Maximize Your Long Range Plan
Funding and Engagement Strategies That Jumpstart Change
Click the image above to watch the on-demand webinar.
Now more than ever, Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) are focused on finding innovative ways to maximize their long range transportation plans. In this webinar, a panel of Kimley-Horn transportation planners share their perspectives on two key strategies for maximizing your long-range plan:
- Developing Funding Scenarios – How to leverage existing funding, position for new funding, and plan for inflation.
- Equitable Engagement Strategies – How to build on previous engagement efforts, provide accessible updates, and define regional transportation values.
To learn more, contact our transportation specialists.
Read the Transcript
Welcome everyone and thank you for joining our webinar program today. We’ll be talking about how to maximize your long range plan particularly when it comes to funding and engagement perspectives by way of introduction. My name is Andy Schneider and I am a planner located in Kimley-Horn’s Columbus, Ohio office. I have about 24 years of experience in multimodal transportation planning and environmental planning and spent most of my career managing planning studies and public involvement and agency coordination in environmental documentation on projects with our state DOTs and municipal DOTs, as well as airport authorities and transit agencies. As your moderator today, I am honored to introduce three of our best and brightest at Kimley-Horn. My coworkers hail from the Midwest and the Mid-Atlantic regions, but have worked with MPOs across the country. The geography is less important than the depth and breadth of knowledge, their toolbox, if you will, that they bring from over 40 years of combined experience working at or working for MPOs. At this time, I’d like to ask Allison Fluitt, Mary Karlsson, and Lydia Statz to take a moment and introduce themselves.
Thanks, Andy. This is Allison. I’ll go ahead and kick things off. I am Allison Fluitt, I am an MPO focused planner with Kimley-Horn and have been here 17 years. During that time, I’ve had the pleasure of really focusing in on primarily MPO planning, all things MPOs all ranges of different planning activities as part of the MPO process. My passion is long range transportation planning, and I’ve had the privilege of working on approximately 70 different long range transportation plans during my 17 years here. And I think about 35 of those have been during our most recent map, 21 and FAST act era.
Good morning, everyone. I’m Mary Karlsson. I have been a consultant for about 10 years. And the other seven years of my career, eight years of my career was spent with the MPO and the transit provider here in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. I am a regional transportation planner I have worked with at MPO, extensively with MPOs, but also with counties, with transit providers, with DOTs and also with cities and my joy is really helping to leverage the long range transportation plans and clearly articulate the long range transportation plans. Most important for me, is implementing a long range transportation plan.
I’m Lydia Statz. I’ve been with Kimley-Horn for about five years now, first starting down in North Carolina with Allison and now sitting up in the Twin Cities with Mary. I’ve worked in over a dozen states in my time here at Kimley-Horn. Cities, counties, MPO, the OTs, you name it, including a few long range transportation plans with Mary and Allison.
All right, thank you. Thank you guys. So our agenda today will be sort of a tag team of presentations on both developing funding scenarios and equitable engagement strategies. The presentations will be sort of infused with some case studies particularly MPOs around the country. Now it says Q and A here at the end, but please do post questions in the chat box as we go, and we’ll try as best we can or I’ll try as best I can to pull those in interject as we go and we should have some time at the end as well. At this time, I’d like to kick it off to Allison to start the conversation about developing funding scenarios.
Thank you, Andy. I think everybody on the call is very aware that when we talk about the financial component of the long range transportation planning process, this is often the place where we’re faced with the most challenges and the biggest opportunities in some instances as well. As we go through our process and for every place, this looks a little bit different. Every place has those challenges. But the challenges are not the same as you go from region to region or state to state. We typically run across some variation on a few different, big funding questions. As we look at the financial plan, one being the capital versus state of good repair balance, we know that need to continue to maintain our systems in a good way. But yet that that system is taking up a greater and greater percentage of our available funding, but we want to continue to bring some of those capital enhancements to the table as well.
So how do we continue to maintain that balance and communicate that at the MPO level? We’re dealing with a paradigm now where there may be no revenue increases likely going forward, or in many instances, revenue is decreasing. This is certainly a condition that I think we’ve all seen happening at the local state and federal level in an acute manner as the COVID crisis has gone on over the past year. I think that it’s something that’s also happening in a longer-term trend, as we see changes to the highway trust fund and its structure as well. But we also have opportunities where we start to think about the potential incorporation or consideration of local funding. How do we build in and consider potential additions to local funds and how do we use the LRTP as a potential platform to educate the community about what that funding could bring to the table in terms of new projects and opportunities?
