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Victoria planning organization faces elimination under federal bill

By Melissa Crowe
Jan. 10, 2012 at 4:05 p.m.
Updated Jan. 9, 2012 at 7:10 p.m.


WHAT'S NEXT?

The bill passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in November, but has not had a full Senate vote, potentially pushing any passage months or years down the line.

Under MAP-21, 17 of 25 Texas MPOs could be eliminated. Those include Abilene, Amarillo, Beaumont-Port Arthur, Brownsville, Bryan-College Station, Killeen-Temple, Harlingen-San Benito, Laredo, Longview, Midland-Odessa, San Angelo, Texarkana, Tyler, Victoria, Waco and Wichita Falls.

The organization responsible for Crossroads transportation policy-making may have a rough road ahead.

The Victoria Metropolitan Planning Organization met Tuesday in a regularly scheduled advisory meeting to discuss the possible elimination of the organization under program and spending cuts recommended by federal legislation, specifically Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century, known as MAP-21.

MAP-21 recommends eliminating all MPOs serving a population of less than 200,000 residents. There are more than 382 MPOs nationwide, and 230 threatened with elimination.

Tom Halepaska, chairman of the Victoria MPO, asked John Kaminski, director of development services, whether Victoria would continue having local representation or be "gobbled up" by a larger MPO.

"I don't think it would make much sense," Kaminski answered.

Kaminski describes the MPO as the local planners for any Texas Department of Transportation project. Recently, those projects include a new freeway section at Salem Road and Mockingbird Lane, as well as an overpass on Airline Road scheduled for mid-2013.

The MPO elimination would hurt Texas, he said.

"If the bill were to be passed as it came out of the committee, the Victoria MPO would no longer exist," Kaminski said. "It's our assumption that those duties would be taken over by TxDOT."

Texas has 25 MPOs; 17 are threatened with elimination under a proposed tier system.

Victoria's operates on a $210,000 annual budget, which comes from state and federal dollars, he said.

He said local communities stand to "lose their direct voice in the planning process" if local MPOs are eliminated.

"It's hard for me to even grasp because it's a local process, it's a local planning activity," he said.

He remains hopeful that the bill's language will be changed to keep these organizations.

The planning process the MPO performs is a very local process and provides an avenue for local input.

During the remainder of the meeting, the planning organization heard report updates on highway projects, Port of Victoria, Victoria Regional Airport and Victoria Transit.

The city plans to construct a $10.4 million, four-lane overpass on Airline Road.

Of the total cost, $2 million will come from Proposition 12 bonds, which funds highway improvement projects, the MPO chairman said.

The overpass will stretch from .14 miles southeast of Mockingbird Lane to .26 miles northwest of Business U.S. Highway 59.

That project is expected to start between June and August 2013.

Nuclear power also made the conversation.

Representatives with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission addressed the organization with updates of their environmental impact statement for the proposed site of two power plants owned by Exelon Nuclear.

Daniel Mussatti, a sociologist with the commission, said he was studying the socio-economic impact a nuclear power plant could have on Victoria.

Environmental and safety issues have been at the forefront of concerns regarding Exelon Nuclear's proposal in Victoria County.

Mussatti said another group from the commission is "ground proofing" the site, which is 13 miles south of Victoria, looking at water quality and availability, wildlife and air quality.

"It's a long, drawn-out process," Mussatti said. "It's not like opening up a McDonald's. ... This is nuclear power ... there are a lot of safety issues."

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