House moves forward with potential MPO consolidation
Fiona McFarland. Photo via Florida House.

Fiona McFarland wants to streamline transportation planning while keeping decisions regional.

Florida lawmakers this year could reorganize a network of metropolitan planning organizations (MPO) — and redesign the state license plate to boot.

The House Transportation and Modals Subcommittee took up a committee bill (PCB 24-01) that could consolidate MPOs. Rep. Fiona McFarland, a Sarasota Republican, characterized her legislation as a starting point, not a final product. But she said it’s important lawmakers scrutinize how MPOs work at a systemic level and see if they are satisfying the needs of constituents.

“There’s no incentive for MPOs to consolidate today,” she said. “Your municipalities will lose board seats, you lose, perhaps, having the physical office building in your own district, and it becomes very territorial at the local level. And even for the greatest public servant with the best intentions, there’s not a structural incentive for those MPOs to consolidate or, frankly, really, to plan regionally.”

The bill explicitly calls for consolidation of MPOs now separately serving Lee and Collier counties, neighboring jurisdictions. Rep. Lauren Melo, a Naples Republican, noted an ongoing feasibility study in the area and asked if that will be included before such a combination of entities takes place.

Meanwhile, Rep. Yvonne Hinson, a Gainesville Democrat, voiced concerns the bill as written will strip local officials of an ability to block, as one example, plans for state roads through historic communities.

“I don’t know why we are interfering with this,” said Hinson, the ranking Democrat on the Subcommittee. “It seems like another local preemption. We’ve done a lot of that. We’re taking decisions away from the people who know their community best.”

The potential of eliminating the Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council attracted some skepticism among lawmakers, though many acknowledged streamlining is in order.

Several Central Florida Representatives cheered a push to regional efforts, noting that a single organization there covers everywhere from Ocala to the Space Coast, and also covers downtown Orlando.

“Our MPO actually is regional which is awesome and I would argue maybe an example for others to follow,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat. But she also said she wanted to carefully review proposals with representatives from the Central Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization before offering full support.

Rep. Doug Bankson, an Apopka Republican, said the legislation does just that, and incentivizes MPOs to work with one another rather than remaining provincial. He previously had a seat on the Central Florida MPO and suspected the legislation to be embraced in Central Florida.

“I think this is tremendous, the coordination that you’re bringing,” he said.

Ultimately, the bill advanced out of the subcommittee on a unanimous vote. But McFarland promised the bill will evolve as it advances through Session.

The bill also calls for the first redesign of Florida’s basic license plate to occur in 20 years. McFarland noted the state has held competitions before on what a new plate could look like, and said it’s time to update the plate in both appearance and functionality. She said the final product will be decided on by transportation officials, not lawmakers.

Jacob Ogles

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at [email protected].


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