And then similarly, if we have the potential for whether it be a new federal reauthorization or a new stimulus package using the long range transportation plan to position ourselves to best take advantage of those expanded federal funding levels, we have to first think about our key inputs into this process and how they really matter. And this in and of itself is a bit of a changing process from how we may have historically done this for our long range transportation plans. Rather new history has typically been our go-to as we think about how we develop our financial plans. Well, how has it looked in the past? Let’s go back to our previous TIP, let’s look at how we’ve been funding things in the past, and we can reasonably use that to project things going forward likely more and more. That’s not going to be the case and so we have to start to get a new benchmark. We have to start to think about what those future trends could potentially look like, and then start to adjust those future revenue levels, to be a little bit more in keeping with what we’re anticipating going forward.
Similarly, we have to be more well attuned to our costs, understanding that other side of the coin and avoiding the dreaded disconnect with the LRTP level cost estimates and what we start to see as we move into our planning level and into our functional designs for those types of projects. We want to try to understand more about our projects at the long range transportation planning level, so that we can understand why they’re being put out there and hopefully get a little bit closer to avoid that big delta as we go on.
We want to explore over the next few minutes, a couple of different examples of how we’ve addressed some particular funding challenges in a couple of different areas. We’re going to start in South Carolina in Greenville with the GPATS region. And that stands for the Greenville Pickens area, transportation study. Those of you all that are familiar with South Carolina MPOs know that they all have fun acronyms for their abbreviations. Just a little background about Greenville. This is a five County MPO. It has 16 different municipalities and overall population of about 500,000. So it’s a big area and it’s a very diverse area demographically. And just in the way that its population is made up and distributed across the area still very auto-centric. If you were to look at it as, as a region, there’s a lot of seven lane roads out there.
But at the same time, there is a marquee regional bicycle and pedestrian attraction in the area with the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which is a 22-mile rail trail facility. That’s anchored by a downtown park in Downtown Greenville. So we came at this process when talking with our MPO staff, understanding that at the time there was no dedicated guide share guide share, being the way that South Carolina got distributed, et cetera, and state funding to MPOs that was allocated to alternative transportation that non-roadway component. The priorities have shifted over time from the historically roadway-oriented funding levels. But yet there was a disconnect that had emerged between our elected officials and what the MPO staff were hearing from the public. Elected officials felt that this may just be a couple of advocates that are telling us that there’s a greater focus and priority on bicycles, pedestrians, and transit. The big challenge through the long range transportation plan was digging in to find out what that actual public will was so that we could make better financial decisions.
We’re going to talk more about engagement later in the presentation, but I’m going to go in a little bit into it here just to kind of establish how our engagement process was really key to developing the case for changing our funding levels. As Allison mentioned, GPATS is a very large geographic region, a very diverse region, which presented us with both logistical and communications challenges as we were doing this. Logistical because it’s a large region, we had to do lots of community meetings all over the place and communication because it’s very diverse and getting the MPO board representatives who are rural representatives from Anderson County on the same page as those who are maybe from Downtown Greenville, it was a little bit of a challenge. We knew that in order to be successful, we had to help decision makers from all parts of the region, really understand the full needs and challenges.
To do that, we set up an ambitious engagement strategy that included two rounds of regional workshop, as well as sub regional community meetings held eight different locations around the region. We also held a lot of stakeholder and small group interviews, focus groups focused around different travel modes and two different surveys that reached over 2,000 people. All of this helped us generate over 45,000 unique data points. That sheer amount of data in all of this really helped us build a case to ensure that the data we’re bringing forward at the end of the engagement process reflected the total voice of the people. And that policymakers understood that we weren’t just out there talking to a few outspoken advocates this also gathering all of that data, putting it all together really helped us build a multifaceted argument for changing the way the region funds transportation. As you can see, by the end, we were able to make the case that people in the region are crying out for a paradigm shift for several different reasons.
Congestion and roadways were still important and always will be, but there was also a growing recognition that as the population grows, the bridge is starting to look a little bit different demographically and in our land use patterns. It was time for kind of a rethink. We were also helped by the existence of the Swamp Rabbit Trail, which Allison mentioned, and the fact that that trail at that point had really become a regional destination. People were able to see not just the health and recreational benefits that they got out of having that trail in their backyard, but also the economic benefits and the people in the tourism, it brought to the region. A lot of people were really hungry to put some funding into expand that program. People also knew that a rapid population change was going to require new investments in transit. If we didn’t want our roadways to grind to a halt, and we really were able to communicate that. Finally, we were able to show that roadway improvements might benefit from an increased interest in improving safety rather than focusing on capacity improvements, which is a little bit, a bit of a different focus than they had been than they had been focusing on the sheer amount of data that we generated from the public input process really helped the policy committee feel confident in the final recommendations that we brought forward.
