Fifty years ago today, on June 30, 1965, the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board was officially incorporated as the Washington region's federally designated metropolitan planning organization, or MPO.
The newly created entity was set up to satisfy a new requirement under federal law: that every urbanized area in the United States with a population greater than 50,000 people institute a "continuing, comprehensive transportation planning process carried out cooperatively by States and local communities."
The requirement was part of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1962. It was designed to ensure that expenditures of federal transportation dollars within metropolitan areas would reflect the shared vision of all interested parties in the region and that projects and programs would be planned and implemented in an efficient, coordinated way.
Photo credit: Washington Post
It took a couple of years for the TPB to get off the ground. The governors of Virginia and Maryland and the then-President of the Board of Commissioners for the District of Columbia had to all agree on the right set-up for the new quasi-governmental entity and to formally grant it the decision-making authority outlined in federal law.
The new body of elected leaders and transportation officials also needed a staff to help carry out its federal charge. In 1966, just a year after being formally established, the TPB reached an agreement with the still-young Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) to be staffed by a technical and policy support staff housed at COG. COG had gotten its start nine years earlier as a voluntary association of counties and municipalities working together on common regional issues like transportation, the environment, and public safety.
Photo credit: Unknown
Since its beginning, the TPB has been focused on carrying out the federally mandated metropolitan planning process, which has evolved over time to address new issues of national importance as they emerge, like air quality, public involvement, congestion management, and freight movement. But it has also taken up a number of other key regional issues and coordination activities, many a demonstration that the value of the TPB comes not through exercising veto power over specific projects and plans but through bringing decision-makers together from around the region to find common ground and pursue shared goals. Examples of such issues include transportation and land-use coordination, pedestrian and bicyclist safety, and regional emergency response coordination.
Through its diverse and evolving work over the past 50 years, the TPB has established itself as a nationally recognized MPO and developed a reputation as a vital forum for regional coordination. As it looks to the next half-century, the TPB is positioned to build on this legacy to continue addressing ongoing regional challenges and to face the new ones that will arise.
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Stay tuned: Later this year, the TPB will host a series of commemorative events and special outreach activities to look back on 50 years of regional transportation planning and to look ahead to what challenges and opportunities the next half-century might bring.