MPO has plenty of work to do

By Corene Brisendine

Efforts to get the Metropolitan Planning Organization off the ground moved slowly at Wednesday’s meeting of the organization, but they moved nonetheless.

The organization must get agreements and bylaws written and passed by the area governing bodies before it can start planning area road projects. According to Kansas Department of Transportation guidelines, the organization has one year to become certified and one additional year to create its committees and apply for funding from KDOT.

Stephanie Watts, KDOT representative to the MPO, said that timetable means the agreements should be approved by January. She said KDOT will have a list of federally funded projects available in January or February, and the local entities can add their individual projects to be approved by the MPO by then.

The agreements are being considered by lawyers for the cities of Manhattan and Junction City, Riley, Geary and Pottawatomie counties as well as KDOT. The documents will also have to be approved by the various local commissions.

Local governments also must approve the fiscal agreement. Watts asked whether the respective members favored paying the 5-year average or the individual year’s operating costs, and also whether members want annual or biannual payments.

Pat Landes, Junction City commissioner, said he preferred the average versus the yearly costs. He based that decision on the projected costs for 2014 and 2015.

Wynn Butler, Manhattan city commissioner, objected to paying the average because the numbers were not actual costs, but estimates. He argued that paying the average would not benefit the cities in the long run. But Watts pointed out that if the estimates were high, the overpayment would carry over into the next fiscal year, creating future savings.

The group decided to pay the actual operating costs — at least until a cost history had been established to better estimate what each entity’s portion would actually amount to. All members of the organization agreed to pay biannual rather than annual payments.

MPO members also discussed the makeup of the Technical Advisory Committee, a discussion that hinted at concerns expressed the previous day by Manhattan City Commissioner John Matta about Manhattan being at the mercy of the remaining members.

Butler argued against a suggestion that aTa Bus be accepted as a voting member of the technical committee, but he was out-voted.

The technical committee would operate similar to city planning boards, advising on planning and design of various area projects that require more technical knowledge and expertise. The MPO will retain final say.

In addition to aTa, voting members of the technical committee will be from Junction City, Geary County, Kansas State University, Fort Riley and NBAF, after it is established.

The council also agreed to include representatives from the Manhattan Bicycle Advisory Committee, Federal Transit Administration, Federal Highway Administration and the Flint Hills Regional Council as non-voting members of the technical committee. At the end of the discussion, the committee had 15 voting members, mostly comprised of city and county planning board members.

The organization plans to meet again at 3:30 p.m. next Wednesday in the Manhattan City Commission Room. Once the agreements have been completed, the organization will meet monthly.

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