Monday, August 11, 2014

COMPASS is asking for your comments…yes, again!

I’ve been asked why COMPASS seems to “always” be asking for public comment on something…“these” goals, “those” projects, and “this,” “that,” and “the other” plan. Why does COMPASS reach out to the public so often…and, why are we doing it again now?

The short answer is “it’s required.” Federal law requires that metropolitan planning organizations such as COMPASS solicit and consider public feedback when developing a long-range transportation plan (ours is called Communities in Motion) and a Regional Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). COMPASS also solicits public input into other projects and plans as well.

However, there is much more to it than filling a requirement. Most transportation projects are big – they cost large sums of money (your tax dollars), they are often disruptive when under construction, and they have the potential to impact the landscape of an area and the quality of life of the residents who live there for many, many years. Decisions about these large, impactful projects should never be taken lightly or without input from those who will be affected.

People are often surprised when they suddenly see orange stakes driven in the side of the road, bulldozers starting to move dirt, or a new bus route they didn’t know about. It is COMPASS’ goal to keep that surprise to a minimum by keeping people informed of what is coming, and to answer questions and consider input about projects, before they start.

We ask for public input in a variety of different stages in the planning process. For example, earlier this spring we asked for input on the draft Communities in Motion 2040 plan. That plan sets long-term goals and transportation priorities for the region. In addition to asking for input into the draft plan itself, we also asked for feedback on key decisions before they were made. Those key decisions were the “meat” of the plan; by asking for input on those throughout the planning process we were able to develop a plan with the public input, instead of developing a plan then asking “what do you think?” once it was done.

In the title of this post, I tell you we are asking for comment again. This round of comments is not on Communities in Motion; it is on projects in the TIP and related documents and on the Transportation Service Coordination Plan. While Communities in Motion is a long-range planning document, the items we’re looking for input on now focus on more discrete projects and decisions.

In the draft TIP, we’re asking for your feedback on federally funded and “regionally significant” projects scheduled for the next five years. These are based on priorities set in Communities in Motion, but move from broad priorities to actual, on-the-ground, projects. For example, when developing Communities in Motion 2040, the COMPASS Board established a priority to focus federal funding allocated through Communities in Motion on maintaining the current transportation system. You can see that reflected in the draft TIP, as nearly 90% of new projects added this year (primarily scheduled for 2019 and beyond) are maintenance projects. The remainder are safety and planning projects, as well as some transit and pedestrian projects that are funded through specific transit and bicycle/pedestrian programs. (The “focus on maintenance” direction from the COMPASS Board does not affect projects that were budgeted/scheduled in the TIP prior to this year.) 

We are also asking for your feedback on the air quality conformity demonstration for Northern Ada County for the projects in the draft TIP. The process tell us that the projects in the draft TIP “conform” to air quality plans – that is, they will not worsen air quality. The draft TIP also contains the FY2015 federal program of projects proposed for funding by Valley Regional Transit.

In addition to the draft TIP and related documents, we are also asking for your input into proposed changes to the Ada and Canyon County Transportation ServiceCoordination Plan – a document that provides guidance on how to allocate federal funds designated for public transportation to serve seniors and individuals with disabilities. Again, this moves from broad goals to improve transportation services in Communities in Motion to the specifics of “how” to do that for specific populations.

While I can certainly understand if you are feeling “comment fatigue,” I encourage you to take a few moments to review the materials provided and share your feedback. Taking a few minutes now to be aware of what’s coming and have your say certainly beats an unexpected surprise later.

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Community Planning Association of Southwest Idaho

COMPASS is the designated Metropolitan Planning Organization responsible for transportation planning in Ada and Canyon Counties. The COMPASS Board comprises 39 members representing the cities, counties, highway districts, educational institutions, state agencies, and other entities within the two counties. COMPASS plays an important role in making decisions about future long-range transportation needs in the Treasure Valley, taking into consideration environmental and economic factors that affect the quality of life.