Thursday, August 29, 2019

Media: "What the heck's an MPO?" Block the Mobile Bayway Toll Group: "Hey y'all! Watch this!"

"We the People" are smarter than you gave them credit for, aren't they Madam Governor?

In what some observers might term an upset victory, a 55,000 strong group of unruly, unsophisticated simpletons struck a mortal blow to the $2.1 billion Mobile River Bridge & Bayway Project.  The Block the Mobile Bayway Facebook Group suited up, showed up and spoke up and local officials exercised the will of the electorate.

The group did this by uncovering an obscure provision in a 7-year old federal law.

The MPO and the TIP are the creations of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act, or MAP-21 for short. MAP-21 was the brainchild of former U.S. Representative John Mica (R-FL), who was Chairman of the House Transportation Committee. MAP-21 sailed through both houses of Congress and was signed by President Barack Obama on July 6, 2012.

MAP-21 profoundly changed how the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration works with state highway departments and--importantly in this case--gave broad new powers to local elected officials. Local mayors and council members were given almost total control over the size, scope and impact of federally funded transportation projects in their districts.  Succinctly, if the locals want a project proposed by the state and federal highway folks, they allow it and it goes into the community's TIP. The state then puts that TIP into their State TIP (STIP) and that goes to the feds.

If a project doesn't go into the TIP, it can't go in the STIP, and the state can't get federal funding for the project. Neat, huh?

No one in the print, broadcast or online media had a clue about MAP-21, MPOs or TIPs. Federal officials ostensibly knew what these acronyms meant. ALDOT certainly did, but since that bunch has a nasty habit of not volunteering information that might hurt them, they said nothing.

The grassroots group discovered it, though. The group also discovered that projects critical to the Bridge & Bayway weren't included in the TIPs yet, and that they could be excluded from the TIPs by the MPOs.  They mobilized their forces, explained the potential impacts of the obscure federal law provisions to their local elected officials and inundated them with requests for action. The officials listened to the concerns of their constituents and followed their suggestions.

The Mobile Metropolitan Planning Organization (MMPO) met first on August 21, 2019. The Eastern Shore MPO (ESMPO) met a week later on August 28. The purpose of these meetings was to approve the Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP) for Mobile and Baldwin County, which among other things included a list of projects the MPOs wished to approve so that the projects in their plan could accept federal funding. Both MPOs voted overwhelmingly to remove all projects related to the Bridge & Bayway and that was that.

When they were through, the Bridge & Bayway project was pronounced dead by Governor Kay Ivey and everyone from the ALDOT War Room to the local media joint's News Room asked, "what the heck did we just watch?"

There is a delicious bit of irony in how this all shook out. To the bitter end, ALDOT was sticking to a claim that federal law required that the existing Bayway had to be replaced. The whole time they were defending this position, local officials, the media and even your beloved IBCR Blogger was asking, "where's the federal law?" Sadly, some people were beginning to accept the inevitability of a $2.1 billion behemoth they didn't want.

It wasn't until near the very end of this process did the ALDOT "federal law!" facade begin to tremble.

Then, out of nowhere an honest-to-goodness real federal law was found, and the Block the Mobile Bayway Group used it masterfully and saw ALDOT and the Governor hoisted with their own petard. 

"Hey, y'all! Watch this!"

Boom, baby. 


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