Translating this into the financial element, we came up with a total of $1.7 billion in recommendations, just looking at the roadway by civil and pedestrian side of the coin. There was a lot out there, and of course we had to then compare this to our available revenues from the guide share side, which came in around $417 million and that’s adjusted for inflation. That stark disconnect between what they wanted to do and what they could do really drove home the idea of marrying up the prioritization and going into that financial constraint with better understanding what had just come back from the members of the public and some of that data-driven analysis that Lydia referenced.
We were able to translate this into looking at a guide share modal split that was markedly different than what had been done previously in the area changing from a historic funding allocation that was entirely roadway centric focused on corridors and intersections to a proposed funding allocation that married up a focus on congestion, which was still important to the area, safety with 25% of funding going toward intersections, and operational focus with 5% on signals, and then 20% of funding being allocated to those non-auto modes. This was a major shift that not only reflected what they were hearing from members of the public, but also better aligns with the performance-based planning initiatives that Greenville was really trying to adhere to.
This all led to some key takeaways at the end of the day for the long range transportation plan, the overarching one being that the funding levels are just better aligned with what the public was telling them. They were able to accommodate 18 high-priority bicycle and pedestrian projects with the available rep revenues. They were able to use that funding structure to better respond to their performance management process and incorporate that into their system performance report. Those percentages. One of the big highlights that we were able to communicate with the policy committee is that they’re flexible. They can be revisited in subsequent plans as we hear more from the public and things continue to evolve, and we learn a little bit more, there were both public feedback dispelled the notion for the policy committee that they were only hearing from the advocates. And at the end of the day, that meant that the elected officials felt more confident that they were really understanding and applying the voice of their constituents as the unanimously adopted the findings of this plan.
All right, we’re going to shift gears a little bit now and talk about one of our most recent long range transportation plans just adopted in November: Go Sioux Falls 2045 LRTP. This is for the Sioux Falls area MPO in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it’s a little bit smaller region than GPATS original both geographically and population-wise region of about 250,000 people spread over two counties. But it is still a community facing a lot of growing pains that is growing quickly. And as such as I’m sure a challenge, a lot of you familiar with having problems with their funding, keeping up with their transportation needs. Allison opened the presentation with those major funding questions. We typically face from MPOs and all of those are true in Sioux Falls. But this project started in November, 2019.
I think you can all guess that about four or five months in, we were facing a very different funding challenge as COVID started to hit. Just as we were getting to the financial analysis piece a few months in everything kind of ground to a halt, and we were forced to kind of reconsider our traditional approach and all the groundwork we’ve been laying to that point. Typically what we would do as Allison said, is take a look at our historical data to establish that trend and find out, you know, how our revenue is going to grow over the next 20 years. That’s not really applicable when what you’re facing is entirely historically unprecedented. So we had to kind of shift gears and our answer to that and Sioux Falls was the scenario planning approach, developing two funding scenarios to take a look at and determine where we were, where we thought we would eventually end up. A COVID scenario used what we knew about the first few months of the shutdown, including the city budget that had just gone back to be redrawn, as everything started to change, to determine what the long-term effects might be. After a lot of conversations with local partners, we ended up landing kind of somewhere in the middle with a hybrid funding model that showed decreased revenues over the next few years, and then goes back to our historic growth rates that we have been seeing.
