By C.V. Moore
The newly formed Fayette-Raleigh Metropolitan Planning Organization has defined its area of influence to include the entirety of Fayette and Raleigh counties, rather than the smaller core urbanized area between Beckley and Fayetteville.
Its board met Monday in Beckley council chambers to discuss issues related to its formation as a new government entity.
With a population surpassing 50,000, the area from Beckley to Fayetteville along the U.S. 19 corridor was identified as an urbanized area after the 2010 Census.
The designation triggers the formation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization, a federally mandated transportation planning council that is required to receive federal highway and transit funding in urbanized areas.
Officials say it will give locals a “seat at the table” when it comes to deciding how to use federal dollars for transportation projects.
Designed to ease the pressures that denser populations put on transportation infrastructure, the MPO will create short- and long-range transportation plans.
After Monday’s decision, the MPO’s plans will need to take into account more than just the urbanized core area identified in the census, which includes Beckley, Sophia, Mabscott, Fayetteville, Mount Hope and Oak Hill.
Planning will center instead around the entirety of the two counties — from Montgomery to Ghent and all the space in between.
Though they are welcome to attend and speak at meetings, officials from those other towns, however, will not be included as voting members on the board.
Residents outside the core urban area will be represented on the board by their county commissioner rather than a municipal official.
Board members decided that this arrangement would ease and simplify the process of getting the organization off the ground. They say it will also make financial planning for the organization more consistent and streamlined if small towns aren’t coming and going from year to year.
The organization is funded in part by a $1 per capita fee to participating counties and municipalities. Federal and state funds pay for the remaining 90 percent of the MPO’s budget.
Finally, opening the door to a town like Thurmond, for example, would give a town with seven people the same vote on the board as a city of 20,000, like Beckley.
The advantage of including the entirety of both counties in the MPO is that it gives the body a bigger picture look at the region and more say-so over transportation projects entering the counties.
How the new urban designation for the Beckley-Fayetteville corridor will affect funding for the area’s two rural transit systems — Mountain Transit Authority and Raleigh County Community Action Association’s transportation programs — is still a large question mark.
Transit systems in areas with Metropolitan Planning Organizations are considered urban and therefore not eligible for the state funds, which comprise nearly 50 percent of their budgets.
The board is in the process of finalizing its Unified Planning Work Program, which is essentially the body’s to-do list for fiscal year 2013. It includes short range planning, a Transportation Improvement Plan, a Long Range Transportation Plan and establishing a public participation process.
So far, $11,032 has been spent to get the organization up and running. This includes training costs and legal services.
For more information on Metropolitan Planning Organizations in West Virginia, visit http://www.transportation.wv.gov/highways/programplanning/planning/statewide/Pages/wvmpo.aspx.
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