The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

Local News

December 12, 2012

MPO presentation draws questions from commission

FAYETTEVILLE — On Friday, members of the Fayette County Planning Commission and Board of Zoning Appeals peppered a regional planning and development council member with questions about the Fayette/Raleigh Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), a new unit of government currently being organized to facilitate local input on transportation projects.

W.D. Smith, executive director of the Region 4 Planning and Development Council, made a presentation to the Fayette County Commission on the MPO, saying the organization will give locals “a seat at the table” when it comes to transportation planning and decision-making.

MPOs are federally mandated transportation planning councils that are required as a condition of receiving federal highway and transit funding in urbanized areas. The creation of the Fayette/Raleigh MPO was triggered by 2010 census results that showed that the Beckley/Fayette urbanized area has exceeded 50,000 people.

Meeting attendees requested that Fayette County’s planning and zoning officials be included on the organization’s policy board or advisory committee.

“Most of the applications we receive will have a transportation factor. The egress and ingress to the highway will be a factor that is considered,” said Guy Dooley, a member of the Fayette County Planning Commission.

They also wanted to know exactly to what extent their input will be brought to bear on transportation issues because of the MPO.

Smith said that when local transportation needs are brought to the MPO, they can be incorporated into the group’s short- or long-range plan.

The MPO, as well as the state, can originate projects through special studies and a planning process, including those related to rail, air, pedestrian, bicycle, waterways or roads.

Transportation projects using federal money also have to be accepted and ratified by the MPO before the state Division of Highways can draw down the funds.

Smith said that up to this point, local government officials and members of the public had to write a letter to the state or approach their elected representatives with transportation issues and “see what happens.” Now, there will be a formal process for providing such input — namely, through planning.

“This is not about funding projects or building projects, but it’s about planning for the future in the short and long term,” said Smith.

“Ultimately, this MPO will need to either give the thumbs up or thumbs down on these projects. They can’t go forward, pretty much, without the MPO’s agreement, which gives you a pretty significant voice.”

Turning down federal dollars for transportation rarely, if ever, happens, he said. Usually issues are negotiated so the MPO and the state are on the same page.

Fayette County Commission President Matthew Wender told Smith that the body ought to “test its mettle” by asking the state to put a stop light at the Glen Jean intersection on U.S. 19, widely regarded by locals as a dangerous spot.

The Fayette/Raleigh MPO, with a population of 64,022, includes communities as far south as Sophia and Shady Spring and as far north as Fayetteville. Smith anticipates that before its official launch, the MPO will be expanded to include the entirety of Fayette and Raleigh counties.

The MPO is being organized jointly by the Region 4 and Region 1 Planning and Development Councils. A policy committee and a technical advisory committee are being formed, with Beckley Mayor Emmett Pugh chairing the former.

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