Using that model, we were able to project the community revenues alongside their total transparent transportation needs out to 2045, as you can see here in the table. What we found in Sioux Falls was that the pain is not shared equally growth patterns. Just the growth pattern they’re experiencing right now and some of the local funding structures kind of create some winners and losers with within the region. The funding picture looks quite different if you’re in Harrisburg, as you can see with a little bit of a surplus versus in the rural areas of Lincoln County, where you’re facing, you know, almost $200 million deficit. As a result, most communities in the region are going to become increasingly dependent on grants, which are great, but not stable and not guaranteed. We don’t really want to rely on those. And through this funding analysis, we were able to paint the picture for regional leaders are really the significant challenges they were facing, but also show them that these planning challenges are manageable with a little bit of forethought
Three major successes that came out of this analysis. And the first one I think cannot be overstated. It was really the first time the region has come together under the MPO to think strategically about how they can all together, promote the region. Secondly, this is a real change from the past where the community is really kind of felt like they were on their own to deal with their own funding challenges. Which shouldn’t be the case when we all know that the funding challenges are systemic regional in nature and are really best faced together. The strong funding analysis also demonstrated the need for a sustainable new source of funding by putting numbers to the shortfall and highlighting all the important projects that are in jeopardy due to lack of funds. As you can see on the map, those projects in red, the plan really becomes a great communications tool as people are going out into their communities to show them, you know, what our needs are and how we’re unable to meet them today. Third, we were able to provide them with a set of strategies that they could explore, maybe not this year, but, you know, next year after things stabilize a little bit and they really start to look for new revenue sources. We provided them with a great toolbox to have those difficult conversations, including options like road improvement, districts on development, impact fees, and some new strategies using things like curb, lane revenues, TNC fees, and electric vehicle fees.
All right. Thank you, Lydia. Thank you, Allison let’s pause here for a moment and I’m going to go to some questions. This is a good one that I’m sure everybody would be interested in.
How do you effectively leverage a long range plan to consider local funding initiatives kind of make up for those gaps?
I can start on this one, Andy I think that this, this is something that we’ve, we’ve encountered in several different places. I think that the first thing that we’ve always had to ask is, you know, what’s on the table? Depending on who you’re talking to and the particular circumstances at that time identifying the pros and cons of each potential funding source that’s, that’s even out there for consideration. I think importantly, identifying the circumstances for those potential funding sources that are beyond the control of the jurisdiction or the region that they’re being considered. So I’ll just give an example. When we looked at this with the Wilmington MPO, we considered a variety of different funding sources. But here in North Carolina we have to have legislative authority in order to enact additional sales tax.
It inhibits some things being put on board at the local level unless you actually are able to do some of those things legislatively. That puts a couple of roadblocks in your way. Once you’ve understood kind of what you’re really dealing with, what’s realistic, then you can go to the next step of starting to think about the projected revenues that could be available for the potential sources. I think the most important thing that we can do here in the long range plan is it’s similar to what Lydia was talking about with the financial scenario planning that was done in Sioux Falls for COVID, but kind of on a different frame tethering this to projects, to demonstrating the effectiveness of implementing that local funding source. That’s where the long range plan can really become an educational tool of saying, look, what we can get, look what we can do if we’re able to actually implement this, this new potential source. That becomes almost a catalyst for taking that messaging out and doing what needs to be done at the local level whether it’s passing the bond, enacting a sales tax impact fees, or what have you.
Awesome. Another question I’ll call this the crystal ball question related to the scenario planning and response to COVID that we did. Can you talk a little bit more about that?
Absolutely. This is Mary. One of the things that we did was we asked ourselves what have seen before in history that we could use as a basis for developing forecast and projections. We partnered up with our, the finance folks from each organization. We asked them how did your revenues look during the recession during the great recession? That was a tough conversation. So that’s where we started in terms of sort of establishing the bookends, if you will, of, of that of what our scenarios might look like. We, we started at that place. Thankfully we did not stay at that place. And we, again, working closely with, with everyone’s finance leaders we’re able to bring that back into a place that was based more in what we were observing specifically for the COVID impacts.
Interestingly enough, we saw that in some communities COVID was having a significant impact on revenues on the red side, on the negative side, decreasing revenues, but in other communities we saw within the MPO area, we saw that COVID was actually having a very positive impact on revenues as people were spending a lot more money locally. So again, we monitored that trend for several months like I said, in close in close coordination with finance partners, and also in close coordination with FHWA. When it came time for us to accept and adopt which revenue scenario we would go with, and we had built sort of that understanding of the different trends that we were looking at, we had built that understanding of the technical support for the numbers that we were developing, and like Lydia said earlier, we all felt comfortable with landing on a hybrid approach that included a shorter term impact from COVID on the city of Sioux Falls, while other communities in the MPO area stayed on a more historic and traditional revenue forecast for their communities.
Awesome. Thank you, Mary. Just a reminder to everybody to post questions that you may have in the chat box and we’ll get to those. I think at this point we’ll move on to the equitable engagement strategies and we can certainly come back to questions over the whole thing the whole presentation at the end. Allison and Lydia touched on some aspects of public engagement, but we’d like to focus now on some tactical and practical strategies for equitable engagement. I was at a conference this past fall, a transportation conference here in Ohio, and I heard someone say, “equity is not an end goal, it is the process.” I think that’s such a powerful reminder. With that, I’d like to turn it over to Mary, to talk a little bit more about that process.
