TM&E: Make way for growth

William L. Troe, AICP / January 26, 2010

The healthy growth of a community is always a welcome development, but it invariably is accompanied by thorny issues that need to be resolved.

A growing population requires additional services and amenities, and the first system likely to require attention is the area’s transportation network. This was the case in Morgantown and Monongalia County, W.Va., when the 2000 census confirmed that it had passed the 50,000 metro area population threshold that defined the city and county as an urbanized area.

As one of 76 new metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) in the country, greater Morgantown was now obliged to prepare a regional transportation plan (RTP). A plan was initially drafted in 2002 but little of it had been implemented and not all of the eight Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU) metropolitan planning factors had been addressed. As a consequence, URS Corp. was retained as a prime consultant to develop an RTP that projected growth through 2030.

At first glance, it might appear that when a community has just qualified as an urbanized area (only two interstate highways serve the district) transportation issues would not be very complex, and preparation of a SAFETEA-LU-compliant plan would be relatively simple compared with a similar plan for a large metro area, such as neighboring Pittsburgh. That is not the case.

Morgantown is the home of West Virginia University’s (WVU) campuses for medicine, engineering, humanities and agriculture, with an enrollment of more than 27,000 students. The downtown campus is located directly adjacent to the compact downtown area of Morgantown. The Evansdale campus is about 1.5 miles north of the downtown campus, approximately a mile from the medical campus, and is connected to each of the others through a limited number of narrow, winding roads.

The impact that the required connectivity of the WVU activity centers has on the regional transportation system is compounded by those of other large institutions in the area—Mylan Pharmaceuticals (1,700 employees), Teletech (900 employees) and the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (500 employees)—which are located next to one another and are served by the same limited number of access routes.

While a substantial portion of the intercampus demand is accommodated on the PRT, a unique automated, fixed-guideway, people-mover system that connects the campuses, the concentration of high-intensity employment areas along a small number of corridors places a heavy burden on the network. In addition, the feasibility of attaining reasonable traffic operations is complicated by the mountainous terrain in which Morgantown is located. Its geographic location produces beautiful vistas, but it makes the expansion of key corridors a difficult proposition. It also results in staggering facility construction costs that limit the ability to maintain, let alone expand, the transportation system.

Into the future

Projected to 2030, the RTP serves as a guide for transportation system improvements in the metropolitan area and is a focal point of the MPO’s planning programs and activities. As a blueprint for the next two decades and beyond, it covers the transportation systems of the jurisdictions within the greater Morgantown metropolitan planning area that are eligible for federal funding as well as the state transportation system located within the planning area. The RTP takes into consideration the multimodal, interdependent nature of the region’s transportation system and addresses highways, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian facilities as well as projects and programs to better manage transportation demand and congestion.

The transportation goals and objectives were developed through a series of open meetings and workshops involving the public, members of the policy board, Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) members, Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) members and a solicitation of views through e-mail and the MPO website. People who traveled the existing system every day were asked to offer their opinions. Crash-record information, traffic-count data and inventories of roadway conditions were evaluated to provide a technical snapshot of the system relative to benchmarks of what was acceptable.

Based on the input from state and local stakeholders, the West Virginia Department of Transportation, city and county officials and staff members, along with those of URS and other consultants, a multimodal improvement program for the region was developed. It produced four primary goals:

  • Develop an interconnected, intermodal transportation network that provides reliability, equity, efficiency, choice, safety and opportunity for all potential users;
  • Implement and promote transportation-system improvements that support the effective movement of people and goods;
  • Provide a transportation system that supports regional economic development and that balances transportation services with potential impacts to the surrounding physical and social environment; and
  • Promote efficiency in land use and development patterns.

The overall planning process integrated a number of concepts, including land-use development, alternative analysis and funding.

Land development

Whether transportation influences land development or land conversion patterns dictate transportation issues has long been something of a chicken-and-egg debate. It was critical to incorporate land-use planning into the RTP because the uses of land affect transportation by physically arranging the developments people want to access. Changes in the location, type and density of land uses often dictate people’s travel choices, which alter the transportation patterns.

On the other hand, transportation affects land uses by providing a means of moving people and goods from one place to another.

Both land use and transportation are a function of the growth of population and employment. Monongalia County has been one of the few West Virginia counties that have experienced stable population and employment growth over the last 20-30 years. From 1970 through 2000, population in the state increased from 1.744 million to approximately 1.808 million, about 4%. In the same period, the population of Monongalia County rose from 63,700 to nearly 82,000, an increase of almost 29%. Projections indicate a similar rate of growth through 2030, with WVU targeting an increased enrollment of approximately 3,000 within the next two years alone.

SEEing improvement

The alternatives analysis screening process for the roadway, transit and nonmotorized systems was conducted with the public and agencies following a process that incorporates what URS has coined as the SEE methodology. The SEE approach addresses the transportation system and a range of improvements by examining three perspectives:

Social: What are the adjacent land-use and cultural affects? Can the community support the alternative(s)?

Engineering: Does the concept conform to appropriate local and state design guidelines? What are the ramifications for safety and operations?

Economics: What are the costs relative to the benefits and budget?

The result of the SEE approach is an analysis of alternatives that is sustainable, because long-term support is established by demonstrating that consideration is being given to more than just moving vehicles quickly.

Past transportation plans have focused primarily on roadway infrastructure improvements. The proposed scope of work is looking to create a more integrated multimodal improvement plan. This change in emphasis has the potential to create a more balanced system, but it also will require slicing more pieces from the transportation pie, which will not likely increase dramatically as other modal systems are included. A multifaceted public involvement program is a cornerstone of the long-range transportation plan update process.

Estimating future funding levels for the region is much like the process of forecasting development or traffic issues. The process requires making a number of assumptions relative to the individual components that affect the allocation of transportation dollars, including:

  • Is the current federal allocation system likely to stay about the same, change in a way that would benefit the Morgantown area, or change in a way that would have a negative affect on the area?
  • How do the needs identified in the Morgantown area compare (or rather how do they compete in their severity) with those identified in other areas of the state?
  • From a local perspective, where do transportation priorities fit in the overall need for investment in other segments of the infrastructure or other improvements? and
  • Are there additional federal, state or local funding sources that have not been, but could be, used for transportation-system improvements?

The process and assumptions employed in developing a funding estimate through 2030 are influenced by the answers to each of those questions. Prevailing estimates are that the overall transportation budget through 2030, including system operations, maintenance and expansion, will be approximately $384 million.

About the Author

Troe is vice president and project manager, surface transportation, URS Corp., Omaha, Neb.

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