operational/design.

The LRTP includes $9.8 billion total funding, with $5 billion in Tennessee, $1.7 billion in Mississippi, and $3.1 billion for the Southern Gateway, also known as the Mississippi River Bridge project – a third Memphis-area bridge spanning the Mississippi.

Meanwhile, the Transportation Improvement Program is more of a short-range implementation plan, operating on a four-year horizon.

“The TIP is literally where the rubber meets the road,” Srivastava said, “because in our TIP, all of the projects that we have identified in our long-range plan get the funding associated with those projects in the Transportation Improvement Program.”

The 2011-2014 TIP includes $883 million in total funding, with Tennessee and Mississippi state-sponsored projects reaching $329 million each. Tennessee locally sponsored projects are $204 million, while Mississippi locally sponsored projects are $21 million.

Major projects of the 2011-2014 TIP are completion of Interstate 269 through Tennessee and Mississippi, which Srivastava said “will be completed pretty soon,” as well as interstate widening projects, highway interchange improvements, and the preliminary phases of Interstate 69 – which is anticipated to be completed by 2020.

Some of the recent projects that MPO has completed in the last couple of years are through funds provided by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for the repaving and repair of bridges and bicycle/pedestrian areas. ARRA covered 56 projects in Tennessee totaling $2.6 million and seven projects in Mississippi totaling $2.45 million.

Also, Surface Transportation Funding and National Highway System funds were used on Wolf River Boulevard, Alexander Road, Veterans Parkway in Millington, and connecting I-269 and Tenn. 385. And Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality and Transportation Enhancement funds were used on the Shelby Farms Greenline for extensions and signal coordination.

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