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Resolution urges pursuit of Metropolitan Planning Organization

U.S. Census data from 2020 could allow Hawaii County to access millions of dollars in federal funding to solve transportation issues.

A resolution that will be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting of the County Council urges the county to assess the feasibility of establishing a Metropolitan Planning Organization.

Puna Councilwoman Ashley Kierkiewicz, who introduced the resolution, said MPOs serve to more effectively allocate transportation funds and improve connectivity and cooperation between county, state and federal governments.

In particular, Kierkiewicz said, MPOs in Hawaii have access to $25 million in federal funds to be used on transportation-related projects. Should the county be eligible to form an MPO, it would join both Maui and Honolulu, which have both established their own.

Hawaii County Planning Director Zendo Kern said those funds could be tapped for projects such as infrastructure repairs, acquisitions for bus systems or even expanding broadband infrastructure, depending on the funds’ flexibility.

The Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1962 permits the formation of an MPO for any urbanized area with a population of 50,000 or greater. Because of this, the county’s eligibility for forming an MPO hinges on Census tract data from 2020, which is still pending, Kierkiewicz said.

Kierkiewicz said it is reasonable to believe that, given recent trends of people moving to the Hilo area, that the Hilo census tract could reach that threshold in the 2020 results.

Kern added that depending on how malleable the MPO requirements are, part of the population of Keaau could be included in the Hilo data to boost the numbers somewhat. Even if only one tract on the island meets the MPO requirements, the MPO’s decisions can be applied to the entire county, he said.

But regardless of whether the county is eligible this year, Kierkiewicz and Kern said it behooves the county to start considering how implementing an MPO can be done.

“It took Maui County six years to activate its MPO, so it will be a process for us,” Kierkiewicz said. “But we need to start this conversation now so that we can have a plan for activating it.”

A Hawaii County MPO likely will require an additional office to be set up within the county government, with new employees hired to take on the additional work, Kierkiewicz said.

Kern said the MPO would have overriding impacts to the operations of every county agency, but would have significant impacts to the departments of Planning and Public Works. However, he said he supports the proposition from the perspective of the Planning Department, saying the organization will increase the resources available to the county.

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.
Source: Hawaii Tribune Herald

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