Representatives with the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization will meet with other MPOs from across the state this summer to discuss proposed changes to funding distribution. Officials with the SDMPO fear these changes could cut the organization’s state category 2 funding by 30 percent or more.
SDMPO Director Clay Barnett said there have been moves by the six largest MPOs in the state to change the funding distribution to increase the emphasis on population. Under some plans, population would be the only criteria used in determining funding.
“The biggest ones (MPOs) get more, the medium sized ones get about the same, but the smaller ones get mugged,” Barnett said.
Following these discussions, Barnett said the Association of Texas Metropolitan Planning Organizations, also known as TEMPO, will make a recommendation to the Texas Transportation Commission. The commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, will then decide on the funding allocation.
“What we have been trying to do is head it off at the pass,” Barnett said, noting that the MPO will see funding from cut $8 million to $5 million under this plan.
Barnett said the conversation was started in October by representatives of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which covers a 16-county area around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The organization maintains one of the largest MPOs in both the state of Texas and the U.S.
Under previous allocations, category 2 funding was based on eight weighted criteria. These criteria include population and traffic congestion, but also cover vehicle miles within the system and the number of fatal or incapacitating wrecks. Under the last allocation, crash data counted for 10 percent of the weighted score.
By population, the SDMPO is the smallest of the 25 MPOs in the state of Texas. However, Barnett said the organization would receive increased funding if almost any of the other criteria were weighed heavier. Of these, an increased emphasis on crash data would benefit the SDMPO the most, he said.
Barnett said the increased rate of significant crashes over other MPO regions can likely be attributed to the way the roads were designed, especially in the case of U.S. Highway 75. Barnett said the highway was not originally designed for the traffic and speeds it sees on a daily basis.
As an example, Barnett referred to a short on-ramp onto the highway near Piner Middle School in Sherman. While the posted speed limit is 60 miles per hour, it is not uncommon to see people driving 75 miles per hour at that location. However, the ramp at that location was only designed for speeds of 45 on the highway, Barnett said.
Barnett said this focus on safety should be an important factor in determining funding. For some of these funds, the state legislature put in requirements that the funds be used on performance-based standards. Barnett said some factors, including safety and congestion, would qualify for this.
“Going with a 100 percent population focus, I would say, is not a performance-based standard,” he said during a meeting with the SDMPO policy board Wednesday.
“It is a money grab by the big boys is what it is,” Grayson County Judge Bill Magers said, responding to Barnett’s comments.
Barnett said he is working to get other small MPOs from across the state together in opposition to these measures. However, he said there are some fears that if a consensus is not reached before this is taken to the commission, its decision could be far worse.
When asked whether he has spoken to State Rep. Larry Phillips, who serves as the chairman on the House Transportation Committee, Barnett said he felt it was too early to speak with legislators. He said he wanted to wait until there is a consensus between the MPOs before bringing it up to local representatives. Calls to Phillips for comment by the Herald Democrat were not returned Friday afternoon.
“Right now, the battle is in my court,” Barnett said.
When asked what a reduction of funding would mean for the SDMPO, Barnett said the organization is using its allocation to help finance grants for projects, including proposed improvements to Hwy. 75 along its corridor in Grayson County. Currently, the SDMPO is using these funds to help match a grant through the Texas Transportation Commission that would pay for half of the cost of some of these improvements.
“When we are taking a 30 percent hit, I don’t think that is tenable for us,” Barnett said. “By that point we are just doing maintenance.”