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MAG Celebrates 50 Years as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Greater Phoenix Region.

MAG Celebrates 50 Years as the Metropolitan Planning Organization for the Greater Phoenix Region

Prop 400, MPO

In 1973, the Maricopa Association of Governments (MAG) made transportation history when it was designated as the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Maricopa County region. 

While MAG has helped create a world-class transportation system in the greater Phoenix area over the past 50 years, many residents are not sure what an MPO is or why it is so important.

What is an MPO?

Under federal transportation law, MPOs are established in urbanized areas with populations over 50,000, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau. In addition, as an urbanized area with a population over 200,000, as defined by the Census Bureau and the U.S. Department of Transportation, MAG also serves as the Transportation Management Area for the greater Phoenix region. 

Congress created MPOs in order to ensure that existing and future expenditures of federal funds for transportation projects and programs are based on a continuing, cooperative, and comprehensive planning process led by local elected officials. There are more than 400 MPOs in the United States and eight in Arizona.

“The MPO process ensures strong involvement from cities and towns, so that the localities that best understand the needs of the region are represented in transportation planning,” said MAG Chair and Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego. “It is important that this planning is well-coordinated and that federal dollars are invested appropriately to address our region’s unique needs.”

The Region Then and Now

In 1973, the region’s population was already at 1.1 million. But the transportation system was struggling to keep pace with growth. Interstate 17 was the only major completed highway – the last section of I-10 wouldn’t be completed until 1990 and only portions of U.S. 60 were in place. 

But soon after being designated the MPO, MAG began a major reevaluation of the regional transportation plan. In 1977, public hearings were held on the revised plan. The plan included freeway, bus and rail transit alternatives and helped launch the next 40 years of transportation progress.

Thanks to the passage of Proposition 300 in 1984 and Proposition 400 in 2004, the dedicated investments in regional transportation delivered Loops 101, 202, and 303, along with light rail, arterial street improvements, and contributions to a growing multimodal network – a total investment of more than $12 billion to date.

Responsibilities of an MPO

MPOs are responsible for a variety of planning activities, including:

  • Conducting a federally certified transportation planning process. 
  • Carrying out an ongoing public involvement process. 
  • Developing and apply management systems (pavement, bridge, congestion, transit, intermodal, safety). 
  • Preparing a four-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) that includes all transportation projects in the region (federal, state, local and privately funded projects).
  • Preparing a multimodal Regional Transportation Plan (RTP) with a minimum 20-year horizon. 
  • Ensuring that all transportation plans, programs and projects conform to air quality plans.

What’s Ahead

Over the years, MAG’s transportation planning area has expanded to include not just Maricopa County, but also portions of Pinal County, encompassing about 10,600 square miles. Membership includes 27 cities and towns, three Native nations, Maricopa and Pinal counties, and the Arizona Department of Transportation.

As we look to what’s ahead, our critical transportation work continues.  A key focus in the coming year will be planning related to the Regional Strategic Transportation Infrastructure Investment Plan. The Plan, which outlines the next 20 years of transportation progress in the region, was unanimously approved by the Regional Council in 2021. This plan serves as the foundation for Proposition 479, which would extend the dedicated half-cent sales tax for transportation for another 20 years. Proposition 479 will go before voters in November 2024. 

MAG’s Planning Work Over 50 Years

MAG’s planning work has received national acclaim over the years. Below are just a few of the ways MAG has been recognized:

  • 1999 – MAG receives Movers and Shakers Award for its work with the Clean Cities Coalition.
  • 2000 – Arizona Alternatives Clean Fuels for Clean Cities receives the Valley Forward Environmental Excellence Award.
  • 2001 – The first bikeways map is awarded third place in the ESRI International User Conference, Best Geographic Publication.
  • 2004 – The Proposition 400 Regional Transportation Plan receives the 2004 Desert Peaks Summit Award.
  • 2004 – A video featuring the MAG Regional Transportation Plan receives the Pegasus Award of Excellence in a national competition of video productions.
  • 2005 – The Proposition 400 Regional Transportation Plan receives the national FHWA Leadership Award for Regional Transportation. 
  • 2005 – Public outreach effort for the RTP receives the Valley of the Sun PSRA Copper Anvil Award of Excellence.
  • 2005 – MAG Regional Report, A Resource for Policy Makers in the Maricopa Region receives the Best Regional Plan Award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association.
  • 2006 – The Federal Transit Administration in conjunction with the American Planning Association honors MAG with the Transportation Planning Excellence Award for the Regional Transportation Plan.
  • 2006 – MAG receives award for Best ITS Planning Project for its Regional Concept of Operations Plan.
  • 2008 – The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) cites MAG’s visualization techniques as a notable practice in Metropolitan Planning Organizations throughout the nation.
  • 2008 – United We Ride presents MAG its Leadership Award in recognition of Human Services Transportation Coordination Planning and implementation.
  • 2008 – MAG receives Desert Peaks Regional Partnership Award for the Loop 202 (Santan Freeway) Improvements.
  • 2009 – The Don’t Trash Arizona litter education program receives the international Silver Anvil Award of Excellence from the Public Relations Society of America.
  • 2013 – MAG Receives Best ITS Planning Project for the 2012 ITS Strategic Plan.
  • 2014 – Piper Trust awards MAG the Encore Prize for excelling organizations.
  • 2016 – American Council of Engineering Companies presents MAG with Honor Award for Risk Management for the MAG Regional Freeway and Highway Program.
  • 2016 – MAG receives Best ITS Planning Project award for its Benefit-Cost Evaluation of the Pilot Project to Co-Locate DPS Troopers at the ADOT Traffic Operations Center.
  • 2017 – The Arizona Transit Association awards MAG its Exceptional Leadership Award for Regional Transportation Policy and Planning during 50 years of service.
  • 2018 – ITS Arizona awards MAG Systems Operation and Management Plan Best ITS Planning Project and the Wrong-Way Driver System Best ITS Implementation Project.
  • 2019 – MAG's Phoenix Metro Residential Real Estate Data Explorer receives Best Overall Application in the Maps and Apps Challenge at the Arizona Geographic Information Council Education and Training Symposium.
  • 2019 –The Don’t Trash Arizona litter education campaign receives Silver Addy Award for Public Service, Integrated Media.
  • 2019 – MAG receives an Arizona Transportation Partnering Excellence Award for the Miller Road/Loop 101 Construction Alternatives project. 
  • 2020 – MAG receives 2020 State Transportation Innovation Council Excellence Award for the Sun Cloud data portal and the Sun Corridor Value Impact Analysis project.
  • 2020 – The Luke Air Force Base Targeted Growth Management Plan receives Best Regional Plan Award from the Arizona Chapter of the American Planning Association.
  • 2022 – MAG is honored for best ITS implementation project, best ITS planning project, and best use of an ITS industry product or service based on emerging technology pilots during the Intelligent Transportation Society of Arizona’s annual conference.
  • 2022 – FHWA recognizes MAG for Innovation of the Month in its Every Day Counts newsletter for using crowdsourcing to make local roads safer and regional planning more efficient. 
  • 2023 – Women’s Transportation Seminar (WTS) Arizona Chapter recognizes MAG as the Employer of the Year.
  • 2023 – ITS Arizona honors MAG for Best ITS Planning Project Award for System Design for Arterials’ Continuous Traffic Data Collection and Monitoring.
  • 2023 – MAG emerging technology pilot project for vulnerable road user safety analysis recognized by the Institute of Transportation Engineers. 
  • 2001 to Present – MAG’s Unified Planning Work Program and Annual Budget has received the Distinguished Budget Presentation Award and MAG’s Annual Comprehensive Financial Report receives the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting in every cycle since 2001.

Published December 6, 2023