Florida transportation official Lee Royal trekked to Hernando County on Tuesday morning to urge the Hernando County MPO to consider merging with its northern neighbors in Citrus County to get more bang for the buck when it comes to state dollars.
"Organizations can't go it alone in this financial climate," said Royal, community liaison administrator for the Florida Department of Transportation.
By combining with Citrus and expanding the boundaries of the geographical transportation network, there is a great opportunity, she said, to get funded for bigger, regional projects.
Case in point: the expansion of the Suncoast Parkway north of the Hernando County line, a project that has been stalled but which could move forward if both counties work together.
MPO members Tuesday agreed that the benefits probably outweigh the negatives and asked staff to proceed with talks with Citrus County as to the logistics of merging services.
Transportation Planning Coordinator Dennis Dix said every 10 years, when the latest U.S. Census figures are known, the state considers creating more MPOs because of population increases.
This year, Citrus County added enough people to create its own urbanized area and create an MPO.
The state believes it would make more sense for Citrus to team up with Hernando.
Bob Clifford, executive director of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority, said he will spend the next few weeks meeting with Citrus County, discussing how many members would sit on the expanded MPO and go over operations and costs. Clifford said the most difficult part of the process will be getting over the administrative work so that both sides can come to the table with a proposed merger draft.
These re-designations of MPOs, as necessitated by the Census, only occur every 10 years and the process is not specifically defined, he said.
"It sort of gives you the impression that you're building the airplane as you're flying it," Clifford said.
Brooksville Mayor Lara Bradburn said she is encouraged that initial talks between Hernando and Citrus counties appear amicable and because of the "commonalities" with that area, it would make sense to join forces.
Bradburn said it is important to keep the numbers of sitting members on the proposed MPO small and limited to those with an interest in transportation so as not to make it too unwieldy. To make it fair and equitable, she wants to make sure each county would be able to propose any transportation needs unique to each county.
Both counties have until the end of March to form a draft proposal to bring back to their respective boards.
An MPO serves as a liaison between the community and Florida Department of Transportation and directs how and where available state and federal dollars for transportation improvements will be spent.
The Hernando County MPO consists of six voting members representing Hernando County, the City of Brooksville and one non-voting FDOT member.