The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

December 5, 2012

Metropolitan planning looks at long, short range

By Mannix Porterfield
Register-Herald Reporter

— Ever growing, Beckley’s metropolitan area keeps attracting new places to eat and shop, and that, in turn creates traffic headaches.

With both short- and long-range plans, and a vehicle to execute them, and a means of financing such projects, says Dave Cole, this region cannot cope with the congestion, nor attract federal road dollars in the first place to build new roadways and keep traffic flowing.

And that is where the Fayette/Raleigh County Metropolitan Planning Organization comes in, Cole explained Tuesday to the Raleigh County Commission.

“We’re on a learning curve here,” said Cole, executive director of Region 1 of the Planning and Development Council.

“In every meeting, we learn something new.”

MPOs were mandated by legislation nearly four decades ago for any urbanized pocket in excess of 50,000 people, and without one, regions cannot expect to gain approval of federal dollars for highway improvements, he said.

Beckley is the hub of an MPO that begins in Fayetteville and stretches to Sophia, on to W.Va. 3 to Shady Spring and greater Beckley, embracing slightly more than 64,000 residents.

“The Census Bureau cobbled this area together and designated it the Beckley urbanized area,” Cole told the commission.

In this locale, he said, people will be seeking space to open restaurants, market their merchandise, find adequate pools of labor and the like. Cole was assisted in the presentation by Jason Roberts, director of geographic services for the planning council.

“This type of designation is good because you’re going to rise to the top because you have that density of population,” Cole said.

“Like the old adage — success begets success. Olive Garden and other restaurants and things just don’t drop out of the sky. There’s a reason they focus on certain places. This brings the area into focus for people that are looking to site things where they require a certain market area in order to make the cash flow, make it feasible and not just for restaurants but for all sorts of things.”

West Virginia now has eight MPO’s but only three, including this region’s, actually are within the state’s boundaries entirely.

An MPO automatically is eligible to collect $190,000-plus in federal planning dollars with an 80-20 match, Cole explained.

Idea behind creation of the MPO was to provide existing and future expenditures for road projects and programs based on a continuing, cooperative and comprehensive planning process. It is only through the MPO that federal highway dollars are channeled, he said.

“This is a very important thing to stick with you,” he said. “Without an MPO, there is no local expenditure of federal funds.”

A long-range plan looks two decades down the road, such as the Coalfields Expressway or the Z-Way project in Beckley, while a shorter one covers about four years, he explained.

“Those projects are always churning,” Cole said.

“They’re developed primarily by the state highways department.”

Commissioner Dave Tolliver applauded the concept, pointing out the MPO provides for all interested parties, and the general public, to have input in deciding road plans.

“The good thing about is we will have a seat at the table when the projects come up for Raleigh and Fayette counties,” he said.

“At least, we’ll have a say-so in them. And if we don’t have this set up, no federal money can be spent in this particular area. It’s a good opportunity for Raleigh and Fayette counties to get some federal money and also have a seat at the table when these projects come up.”

Cole confirmed for Commissioner Pat Reed that the Beckley By-Pass project is part of the overall plan, just as any projects already identified as being on the board.

“This is a planning process,” he said.

“It takes time. There are big dollars involved here. It’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Roadway construction takes literally decades. That’s why the plan here is a 20-year plan.”

— E-mail: mannix@register-herald.com