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ITD meeting metropolitan planning

Twin Falls Urban Renewal Agency Executive Director Nathan Murray, front, listens as City Manager Travis Rothweiler asks a question Thursday at a public meeting hosted by Idaho Transportation Department in City Hall.

TWIN FALLS — Twin Falls and Kimberly are likely to become an urbanized area after the 2020 U.S. Census, but the boundaries of that area could still change.

The federal designation is for population centers more than 50,000 people, and it comes with extra responsibilities. One of these new requirements means the urbanized area will have to create a regional transportation planning group.

The good news? As City Manager Travis Rothweiler was surprised to find out at a meeting Thursday, the Idaho Transportation Department will help the Twin Falls area get ahead of the game to establish that group — and the agency will foot the bill.

“ITD is here to assist you, and we are going to pay for this all in advance,” ITD Planning Project Manager Sonna Lynn Fernandez said. “There is no money coming out of your pocket.”

Representatives from Twin Falls, Kimberly, Jerome and affiliated counties attended the meeting, hosted by ITD, to learn more about what a Metropolitan Planning Organization is. There are five in the state of Idaho.

“I don’t think your worst fears will be realized,” said Scott Frey, transportation engineer with the Federal Highway Administration.

Here are a few of the basic things to know:

What is an MPO?

A metropolitan planning organization, or MPO, is a transportation policy-making and planning body. Its membership will represent the urbanized area and the planning area its board establishes. Cities, counties, highway districts and other organizations can be involved.

Local jurisdictions choose how the board operates and is structured.

What can it do?

“It gives the vision and the possible alternatives for your area,” ITD Senior Transportation Planner Maranda Obray said.

The MPO sets a long-term vision and plan for the area with regards to transportation. It can spend money on bike or pedestrian plans, traffic studies and pavement condition studies to help set priorities.

“The MPO does carry some weight with regards to the feds and the state,” said Shannon Grow, executive director of the Lewis-Clark Valley MPO.

How is it funded?

The MPO receives federal funds for planning, with a 92.66 percent federal share and a required 7.34 percent local match. The members can contribute more money if desired. Federal money is distributed by ITD and is weighted on population.

“Locally, we’ll be able to help determine what the size of the budget is,” Rothweiler said.

As an example, the Lewis-Clark Valley MPO operates on a $160,000 yearly budget and has one paid staff member, Grow said.

What’s next?

ITD will come back in the fall to discuss what a consultant can do to help. This person would be hired by early 2019.

In the meantime, Twin Falls and Kimberly are asked to help educate other potential stakeholders and determine where they expect growth to happen in the next 20 years.

ITD hopes to have Twin Falls and affected areas ready to create its MPO by December 2022.

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