I reiterate that it is a process and I want to get at that question of why. Why do we care about an equitable, equitable engagement strategy? One, it is obviously so that we make sure that all voices in our community are heard and considered in the investment planning process. My passion is the implementation of our plans. As we do equitable engagement, we build a broad and deep support for our investment plan that makes it easier to implement.
Some of the things that we’re going to talk about today as MPO planners, or as regional planners, we know our best practices. We want to remind ourselves in this time of turbulence and change that those best practices still apply. One of the things I think that we all know and appreciate is that we want to present ourselves as regional planners as stable presences in our communities who are people who are listening and that we’re reflecting the community values and needs. With that, we always want to make sure that we’re building on previous engagement efforts. For most of our MPOs, we’ve got a number of corridor studies happening, or system plan updates happening like our transit development plan, our ADA transition plans, even our coordinated human services plans. We can leverage each one of those situations and each one of those processes as an engagement tool that informs our long range transportation plan.
We can remember too that as we go through that process, it doesn’t have to be the MPO leading the engagement. We can also be listening to the outcomes of that engagement and then incorporating them and drawing on them as a piece of input as we work through our LRTP update process. I also want to remind you that our forecasting partners are our friends. As we go through and update our regional travel demand forecast models. We usually inform those with regional household surveys. Those regional household surveys can be an important data point into our engagement for a long range transportation plan updates. Finally, every time we update our transportation improvement program, we’re also doing engagement processes. Again, making sure that we’re thinking about that comprehensive list of touch points that we have with the community that we’re minimizing engagement fatigue by leveraging those and incorporating them into the LRTP process.
Then, after we’ve collected that data, or as we collect that data, we also want to make sure that we’re providing accessible updates to the community about what we’re doing. One of the things that, again, we all know that is a best practice and that we’re starting to really take heart and that we’re better able to implement now is going to the people. Examples of this can be anything from going to and talking with people at bus stops to going to social service resource fairs and talking with people there. I think a lot of us can feel a little bit intimidated about that. As Allison has said, sometimes that LRTPs maybe aren’t the most exciting things for people, but I think as you do talk with people about, “Hey, we’re developing the investment plan, that’s going to guide us for how we’re going to invest in our transportation system over the next 20 years,” that is the question that people actually can get pretty excited about. One of the things that we do and that we again are learning from best practices and knowing from best practice is that setting some engagement metrics and targets can be an important part of our engagement process, and then monitoring that status or those outcomes as we go through the engagement process. By doing that monitoring, we can identify the gaps in our engagement who is missing from the conversation, and then develop those tactics for how we can make sure to engage that people group. One way is by focusing by hosting focus group meetings with underrepresented groups. So again, as we go through identifying those metrics, monitoring those metrics, identifying where the gaps are, who are not hearing from, and then hosting a focus group to make sure that we are hearing from that people group.
Another best practice is to use simple language that’s easy to understand. That’s easy to understand for native speakers, for example, English is my native language, but then also that’s easy to translate into another language. That’s another tool that we found to be incredibly effective. One of my first bosses, explain it to me this way: He said, “Mary, make sure that you can have a conversation with your grandma about this topic, and if you can do it that way, you can talk with anybody about this topic.” I have found that to be true. One that you can get your grandmother to care about. It is an important thing. But to make sure that you’re toning down your technical language, avoiding jargon, and really just using the most impactful words that we can to talk about the questions that we have, and then finally making sure that we’re using all of the resources available to us to reach that broad a group of people. That includes less traditional for mainstream, but more community-centered multicultural media. Some examples that that we’ve used in the past are Native American media sources or cultural media sources. But again, trying to get the word out through those community channels that are trusted by people that already exist, and then using them to ask our questions and to engage with folks about how they want us to invest our limited funds in the transportation system.
One of the things that that Mary’s talking about here is really kind of taking the traditional engagement approach and taking it to a more customized level to make sure that we are really taking a more equitable approach and bringing in some of the folks that may not be traditionally served by the tools that we bring to the table in a regular long range transportation plan, or just kind of the standard operating procedure. We want to just touch on the specific example that we’ve used in the Durham-Chapel Hill-Carrboro MPO area, which is here in the research triangle in North Carolina. And this is for the Durham Long Range Transit Plan that was done for the Durham County portion of the MPO in partnership with the city, county and the MPO as the lead. The big issue in this area with all of their different planning products has been equitable representation in their engagement. Traditional public engagement methods here have not fully represented the makeup of the area.
