Monday, February 19, 2018

Let's Get This Straight--Realignment is on the MPO project list, it is not "Dead"

Memphis Metropolitan Planning Orgainization Livability 2050 Logo
I want to clear up any misconceptions about the Germantown Road Realignment. As shown on the chart below, the Realignment project is currently on the MPO project list. Before discussing that in more detail, I first I want to give big thanks to the readers for doing exactly what the Metropolitan Planning Organization representative suggested we do - first, taking the MPO survey, and second, contacting our elected representatives if we want Germantown Road Realignment kept off the MPO Livability 2050 Plan. Your communications certainly sent our Mayor and Aldermen a strong message - namely, that we do not want Germantown Road Realignment to rear its head again in the future.  

The MPO's suggestions to us were meant to be proactive rather than reactive. Removal from the MPO project list would ensure that we will not have to deal with an “active” Road Realignment issue in the future. And, if we are to believe that this project is really "dead", as some of our leaders claim, it also would keep the MPO from having to deal with having a "dead" project on its list. My goal in alerting you to the MPO's two suggestions was simply to keep a now-dormant project from later coming back to life. As I made clear in my first post in the subject, I do not know of any current City plans to move forward with the project. (I underlined that because some City people were mischaracterizing my post.) Because this is the year that the MPO actively seeks broad public feedback for its Livability 2050 Plan, the time is right to attempt to get Germantown Road Realignment removed from consideration on the Livability 2050 project list.

Unfortunately, it appears from the City's response that it will not  remove the project from consideration for the Livabilty 2050 Plan. I say this because, based on the response, the City completely ignored the question of whether such removal should take place. The City instead set up a classic "straw man" argument. More specifically, the City's response discussed the lack of current funding for the project, as if our present concern is about current funding as opposed to a dormant project having the potential to come alive.

In particular please note the following two sentences from the City response: 

And while the project was submitted for Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) funding in 2013, the request was withdrawn by the City and the project does not appear in any long-range MPO funding plans. This fact has been confirmed by MPO Administrator Pragati Srivastava, who recently confirmed “that the Germantown Realignment project is not included in the 2017-2020 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) for federal funding.”  

I will first discuss Mr. Srivastava's statement, which is 100% correct - Germantown is not even eligible for federal funding for this project until next year. Because the City turned down the project two years ago, it is prohibited from applying for federal funding again until 2019. This is confirmed by former Alderman Klevan in the Leadership Germantown Candidate Forum in 2016:  

"We got 90% financing from the MPO (Metropolitan Planning Organization) and TDOT.  We only had to pay a dime on a dollar. We gave it back. End of discussion. It's a three year process before funding even comes available again to apply. From now that is two and a half years. 2019 is the first year that this can even come up on the radar."

What the City does not tell us in its response is that Mr. Srivastava would confirm that Germantown Realignment is not dead, but is indeed listed as a 2018-2020 project, albeit without federal funding. As such, in the MPO's eyes, the current status of the project is that it is "fiscally constrained" But, again, it is certainly not dead.

Take a look at page 169 of the MPO's 2040 Livability Plan which was last updated a year ago, or look at the screenshot below.  Note that it shows the Realignment project with 75% state funding, 25% from the City, and no federal funding.  What we as citizens need to understand is that, although the City is not currently seeking funding for this project, nothing is precluding it from doing so in the future. Because federal funds could be available as soon as next year, (see Mr. Klevan's statement above), the City potentially could revive this project sooner than we think. I am not saying that this is the intent of our City's leadership. I am just pointing out that the project is not "dead".

Screenshots of Livabilty 2040 Page Showing Realignment with 75% State Funding and 25% City Funding 2018-2020 
Looking again to another part of the City’s response, the assertion that “the project does not appear in any long-range MPO funding plans” is confusing at best, and misleading at worst. Realignment is currently on the 2018-2020 MPO project list, as shown above, and it indicates both state and City funding ("fiscally constrained" because the City has not requested MPO funding). This is obviously a short-term designation, not long-term. Why would it have "long-term MPO funding plans" when it is currently designated for the short-term? Is the City playing word games? I should further note that the funding cycle for the MPO is only three years. So, I am at a loss to understand the City's statement that "the project does not appear in any long-term MPO funding plans." Nor does Mr. Srivastava's truthful statement "confirm" this.

When I spoke with the MPO representative at the February 6 meeting in Collierville, he most assuredly did not tell me: “You do not need to be concerned about this project being placed on the Livability 2050 project list because it is now “fiscally constrained” and it is not in our long range funding plans." He did not tell me this for the simple reason that it is not true.

Instead, he told me that, if the citizens do not want the Realignment project to appear on the MPO's Livability 2050 Plan, we need to make our views known to the City's leadership. My understanding, from what I learned at the meeting, is that the MPO will use the Livability 2040 Plan (again, Realignment is listed as a project in this plan) as a starting point for their consideration of the projects to be included in the Livability 2050 Plan.

Keep in mind that the the Livability plans and other documents on the MPO website are tedious and confusing, and my desire to confirm my understanding of them is one of the principal reasons for attending the Collierville meeting. The City's leaders may be using this confusion to further muddy the water and attempt to divert our attention from the fact that the Realignment project will likely be included in the Livability 2050 Plan unless they take action to prevent that from happening. In other words, the Realignment project will not be "dead". This project tore the City apart two years ago when I first got involved. It was stressful for the citizens, our politicians, and especially the businesses involved. My wish is that we avoid repeating this debacle in the future.    

As I have made very clear in the above discussion, the 
Germantown Road Realignment project is not “dead” as long as it remains on the MPO project list. And please do not be fooled into thinking that its inclusion in the MPO's 2050 Livability Plan with a later target date would necessarily mean that the project could not be revived for a long time. I would like to remind my readers that the last time we faced the issue it was plucked from the plan when it had a target date of 2030! It caught us all by surprise when it was moved ahead by well more than a decade. I want to remind everyone that Mayor Palazzolo sits on the Transportation Policy Board of the MPO, as he could have had a hand in that decision.

Please remember that a project that is dormant is not “dead”, and a dormant project can become active in the blink of an eye. Again, we saw that in 2015 when the Target 2030 dated project was foisted on us. Admittedly, Realignment is not currently in the City's long term capital budget, but that can easily be changed by a simple vote. If the City's long-term intention is not to reconsider Realignment, it only makes sense to remove it from consideration on the MPO project list. That would bury it and I would agree to the use of "dead" to describe Realignment.  Because the City does not seem to be prepared to do that, we as individuals have the option to question the candidates about their position on the issue during the coming campaign.

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