PALMER – The Mat-Su Borough Assembly voted to accept and appropriate $100,000 from the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities for pre planning efforts to form a Metropolitan Planning Organization. The Assembly unanimously passed OR 21-033 accepting the second round of funding from DOT.
Mat-Su Borough Planning Services Manager Kim Solien informed the Assembly that the borough had entered into a memorandum of agreement with DOT in 2020 to begin forming a stakeholder group to prepare for the MPO, which is a status given by the Census. The group consisted of staff from the cities of Palmer, Wasilla, the borough, transit providers, tribal organizations and bike and pedestrian advocates and met monthly.
“Once the census designates us as an urbanized area within the core area, how are we going to work together to provide the best planning activities for our transportation network, so we’ve met for the past nine months with this 15 member steering committee,” said Solien. “Our plan is to be ready for when that comes, that directive comes to have those organizing agreements with the borough, with the cities, with DOT, with the transit providers and tribal organizations. We hope to have come to an agreement on what organization will look like and then be able to let the Governor know we’re ready to go.”
Anchorage formed an MPO nearly 60 years ago and Fairbanks’ has been in operation for over a decade as the only two designated MPO’s in the state. Across the country there are 460 designated MPOS’s. Solien said that the second round of funding would promote continued planning preparation for eventual production of draft documents once the Census certifies the Mat-Su Borough as an urbanized area, which is expected in April of 2022. Key members of the committee who served as former staff in Fairbanks were added to the committee to provide expertise, and PDC Engineers were hired as consultants during round one. Assemblyman George McKee asked why none of the existing borough staff were unable to complete the work in-house.
“We just didn’t have that expertise of how we will do this here in the Mat-Su locally, so hiring a contractor to kind of supported that process and made sense and DOT was willing to give us the money to do it,” said Solien.
Once designated as an urbanized area, an additional $400,000 from the state will be provided and a boundary for the MPO will be one of the first orders of business. Assemblyman Jesse Sumner asked Solien if RSA's inside the boundary of the MPO would continue to exist independently, which has not yet been determined.
“Some of the RSA’S will be within that boundary and may be fully contained and then some of the RSA’s will be outside but we’re not ready to work on that yet. We haven’t got a designation and we don’t know what the minimum boundary is and then it’ll be a complex GIS exercise and then we’ll have to bring in economists and demographers and other people to help us look at growth over the next 20 years,” said Solien.