This is a large African-American population here in Durham County. What they’ve seen is that in the traditional engagement tools that are being utilized, they’re not seeing the responses come back that are reflective of the population that’s actually in place here in the area. As we decided to think about the best ways to handle this for the transit plan, we wanted to capitalize on some of the best ideas that were currently at play in the area. One of which was the genesis of an Engagement Ambassador Program. So the engagement ambassadors this is a program where folks were intentionally recruited to be members of, or have direct access to communities that have been historically underrepresented the African-American population, but also the specific groups, such as low-income people, people with housing insecurity justice advocates, Hispanic and Latinx populations, youth, people identifying as having disabilities, seniors specific to this plan, obviously our transit ridership population is incredibly important to us, and then also residents outside the city limits because we want it to be sure we were getting the full county focus. Something unique about this process is that our engagement ambassadors were compensated for their time. This was very important to us because we want these folks to really serve truly as the ambassadors of our process. They were catalyzing this outreach by then taking the next step and engaging with their friends, their neighbors, the folks in their community and gathering feedback that could then be folded into our process. We had 36 different engagement ambassadors, and just in one round of this ambassador program, we were able to gather 174 total responses as a part of this process. At the same time, we were also putting together an online survey. This is something that was also well responded to, we had well over 650 responses as a part of our online survey.
The results really paint a picture about the differences in what we were able to achieve in the traditional online survey tool versus the engagement ambassador program. Our online survey was predominantly responded to by white responders. We had 68% of our responses coming from white population. Whereas our engagement ambassadors over 70% came from Black or African-American responses. What was very important about this process is that both tools were very important and effective. We couldn’t have done one or the other in isolation, having both of these at the table allowed us to have a richness of feedback that we were able to then combine and bring those different responses from different groups to the table to better understand the needs that were actually being communicated to us, and that allowed us to then develop recommendations and priorities that were a little bit more nuanced and more truly reflecting back to the public what we had heard from them.
So as you as you begin your engagement process for, for the LTP update or the long range transportation plan or metropolitan transportation plan update, some things that we always try to keep in mind is that what questions are we asking and what is the timing of those questions? First of all, like we talked about earlier, remembering that there’s a lot going on in our world and in our communities at any time when we’re doing our update. Thinking strategically through what are those other things that are happening and how can we dovetail into them to compliment them, and also get the input that we need to inform the update process. In terms of the questions that we bring out, make sure that they’re really focused on the essential information that you need to validate or generate that’s new.
Examples of that include: what are your regional transportation values? And helping people understand number one, what we mean by regional, what kinds of trips are those? What examples of those trips might exist in your region? Then asking them: why are you making these trips? What needs are you working to fill? And then what is important to you’re making those trips? The next stage that we usually bring out in terms of questions is that draft project prioritization and doing that by mode, bringing that saying, here are the values that we heard from you, here’s the list of projects that we’ve generated, here’s how we’ve rated them in terms of performance-based planning and how they look from a technical perspective in terms of performance, in terms of advancing the goals and objectives in our plan. Pause there, share that with the community and stakeholders, and then ask, is there anything here that we’ve missed or we’ve misunderstood in this prioritization?
Sometimes we hear that there is something that we’ve missed, or we’ve misunderstood. Many times, we hear “no you’ve gotten it. You’ve understood. You’ve listened to us.” That is such a rewarding feeling when we hear that, yes, you, we, you have reflected our needs and our values, a last set of questions that we typically bring out is saying, okay, we checked in with you as we developed and shared the prioritized list of projects. Here’s what we can pay for given our reasonably anticipated revenues, again, doing this by mode, so that folks understand and are become more familiar with, with the fact that we’ve got funding silos for the different modes and helping people to understand and be aware of where there’s flexibility in those funds, sharing that again, asking, is there anything here that we’ve missed or we’ve misunderstood, or do you see something here that we can do differently?
Again, like Lydia mentioned through our Sioux Falls process, that was a really important touch point with the community. It was at a time when Sioux Falls was just having a conversation about a potential new local revenue source. That conversation played into this long range, transportation planning conversation as well in a way that it may not have, if we hadn’t been again, aware of everything going on, but then also bringing that question about funding and saying, is there anything we’ve missed or misunderstood? With that, that we are really happy to answer questions. Again, focused on how can we support all of you and partner with all of you in doing your important work here in the MPO areas in our, in our regions and our states and helping to develop captivating plans that really capture that the needs and the priorities of our communities.
