On Friday, November 2nd, CM2 with WTS Southwest Region (Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, and Louisiana) hosted a webinar on the “Evolving Challenges in Regional and Megaregional Planning” with presentations from CM2 researchers from UT Austin, TSU, and LSU as well as from the Deputy Executive Director of the Maricopa Association of Governments in Phoenix, AZ.
The webinar was a great success, with approximately 80 participants in total from agencies and organizations from around the country (CM2 also hosted a watch party on the UT Austin campus). It was organized and emceed by Lisa Loftus-Otway, M.P.Aff., LL.M., CM2 Assistant Director for Research and a Research Scientist at Center for Transportation Research (CTR) and co-emceed by Ashley McLain, AICP, of Cox McLain Environmental Consulting (a CM2 Support Partner). Ms. Loftus-Otway began the webinar by providing a quick introduction to megaregion theory and an overview of the different working definitions of megaregions. She then introduced the CM2 center and explained how the center is researching critical issues at the megaregional scale.
Following Ms. Loftus-Otway’s presentation, the webinar featured the following presentations:
- Dr. Carol Lewis and Dr. Gwendolyn Goodwin of the Center for Transportation Training and Research at Texas Southern University presented on their CM2 research, “Determining Purpose and Need for Vulnerable Communities in the Megaregion”
- Dr. Brian Wolshon of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at Louisiana State University presented on his CM2 research, “Evaluation and Analysis of Post-Disaster Re-Entry in Megaregions Project”
- Amy St. Peter, Deputy Executive Director of the Maricopa Association of Governments in Phoenix, AZ pres ented on “Partnering for Impact in Arizona’s Sun Corridor”
The research by Drs. Lewis and Goodwin works to improve the mobility of people and goods in urban and rural communities of megaregions, increase access to opportunity that promote equity in connecting these communities, and develops recommendations for transportation planning agencies. Specifically, the project helps determine purpose and need for vulnerable communities which is a critical requirement for all Environmental Impact Statements (EIS) under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).
Dr. Wolshon’s work helps us rethink the way we plan for disaster resiliency in megaregions. His research looks at megaregional evacuation in the face of a natural disaster as well as the impact of a “shadow evacuation” (when people who are not ordered to evacuate or are threatened by effects of evacuation will also evacuate which can clog the evacuation) and re-entry post-disaster. His research shows that evacuation demand models can be scaled up to multi-city travel activities but that there are practical limitations of current tech to simulate megaregional level evacuation.
Finally, Amy St. Peter discussed how the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) has been partnering for impact in the Arizona Sun Corridor. The Maricopa area was one of the hardest hit areas during the 2008 recession and the fallout caused by residential foreclosures. This, in turn, affected their transportation sales tax revenue, which severely impacted transportation planning and investment. Given the sun corridor’s strategic location for access to key markets. This was a wake-up call for the area that megaregional initiatives were needed. Several megaregional initiatives were undertaken and the area is considered a model for other regions in the country.
Following these presentations, there was an excellent question and answer session with our presenters. Some of the major questions included,
- “How do we get public officials to buy in to the megaregional philosophy?”
- “How do should professionals outside of the planning realm talk about megaregions?”
- “How do we win back trust from people who had bad evacuation experiences before?”
In terms of getting buy-in from our political officials, our presenters emphasized the importance of, not just including elected officials in the conversation, but always putting the elected officials out front in any of the initiatives as well as creating opportunities for them to build relationships with other elected officials across jurisdictions. In addition, Amy emphasized that having non-planners involved in the conversation of megaregions is absolutely critical. Thinking about megaregions going forward is not just about planning or transportation but about ensuring quality of life for the residents of that megaregion. Dr. Lewis pointed out that a good starting point for these conversation is the regional economy, which effects everyone, and Dr. Wolshon talked about how natural disasters affect everyone regardless of jurisdiction. When it comes to planning for natural disasters, he pointed out, “All the findings we see are scalable. The same concepts tend to hold true, they’re just on different temporal and spatial scales.”
Finally, in terms of winning the trust of people who have had bad evacuation experiences, it was pointed out that people choose to evacuate if they feel an imminent threat to their safety, which is influenced by a lot of factors both real and perceived. However, while every event is different in terms of effect (even no two hurricanes are the same), the people affected stay the same so we need to focus our efforts on them. As Dr. Lewis pointed out, the Houston-Galveston Area Council (H-GAC) estimates that, even if everything ran smoothly and not everyone evacuated, it would still take 45-48 hours to evacuate the Houston area. Planning now for the management of evacuation demand is critical to having future evacuations run smoothly, which will help win back trust of the community.
Participants in the webinar thanked the presenters for their informative presentations and said that they were interested in participating in future webinars on megaregions. Both CM2 and WTS consider this webinar a rousing success and a great kick starter for future webinars.