Local entities hash out details of MPO

By Burk Krohe

Officials from several local governments met Thursday to hammer out details of how a new federally mandated organization would be set up.

In April, the federal government officially recognized Manhattan as an urbanized area, containing more than 50,000, based on population figures from the most recent United States census. Because of that, the city is required to form a metropolitan planning organization.

Congress created the requirement in order to ensure that expenditures for transportation projects are based on collaborative region-wide plans. The organization will be overseen by a policy board made up of local, Kansas Department of Transportation (KDOT) and other officials. It will be allocated a roughly $166,000 grant from KDOT to set up the organization, but that grant will require a minimum 20 percent local match.

The primary question in discussions so far has been what the boundaries of the planning area will be. At minimum, it must include Manhattan’s boundaries, plus the adjacent areas that may become urbanized in the next 20 years. City officials in particular have split over whether the boundaries should be broadened to include the Junction City and Fort Riley areas.

Lauren Palmer, assistant city manager, said deciding on a map will really drive remaining decisions. After Thursday’s meeting, it was clear that a map including Manhattan, Riley County, Pottawatomie County, Junction City, growth areas in Geary County and a portion of Fort Riley was the favorite among most of those present.

Riley County Commissioner Karen McCulloh said that body supported the broader map, terming it vital to cooperate with neighboring cities and counties.

City Commissioner Jim Sherow continued his vocal support of the map in contrast to fellow Commissioner Wynn Butler, who has supported starting the organization with a much smaller map that would exclude Fort Riley and Junction City from a role.

Ben Bennett, Geary County commissioner, said current transportation issues are truly regional in scope and, therefore, must include Geary County, Junction City and Fort Riley. McCulloh and Bennett also supported housing the organization with the Flint Hills Regional Council, which is located on Fort Riley. Mayor Loren Pepperd said entities should explore their options before automatically choosing to house the new organization with the council.

The final decision on the map, which will in turn shape who is on the policy board, is up to Manhattan because it is the central entity.

“Manhattan controls more than 75 percent of the population of the designated urbanized area,” Palmer said. “From KDOT’s perspective that is the magic number.”

Palmer said once the boundary decision has been finalized, then the city will know “the players involved.”

“At that point it would be our recommendation to assemble what we refer to as the interim policy board,” Palmer said. “Really, this would just be a working group of representatives from each of the jurisdictions that are involved in that map.”

The group will develop the agreement that will officially identify the planning area, the host agency and a fiscal agreement.

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