Awesome. Thank you, Mary. Yeah we have probably 15 minutes left. We only have a couple of questions so far, so please do post them in the chat box. The efficacy of that ambassador program was so well-represented in those two pie charts, and that was impressive.
We have one really good question of who provided the compensation for those ambassadors?
Yeah, that’s a great question. I’ll chime in on that. So that was provided through the MPO DCHC and this was a project, a process that was initiated first by the City of Durham, but has been carried forward actually in the months, following the inception of our transit plan in some other studies that even go beyond transportation from the city and the county. This is something that’s really finding value in traction in the area. I think something that’s interesting about the ambassador process is that the level of compensation is tethered to the level of response that the ambassadors are able to generate. So they receive some initial compensation for participating with us and receiving the training to be able to conduct some of their own outreach, then they receive additional compensation as they actually complete some of those trainings and are able to bring back their responses. One of the nice things that we found is that all of that was able to be done via cash apps which just made everybody’s life a lot simpler, especially in COVID times. I think was greatly preferred by the vast majority of our ambassadors as well.
Great, thank you, Allison. Another question related to the digital divide:
How do you connect with people that are challenged by access to technology?
That’s such an important question. One of the things that we have been seeing in our work is that the digital divide presents itself differently within different people groups. When I was at the MPO, I partnered with our transportation accessibility advisory committee and that committee consists of people with disabilities. What we found and saw through work with the TAAC is that folks with disabilities are incredibly fluent with technology and they have integrated technology until their lives in many ways that folks who have who have conventional or typical abilities maybe haven’t yet. We really are seeing some, some of our folks with disabilities leading the way in terms of that, that technology integration. The other thing that we see, like Allison was just mentioning with, with the ambassador program is that many of our low-income communities have phones and live by their mobile phones are very, very accessible and fluent in use of technology.
One of the things that we’ve really been focusing on is making sure that we’re leveraging that as we meet people where they are; that we allow folks to fill out surveys while they’re riding the bus, or that we support people in scanning a QR code, for example, on their phone and just very quickly answering three or four questions and being done with that part of the engagement process. The third group of folks that we’ve really been intentional about engaging with this are our elders. This is a place where we have seen some digital divide everything from folks who are learning to code in their seventies all the way through folks like my parents who are in their twilight years who are really starting to disengage from technology. Some of the ways that we have worked to connect with our elders in different ways is through the phone working with mobility managers in your communities or working with disability advocates or elder advocates and asking them for a list of people we should call and giving those folks a phone call, really taking time to just have a fun conversation with them, check in, see how they’re doing and check in to see what their thoughts are about continued investment in our transportation systems.
Finally, another simple thing to do is to go to places probably not so simple right now because of COVID, but hopefully once COVID is over, is going to the places where our elders are whether that’s going to a senior center and their coffee hours or going to the community meals sites where elders meet to have meals provided to them when they don’t want to cook anymore. Believe it or not, our elders still love to participate in this process and have conversations about it. So the digital divide is something that we can pretty easily navigate if we acknowledge it, right?
You raise a good point. You know, our elder populations have been around a lot longer than we have in a bit and have a lot to offer. Here’s a question for Lydia.
How did the prioritization process align with the proposed funding scenarios in Greenville?
Yeah, that’s a great question. And Allison, please jump in if I miss something in this answer as Allison worked on this project as well. The historical way that projects were prioritized in Greenville went through a consistent prioritization process that what their projects of all modes, sidewalks, trails, bike lanes, roadway, and what they were finding was that was not your bike projects and your pedestrian projects just don’t rank well, when they’re competing with major corridors that have major level of service problems, they’d make quality index. The South Carolina DOT has a relatively prescriptive prioritization process that does use a lot of those traditional measures, like LOS (level of service) and payment quality index, which really means those multimodal projects can’t really compete by setting up a dedicated funding stream for bicycle pedestrian projects and knowing that those projects didn’t necessarily have to compete for funding anymore. It also allowed us to tweak the prioritization process for those projects and rank those projects on a new but coordinated prioritization process that looked more at things like connectivity cost-effectiveness can you have maybe, and regional impact according to the project goals and set up and really evaluate those projects on their own merit.
Thank you, Lydia. Another good question here.
I work in an MPO where the regional population has not grown in 50 or 60 years, yet we have a lot of significant and expensive transportation infrastructure. That’s aging. Our most recent long range plan was focused on sustainable approaches, largely including fiscal sustainability, quote, unquote, we have many needs and wants, but limited resources.
