Federal rules guiding agencies

Jan. 11, 2013 @ 06:31 PM

Regional transportation committees are focusing on new federal planning guidelines as a part of economic development.

Federal guidelines impact grant funding and comprehensive planning requirements at a time when a push is on for a statewide strategy statement for economic improvement.

Mike Ciriello, transportation planner with the Kerr-Tar Regional Council of Governments, said realizing the economic importance of transportation is central to people connecting to jobs, services and educational opportunities.

“Transportation is at the cornerstone of economic development,” Ciriello said. “It is essential for people to have access to new jobs, job training, education, health care and other goods and services.”

“More and more, we feel that economic development and transportation are linked,” Richard Seekins, the COG economic development planner, said at hearing of the Kerr-Tar Rural Transportation Planning Organization’s technical coordinating committee and the transportation advisory committee. “You can’t have success in one without the other.”

Seekins and Ciriello believe planning, engineering and implementing efforts among government transportation and economic agencies at all levels must be implemented.

“We are trying to reduce the duplication of effort across all agencies of government,” Ciriello said.

New federal guidelines are behind new updates to regional comprehensive economic development strategy (CEDS) documents that each of the 17 councils of government in North Carolina is required to have, according to Seekins.

Also new is an effort to create a statewide CEDS that would essentially be a culling of COG strategy documents, Seekins added.

“Interestingly enough, transportation is the key element to two of the five components in the CEDS being developed according to the new guidelines from the federal government,” Seekins said.

One of the components is a focus on broadening the number of transportation modes, or multi-modal transportation, as a priority for economic development, according to Seekins.

Ciriello said multi-modal transportation is a rising priority among planners and includes greenway planning and bike trails. It also includes small traffic planning improvements to the old standby of individual vehicle transportation.

Not everyone can afford their own car, especially during a time of economic difficulty, so adding accessible modes of public transportation is a priority with multi-modal planning, according to Ciriello.

“Transportation congestion mitigation can be as simple as, say in Henderson, having the traffic signals fixed for timed signaling and adding some turn lanes,” Ciriello said. “I don’t think the number of cars is as much of a problem as it appears. Often what we need amounts to little fixes.”

Contact the writer at mfisher@hendersondispatch.com.