If a federal board reviewed the public input process of an organization that just ignored a thousand written public comments, do you think they would find any problems?
That’s what just happened when the Federal Highway Authority (FHWA) reviewed the Charlotte Regional Transportation Planning Organization (CRTPO).
According to federal law, every four years Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs) like CRTPO have to be certified on their transportation planning process. Part of that certification includes how effective the MPO is in incorporating public input.
You may recall last December we asked you to provide input to the Feds, and over 500 of you emailed them a form letter (or variants). The report came out yesterday. Like most government reports, it’s written in a formal, stilted kind of prose.
We thought we would cut through the clutter and imagine an honest conversation between you- a mere peasant- and the Feds.
It would go something like this:
Peasant: In the space of two months CRTPO ignored over a thousand written public comments regarding their transportation plan, but you guys still re-certified them. What’s up with that?
Fed: Actually we did more than re-certify; we commended them.
Fed: Yeah, we commended them for creating a few new committees. We especially like the Unified Planning Work Program. Among other things, it allows them to plan for unplanned things. That’s the kind of innovative thinking we’re looking for in government.
Peasant: Innovative thinking like private toll lanes?
Fed: Toll lanes were not part of our review.
Peasant: But what about the thousand comments they ignored?
Fed: Huh? What? I was texting.
Peasant: One of the complaints was the CRTPO Chairwoman shut down a public comment period in violation of MPO by-laws.
Fed: Yeah, well, CRTPO told us the crowd became unruly and they had to call for security.
Peasant: You know she first told eighteen strangers they were part of a group and limited them to ten minutes total. Then she eliminated the public comment period altogether. Don’t you think CRTPO should have listened to the public comments? It would’ve taken less than an hour.
Fed: Man this autocorrect is a pain.
Peasant: Isn’t CRTPO required to listen to the public and incorporate their input into the transportation plan?
Fed: I want you to look me straight in the eye and tell me the truth: are you currently under the influence of a controlled substance?
Peasant: Well, what about Ned Curran voting on CRTPO? He’s Chairman of the NCDOT Board and he’s a major land developer. Isn’t that a conflict of interest?
Fed: Regulations CFR 450.306 and CFR 450.310(d) require a TMA to consist of LOE’s within the MPA.
Peasant: Uhh, in English?
Fed: It means we’ve passed enough laws to allow a major land developer to vote on road projects where he develops land.
Peasant: What about Chair Sarah McAulay? She voted for a plan that included three road projects where she owns frontage property. Isn’t that an ethics issue?
Fed: If you believe there is an ethics violation you should contact NCDOT. The Chairman of the Board will know what to do.
Peasant: Did you recommend CRTPO change anything?
Fed: We think they should hire more people.
Fed: Can we talk about streetcars?
Peasant: Seriously… any other changes?
Fed: We think they should create a Citizen’s Advisory Group.
Peasant: Why? If they ignored a thousand written comments what makes you think they’ll listen to a half-dozen verbal ones?
Fed: Next question.
Peasant: Has any MPO in the history of the Federal Highway Administration ever failed one of your certification reviews?
Fed: Look, I’ve really enjoyed our little chat, but we’ve got a bureaucracy to run. I’ll see you in four years.