Bend gets stuck with old numbers

Bend is on the way to get shortchanged.

Every 10 years, the United States goes to the trouble of doing the census. But when Congress allocated a pot of transportation money to Bend and other communities, it didn’t bother to use the 2010 census data. It stuck with old numbers.

The Bend area has something called the Bend Metropolitan Planning Organization. It covers an area slightly different than Bend’s city limits. Urban areas with a population greater than 50,000 and a density greater than 1,000 people per square mile get a federal MPO designation. The Bend MPO receives money from the federal government — passed along by the state.

This pot of transportation money isn’t huge. It’s mostly for planning and developing priorities. For instance, the Bend MPO has been working with city staff to analyze all crash data — cars, trucks, bikes, pedestrians — from the past five years. They are identifying what can be done to avoid repeats and seeking funding for improvements.

The population of Bend’s MPO grew significantly since the 2000 census. In fact, the Bend area was one of the top 10 fastest growing metropolitan statistical areas from 2000 to 2010. In 2000, the population of the Bend MPO was 57,525. In 2010, it was 83,794.

So the money for Bend’s MPO would get an increase reflective of the change, right? Wrong. Bend’s money has basically held constant at about $225,000 a year for planning in the last few years. It’s not clear yet what it will get for 2013. But Congress did not move in the right direction.

In the most recent transportation bill, the Congressional compromise was to hold MPO funding at 2009 levels. The problem is those funding levels were based on 2000 census data. In other words, it doesn’t account for growth. In other words, the compromise that Congress arrived at is a poor deal for any state or community such as Bend that grew significantly.

The relative growth within a state can be corrected by how state transportation departments distribute money to their MPOs. The Oregon Department of Transportation is working on a formula for the new money. Bend City Councilor Mark Capell alerted State Senator-elect Tim Knopp, R-Bend, to that issue at Wednesday’s council meeting.

But the larger issue of changes in the country’s population is one for Congress. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., believes using the old census numbers was wrong, and he is hoping to correct it in the next round of transportation funding. Congress may not have a lot of money to spend. It should spend it right.

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