By C.V. Moore
OAK HILL —
One of 36 new “urbanized areas” in the United States, the area from Beckley to Fayetteville along the U.S. 19 corridor will soon have its own Metropolitan Planning Organization aimed at easing the pressures that denser populations put on transportation infrastructure.
Charged with carrying out a “coordinated, cooperative and comprehensive” transportation planning process, the Fayette-Raleigh Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) will create a long-range transportation plan for the next 20 years and update it every four years.
“This gives the folks locally a much bigger say in what happens in the area, and they should all be excited to have a bigger voice in how transportation decisions are made,” says Perry Keller of the West Virginia Division of Highways.
“This development should open up some new funding opportunities, especially for transit. It is a sure sign of progress that will help us shine on the national map,” Rep. Nick Rahall said of the new MPO in remarks at the Beckley Intermodal Gateway dedication in October.
MPOs are federally mandated transportation planning councils that are required as a condition of receiving federal highway and transit funding in urbanized areas.
The 2010 census showed that the area from Beckley up into Fayetteville, following the U.S. 19 corridor, has reached a population of 64,022.
The existence of a contiguous geographic area with a population above 50,000 — the Census Bureau’s definition of an “urbanized area" — triggers the creation of an MPO.
West Virginia has seven other such urbanized areas, including the Charleston and Huntington metropolitan areas in the southern part of the state.
“Basically it’s saying that if you’re in an area with a certain population, then the local folks (...) can sit down at the table with the state DOH guys and start this planning process of ‘Where are we at?’ and “Where do we need to go?’” says Oak Hill City Manager Bill Hannabass, whose city hosted the most recent organizational meeting of the MPO.
Attendees at last Monday’s meeting included mayors and city managers from Mount Hope, Beckley, Sophia, Mabscott, Fayetteville and Oak Hill, as well as county commissioners, DOH staff, the director of the Beckley Housing Authority and a representative from the Mountain Transit Authority.
“One of the things that will be done initially is looking at developing a travel demand model to identify where the deficiencies are,” says Keller.
“There has already been a lot of planning taking a look at the Boy Scout facility and some of that will be rolled into the plan. But overall, (...) we’ll be talking to a lot of local citizens. They have a finger on the pulse of transportation issues more than we do and they will help identify some of those areas that we can focus in on.”
Over the next several months, a work plan for the group will be drafted and put forward for adoption. It might include elements like looking at high accident areas, creating GIS layers, public transportation planning or bicycle and pedestrian planning.
The MPO will be fully recognized on July 1, and at that point will be given federal, state, and local planning dollars to begin both a Long Range Transportation Plan and Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP).
The long-range plan has a 20-year outlook.
The TIP is a four-year plan that shows all the projects that will be undertaken within the area, and the money that has been dedicated to them. The document is a commitment from the DOT to move forward with those projects.
The East Beckley Bypass project, for example, will be listed on the TIP even though it is already under way.
The DOT will still control the purse strings, but will work cooperatively with the MPO on everything from paving jobs to bridge replacements to transit projects.
The MPO will build consensus among local citizens so that projects come to the DOT backed by one unified voice, rather than the different voices of municipalities, county commissions and local citizens, says Keller.
The organization will form a policy board made up of elected officials and a technical advisory committee that will make recommendations to the board and help bring projects to a higher status within the DOT.
The board will meet about six times a year; meetings are public and all plans will be open for public comment before finalization.
Funding for the planning is 80 percent federal, 10 percent state and 10 percent local match. The $64,000 local match from counties and municipalities is based on a rate of $1 per citizen.
The Fayette County Commission, for example, must contribute $4,101, which is also the number of “urbanized” people who live within the county but outside of a municipality.
It’s not clear yet whether the MPO will include only the urbanizing area, or the entirety of Fayette and Raleigh counties. This decision is made by the governor’s office.
Both Region 4 and Region 1 Planning and Development councils will work cooperatively to be, in essence, the staff of the MPO. The executive director of Region 4, W.D. Smith, is the acting director of the MPO.
“I think it’s good that they let local governments have the chance to weigh in on transportation decisions. I hope there’s some real value to it,” says Fayette County Commission President Matt Wender.
For more information on MPOs in West Virginia, visit http://www. transportation.wv.gov/highways/programplanning/planning/statewide/Pages/wvmpo.aspx.