Have you worked on MPOs in our situation? And if so, how have you applied the funding approaches you shared today that were focused on rapidly growing populations?
That is a great question. One of the plans that we completed about two years ago is for Grand Forks/East Grand Forks, North Dakota and Minnesota. Grand Forks/East Grand Forks is growing at a moderate pace. About six years ago, they encountered some fiscal reality, let’s call it that, and came to that place where they, through their planning process concluded that they were facing a major fiscal issue through that in support of the MPO process. What they hired us to do in their plan update was really helped them reprioritize. What we did was the rigorous fiscal and revenue analysis that Allison and Lydia talked about. Again, it was one of the first times that all of the MPO partners came to the table together and said they didn’t volunteer it. We really worked with partners to build some trust in the process and how we were going to use the information we committed that we were only going to use the information for helping us to understand what revenue revenues were reasonably available. Once we developed that rigorous understanding of what revenues would be available, we took that and applied that to the list of projects through that we really needed to focus on prior the prioritization process to build understanding and support or buy-in for that technical prioritization process based on the goals and the priorities in the plan translating that into the performance outcomes so focused on safety preservation, mobility, as well as economic and community development. Because even though the community is growing differently or more slowly, for example, than some of the other communities that we talked about, they are still changing like you talked about in this question. So asking that question: how can we support you in changing in the ways that you want to change? Finally we supported everyone as we had that conversation of bringing that prioritized list of projects and combining that with what we could reasonably expect to pay for now, one of the differences in Grand Forks/East Grand Forks, compared to what this question asks is that as I mentioned, six years ago the MPO partners through their planning process came to that strong conclusion that they were having, they were really facing a fiscal issue, and so they did bring that to their policymakers and they did generate some locally generated revenue to infuse into the MPO process. That being said, we understood as we went through the LRTP or MTP update process, that most of that revenue was intended to go to local transportation projects. We worked with the city partners to be very strategic in the ways that we took that and applied it to more the regional projects, making sure that it was leveraging federal funds and with clearly communicating to policymakers, that it would leverage other federal funds in order to continue or contribute to their state of good repair, but also improvements such as safety and capacity improvements.
Thank you, Mary. We have four minutes left, probably time for one more question. I’m sure this is on everybody’s mind, even though only one person asks:
The LTRPs don’t often drive that much public excitement for any group. So how do we surmount that challenge as planners?
That’s a great question. I think that that’s always a challenge that we deal with, and we talk about the range of different and engagement techniques that we bring to pass. You start talking about the 20, 50 long range transportation plan and, and it’s already boring and no one cares. I think there’s a few different ways that we have tried to surmount that and some places, frankly, it’s more successful than others, but you have to leverage your power of your committees. That’s kind of one easy way to do it. Your policy committee is oftentimes composed of those elected officials that have connections. They have constituents, they have social media connections add folks that they can invite to be a part of the process and member jurisdictions that also have all of those same things newsletters, what have you that they can help get the word out and encourage people to be a part of the process.
We’re just finishing up a plan in Tallahassee for an example where we were able to reach 30,000 different folks through an online invitation method, that way to connect with us through our public process. We also have to think of non-traditional ways to get the word out. One of the most fun examples that I’ve seen actually came to a project we recently finished in Cheyenne, Wyoming, which was during the height of the COVID pandemic, trying to figure out during our lockdowns, how do we get people excited about doing a metro quest survey? They brought to the table that the big takeout place in Cheyenne was Texas Roadhouse, and we printed out flyers and with every takeout box, there was an invitation to fill out our survey; just a really cool way to get the word out.
One of the things that was actually successful in Greenville was the MPO director went on talk radio to speak to even the folks that aren’t necessarily planning friendly and said, “you think planning is a giant conspiracy, come and tell us about it. We’d love to hear from you in person.” Documenting all of those efforts is just key. I mean, we need to know at the end of the day, as you’re reporting to your state and federal partners, the things that you did go through, cause some of those are really going to hit for you. Some of them may not, but you want to make sure that that you’ve been able to document that process.
Awesome. Thank you, Allison. Mary, if you could go to our last slide, I think at this time, I want to thank everybody. My esteemed colleagues, Allison, Mary, and Lydia. But as well everybody who attended today. Our contact information is up here. Hopefully you took away something you can use, but if you would like to reach out to us or would like you need assistance, please feel free to do so. We’re happy to help. With that. I wish everybody a great day and thanks again.
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