published: Wednesday, January 30, 2013
APCC wants to join other counties in transportation planning organization
By CHRISTOPHER TUFFLEY
AVON PARK -- Monday night the city council unanimously voted to join a six-county Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) -- interchangeable with Transportation Organization (TPO).
The MPO would be made up of Highlands, Desoto, Hardee, Hendry and Okeechobee counties. Sitting elected officials would serve as representatives from their respective counties.
Avon Park Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland briefed the council about MPOs before it voted.
In March of 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau created a new list of urbanized areas. Avon Park and Sebring have increased enough in population to classify as an Urban Area. The two cities combine to house roughly 50 percent of the county's population, which qualifies Highlands County to create an MPO with the other counties into an organization to deal with transportation policy-making.
"It's all about planning," Sutherland said. For example, she explained, "it's the best way to influence future decisions like future cloverleaf exchanges.
"It gives us a bigger voice when it comes to regional transportation," Sutherland said, "and federal transportation grants will be funneled through it." Other type grants would not be affected, she added.
"The six rural county MPO cannot be formed without Highlands County's participation, as it contains the only urbanized area in the Heartland," Sutherland said. That is what gives the county leverage.
Sutherland warned that Governor Rick Scott is looking to streamline government, and has set deadlines. The fewer MPOs and TPOs, the better, he has said.
If the county does not begin work to create the six-member MPO, Sutherland said, the governor is likely to assign Highlands to Polk County, where its influence would be significantly less.
In supporting the proposal, the council approves county officials to proceed.
Sutherland said while Sebring had not yet voted on the issue, she understood its council leaned towards approval.
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