Changes for transportation plans?

Projected census numbers cause shifts for Union and entire MUMPO region

by Brian Carlton

Due to projected census numbers, Mooresville will be added to the local transportation advisory board in 2012, bringing in another city and several questions. The state will incorporate the Iredell County city into the Mecklenburg Union Metropolitan Planning Organization, officials said Tuesday, Dec. 14. While the move won’t take money away from already scheduled projects, it will present several challenges for the region’s transportation plans.

“It does get a little complex,” MUMPO Secretary Bob Cook said. “We’ve not worked out all the details.”

Bringing in Mooresville leads to some challenges for the board. Funding for road projects is given out to North Carolina Department of Transportation divisions, with the local boards allowed to determine which ones get priority. The MUMPO region works with North Carolina Department of Transportation Division 10, while Mooresville, as part of Iredell County, operates with Division 12. That affiliation won’t change, as division boundries are fixed by state law, so the board will have to work with two different divisions and work out the funding with each.

The problem comes due to the fact since Mooresville will be part of the MUMPO region, its’ projects will have to be absorbed into the long range transportation plan, which will have to be reworked to rank each one and determine if they should get priority over an existing one. What that means is even though funding comes from a different source, Union County projects still could get pushed further back, if a Mooresville project is deemed more important. The state will look at the long range planning document and where each project is ranked to help determine if it moves forward, not just where the money comes from.

“I think it’s going to make our process a little more complicated,” Stallings Mayor and MUMPO Vice Chair Lynda Paxton said. “The thing that struck me is the funding. (Since) that won’t change, we’ll have to figure out how to work with those parameters.”

There are already over 300 projects in the draft long range plan, with over one third currently without funding. Since Mooresville operates out of a different division, that may mean staff will have to create two entirely different plans, Cook said.

“(The projects) will have to be incorporated somehow,” Cook said. “There will have to be some changes made to the long range plans, (but) fortunately, there’s enough time where we can do that.”

Mooresville works primarily with the Lake Norman Rural Planning Organization, a group formed in 2002 that presents prioritized project lists to the N.C. Department of Transportation. Other members include Cleveland, Gaston and Lincoln counties, as well as Iredell municipalities of Statesville and Troutman.

The North Carolina General Assembly instructed the NCDOT to establish RPOs to give rural areas more of a voice in transportation issues, much like federally mandated MPOs

Mooresville leaders say the town doesn’t have any control over its potential inclusion into the urbanized area controlled by MUMPO. The town can control whether it has someone active at the table, however.

“There’s a lot of question marks here,” said Steve Husemann, Mooresville’s town manager. “We don’t know what’s going to happen, and we’re researching it.”

Husemann said he expects that Mooresville will be included in the urbanized area, considering there’s not a lot of vacant land between his town and Davidson.

“The concept is to talk about what’s going to be your urbanized area in the long run 20 years from now and get them involved now,” Husemann said. “We’re making plans now for projects 20 years from now.”

Husemann has tapped transportation planner Neil Burke to research the town’s involvement.

“These transportation governance structures, whether MUMPO or LNRPO, are important because that’s how we find out about grant opportunities and how to prioritize local projects with the NCDOT,” said Neil Burke, transportation planner for Mooresville. “They provide us an important avenue for advancing transportation plans and creating an efficient transportation system.”

Mooresville has been a player in regional transit initiatives, such as the Lake Norman Regional Bike Plan and the Carolina Thread Trail, a project that will connect greenways in 15 counties in the Carolinas.

The town also has representation on the Lake Norman Transportation Commission, which has discussed projects pertaining to the flow of traffic on Interstate 77.

“I have been asked to engage in regional activities – not just looking at transportation in the town, but also the I-77 corridor,” Burke said. “As long as we provide projects that show congestion or regional air quality benefit, we’ll continue to get good projects made to our local transportation system.”

Funding falling

Last year, to balance a shrinking revenue, MUMPO delayed several projects and pulled funding entirely from some.

“A lot of these delays are to balance our budget,” Division 10 engineer Barry Moose said. “We took the amount of money we had (and) looked at the region. We had to adjust down, we had to face reality and program the projects accordingly.”

From 2009 to 2035, planners project the region will get $1.42 billion from the state’s equity formula and $1.706 billion from the loop formula. The state’s equity formula breaks counties such as Mecklenburg into seven divisions. Half of the money distributed to those divisions is based on population. The remaining half is distributed two ways: First, the state calculates the miles of unfinished interstate road in each division, then adds that to a set amount of money given equally to each division. So, $1.7 billion of the region’s $3.1 billion would be spent on 12 projects, including $152 million in Mecklenburg for Independence Boulevard improvements.

NCDOT Division 10 engineer Barry Moose said too many projects found their way in the current five-year Transportation Improvement Plan. Even now under the reduced funding model, Moose said that 70 percent of the projects won’t get be built.

MUMPO is building a draft to determine where money is allocated for the next five years. Organization members were told to expect a rough draft of the new plan by their January meeting. The projects selected have to demonstrate a reduction in air pollution, to meet federal guidelines. That plan has to be submitted by May.

Possible benefits?

Bringing in Mooresville might open up the possibility for additional federal dollars, MUMPO officials said. If the next federal transportation funding bill includes a portion of direct attributable funds, given to local boards based on population, then the extra city could mean more money for smaller projects, such as sidewalk improvements.

“MUMPO currently gets about $10 million per year, which is allocated to smaller projects, typically 2 to 3 million each,” MUMPO Technical Coordinating Committee chair and Huntersville transportation director Bill Coxe said. “Although Mooresville would add an area eligible for project selection, their population would add funds.”

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