Can MPO transcend rivalries?

Collaboration will help region prosper

By The Mercury

OK, it doesn’t seem quite right for Manhattan to pay 60 percent of the costs of the new Metropolitan Planning Organization while getting just 33 percent of the votes. That inequity puts the burden on this city’s leaders to prevail in the battle of ideas when issues between members become contentious.

The Metropolitan Planning Organization consists of Manhattan, Riley County, Junction City, Geary County, Wamego, Pottawatomie County and the Kansas Department of Transportation. Manhattan has three votes, Junction City has two, and each of the other entities has one.

On votes related to activities required by federal law, passage requires six votes, which could render Manhattan’s three votes worthless. On a second category of issues, those not related to federal law, passage requires seven votes. The MPO is an outgrowth of the 2010 federal Census, and is intended largely as a vehicle through which this area can attract federal funding to improve transportation — roads and transit.

Manhattan City Commissioner John Matta made clear he wanted no part of a plan under which Manhattan, without whose population growth the MPO could not exist and despite picking up most of the costs, could be “dictated to” by other members. It amounts to taxation without adequate representation.

Moreover, we’re less certain than Manhattan Mayor Loren Pepperd about his assertion that Manhattan in reality has four votes — the city’s three and Riley County’s single vote. We’d like to believe that will be the case, but the reality is that the two entities’ interests don’t always align and the two governing bodies aren’t always on the friendliest of terms.

Still, our sense is that the MPO presents a wonderful opportunity to advance the cause of regionalization. However, progress will come only if the various members can recognize that while a given highway project might serve one community more than another, easing transportation between any member communities benefits the entire region. It’s hard to envision Manhattan and Riley County — the most centrally located members — not benefiting at least indirectly, and possibly disproportionately, from the MPO’s projects and activities.

Although Manhattan was on the short end of an unofficial decision Wednesday, we hope those become the exception. In Wednesday’s decision, all members except Manhattan wanted ATA Bus to be a voting member of the MPO’s Technical Advisory Committee.  The Manhattan City Commission’s concerns about ATA Bus are well known, but the other members’ positions are understandable. Despite the uncertainty about ATA Bus’s long-term funding, the agency constitutes the only viable mass transit system in the MPO’s geographical area. What’s more, the committee is an advisory committee.

Perhaps the mere possibility of being outvoted will be enough to ensure that Manhattan’s elected officials give due consideration to other members’ interests and collaborate with them to avoid such showdowns. Rivalries can’t be eliminated, but all member communities are more likely to prosper if the MPO can transcend their rivalries.

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