Officials with the Sherman-Denison Metropolitan Planning Organization recently received an update on proposed changes that would reduce funding by nearly 30 percent for one of the agency’s primary sources for funding. Over the course of the next decade, this could reduce the organization’s category 2 funding from $81 million to $57.5 million, SDMPO Director Clay Barnett said.
The update followed a meeting with representatives for the other 24 MPOs in the Association of Texas Metropolitan Planning Organizations, also known as TEMPO. Recently, representatives for six of the largest MPOs recommended changes to funding allocations that would place a higher weight on population as a criteria for funding.
During the recent update, Barnett said he plans to request a funding floor that would prevent any state MPO from receiving less than $10 million a year for the next 10 years. Currently, the SDMPO is the only MPO in the state that receives less than that, Barnett said.
“This is so the smallest MPO of the state doesn’t lose the largest percentage of its funding,” Barnett said.
Following a conclusion of discussions by the MPOs, TEMPO will make a recommendation to the Texas Transportation Commission. The commission, which oversees the Texas Department of Transportation, will then act and decide on future funding allocations for all MPOs across the state.
Previously, Barnett said the conversation on changing category 2 allocations started in October by representatives for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, which encompasses a 16-county area around the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. NCTCOG also maintains one of the largest MPOs not only in the state of Texas, but also the U.S.
Under previous allocations, category 2 funding was based on eight weighted criteria ranging from population and traffic congestion to vehicle miles within a system and the number of incapacitating wrecks within an MPO. Under the last allocation, crash data counted for 10 percent of the weighted score.
While the SDMPO is one of the smallest by population, Barnett said it would receive increased funding if any other criteria received increased weight. Of those criteria, an increased weight on crash data would increase the SDMPO’s funding by the most, Barnett said previously.
When asked why Texoma sees a higher number of major crashes, Barnett attributed it to the design of the roadways, using U.S. Highway 75 as an example. Barnett said the highway was not originally designed for the traffic and speeds it sees on a daily basis in 2017.
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 mph, it is not uncommon to see people driving 75 mph at that location. However, the ramp at that location was only designed for speeds of 45 mph on the highway, Barnett said.
Under the current proposal, the largest six MPOs would receive about 87 percent of the annual category 2 funding offered through TxDOT. The remaining 13 percent would be split between the remaining 19 MPOs.
“Between the slicing and dicing we effectively end up in the blender,” Barnett said. “Of course, the big six do this because they can — 86 percent of the population gives them a voice.”
Looking ahead at September’s meeting, Barnett said he is working to unite the six smallest MPOs to fight the action. Barnett said this is proving difficult as all six have different reasons to fight the proposal, and are not all on the same page.
During its recent meeting, members of the SDMPO Policy Board asked whether Barnett had approached local representatives, including State Rep. Larry Phillips. Barnett said he did not want to take the discussion that far just yet, noting that it was “in my corner right now.”
By pursuing a floor for minimum MPO funding, Barnett said he was looking to install some protection for the organization,
“For us, right now the floor is exactly zero,” Barnett said.
When asked what the cut in funding would mean for the SDMPO, Barnett said the organization can pursue meaningful, large-scale improvements to the regional transportation grid with $8 million a year. However, with a 30 percent cut, it would be reduced to just maintenance, he said.