Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Political Science

Date of Defense

5-6-2010

Graduate Advisor

David Brian Robertson

Committee

Boyer, Patricia

Brady Baybeck, Ph.D.

Todd Swanstrom, Ph.D.

Abstract

Historically, municipalities and regions continually competed for a share of transportation funds. The process was dominated by state Departments of Transportation where cooperation, equity and participation were limited. Eighteen years ago the federal government provided metropolitan areas with the opportunity to play a larger role in the regional transportation process. On December 18, 1991 President George H.W. Bush signed the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA). The legislation ushered in a new era of cooperation between state and local leaders by empowering regional Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs). The federal legislation’s intention was to allow a region, through their MPO, to address participation, economic development, social equity and quality of life issues through their transportation policy. The significance and effectiveness of these increased functions has not been determined. The work of other scholars is insufficient to determine whether MPOs are making a difference and led to calls for further research. There was a need for an in-depth examination of MPOs through a comparative case study. This study examines whether Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) make a difference in regional transportation policy-making. It investigates whether MPOs increase public saliency, increase the consideration of social factors (e.g. employment, quality of life and equity) and improve elected official participation in the regional transportation planning process. The study examines six major regional transportation projects: Three projects at the Kansas City MPO; Mid-America Regional Council (MARC), and three projects at the St. Louis MPO; East-West Gateway Council of Governments (EWGCOG). Study results were determined through comparative analysis of the case studies. The evidence suggests MPOs make a difference in four of the five areas examined. They make a difference in public saliency, quality of life, employment factors, and elected official involvement. The means by which an MPO makes a difference include: employing expert consultants, advisory groups, and numerous internal committees brokering political agreements, and managing funds. The cases illustrate that the MPOs powers to coalesce regional cooperation are informal and that MPOs make a reasonable difference in regional transportation policy. The study points toward the need to provide more resources to MPOs.

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