03/17/09 — Board says studies key to highway planning

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Board says studies key to highway planning

By Steve Herring
Published in News on March 17, 2009 1:46 PM

Wayne County Planning Board members are voicing frustration with the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization's rejection of their recommendation that highway plans include economic impact studies.

The Planning Board at its February meeting endorsed the MPO's 13-point highway priority list, but included a recommendation for the need for economic impact studies.

The issue wasn't on the board's agenda last week, but members strayed into the discussion while talking about preservation of thoroughfare right-of-way. The members also renewed their call to protect the interchanges along the new U.S. 70 Bypass.

Board Chairman Chris Cox said he could understand some of the regional transportation groups not looking at highway plans from the county's point of view.

"But the Goldsboro MPO is located in Goldsboro in Wayne County," he said. "That group should be concerned about what happens to the dollars. How does it affect the dollar? That is all that I am saying and for them to just throw it out and not even consider it, I am just wanting to know why. I am sure I am not by myself and that there are a lot of taxpaying citizens who want to know why."

Cox said he also can understand why the city might not want to do an economic impact analysis on city street projects.

"What they are talking about is widening the roads and doing that an economic impact analysis would be very expensive," he said. "Widening a road is going to make business locate there even more. It is not going to relocate traffic to some other road."

Not unless a business is so close to road that it has to be bought out, Planning Director Connie Price said.

"That is what the county needs to know," Cox said.

Board member and Commissioner Steve Keen said Wayne County is different from many other counties because of the number of highways that criss-cross it.

He said it was an issue why the MPO would ask for the Planning Board's recommendation if it isn't going to take it.

Price said the MPO had not asked for recommendations about economic impact analysis. It, he said, had asked for recommendations on the priority list.

Price said he had brought the issue up at the recent MPO meeting because he had been asked to do so by the Planning Board.

"When you did, they voted that they not make that a part of their decision making in the future," Keen said. "So, when we put together a road plan, I think we all need to be on the same page. This highway system in Wayne County is huge. Six highways make up 32 percent of the total tax value in Wayne County ... up 107 percent since 2003, just those corridors."

Cox asked Price for a review of what the Planning Broad had sent to MPO and wanted to know exactly what it did with the recommendation.

"When it came time to vote it was on the road priorities list starting with U.S. 70, there were about 12 priorities on that list," Price said. "We (Planning Board) had discussed that before one could be built that an economic impact analysis be done on the project.

"I brought it up to the group that was there. They did not want to do that. They did not want another hurdle a project had to go through to be approved."

Cox asked if the group had even discussed or considered the recommendation.

"They did talk about it," Price said.

In response to further questioning from Cox, Price said what he had previously explained was the only reason the group had given for its vote.

Price added that the MPO members said a project already has to undergo an environmental study.

"But that is not economic," Keen said. "That is their job. The comprehensive transportation plan is based on, but not limited to, population growth, economic conditions and prospects and patterns of land development and provides for safe and effective use of transportation systems. Well, economic conditions, I think, would be economic impact."

Price said he thought the group was talking about doing the studies for each individual project.

Such studies are needed in the planning stage not the funding stage of a road, Cox said.

"It is like we talked about at the last meeting," Cox said. "You have businesses on highways. If you reroute the traffic, businesses locate on the roads because of traffic, egress and ingress, and you have got 30,000 cars going by, and that is where they want to be.

"If you change the traffic pattern the traffic is going to go in different directions. What does that do to their business? What does that do revenues, sales? What does it do to taxes coming in from business? We have to know that. We have to know that to make an informed decision on how we are going to recapture those dollars in a different location like these interchanges we talked about that we need to get zoned."

Raleigh does a good job asking counties for options on government issues, Keen said.

"However, the more the state makes the county survive on its own income and the more they take away from us ... to get this done then it becomes more on our part as planners to understand the economic value of what our decision does for the tax base for sales tax and retail sales," Keen said.

Price suggested those could be protected by not letting business "go out there (new highway)."

Cox disagreed.

"The businesses are going to leave because the traffic is out there and it (business) is going out there," he said. "My point is we have to know where the dollars are going because we, as planners, need to push getting water and sewer to these intersections faster. The road is going to be built in 2010. For that not to be considered by this board is shortsighted."

Keen noted that it took private efforts to get water and sewer along N.C. 581 at U.S. 70 where the new Wal-Mart development is.

"Once that line was out there then it produced," Keen said. "It went from $180,000 value and $1,900 a year to Wayne County to $14 million to $129,000 in revenue for the county in just three years. That is what happened there in that little 50-acre plat and it also employs 181 people.

"Sure it was in middle of existing U.S. 70 and a proposed highway (U.S. 70 Bypass) and you say that is agricultural land lost, but because of its location, its position, it generated retail sales, it generated sales tax. It is not finished. The out parcels aren't developed and once those out parcels are it will add another $4 million to $5 million to the tax base all because somebody put in sewer lines.

"If we go and start looking at these other areas ... and use this as an example we know if we can do this at others then look at the money that could be generated and the people hired and the retail sales made and sales tax to reduce the debt on education along with other things."

Keen said everybody "dreams" of appreciating land values. No one, he said, wants to see land values depreciate.

There are businesses paying $3 million to $4 million just to have property on the highway and then there are restaurants "paying mega-bucks" for property on the highway, he said.

"When you shift the cars, and even though it (traffic level) might come back in 10 or 15 years what is important is that transition period," Keen said. "How do we plan for that?"