05/15/09 — No shows for MPO meeting after critiques about access

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No shows for MPO meeting after critiques about access

By Steve Herring
Published in News on May 15, 2009 1:46 PM

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Wayne County Commissioner Sandra McCullen talks to N.C. Board of Transportation member Gus Tulloss, left, following Thursday's meeting of the Goldsboro Metropolitan Planning Organization. From left are: Tulloss, DOT project manager Jerry Page, Mrs. McCullen and DOT Division 4 engineer Ricky Greene.

Last Thursday night, the Goldsboro Municipal Planning Organization and, to a lesser extent, the Wayne County Transportation Committee were in the cross hairs of nearly 200 people, many of whom were upset at what they perceived as an end run to zone their property.

Some attendees said they did not believe the groups were advertising their meetings properly and were trying to infringe on the rights of property owners.

Details of all three of Thursday's meetings were featured in a front-page story in the May 12 issue of The News-Argus. Yet, when those two transportation planning groups met Thursday morning, the public was a no show.

The exception was the Wayne County Transportation Commit-tee meeting, which was attended by Jimmy Herring, one of the organizers of last week's meeting, and Billy Uzzell, who had spoken out about the Beston Road highway project. They had been invited to the meeting, said Commission Jack Best, who represents the county on the MPO.

County Planning Board Chairman Chris Cox attended both the MPO Technical Coordinating Committee (similar to a city or county administrative staff), its Technical Advisory Committee (the voting board comprised of elected city and county officials and state Department of Transportation representatives) and Wayne County Transportation Committee meetings.

It was Cox and Planning Board member and county Commissioner Steve Keen who first raised the MPO issue by calling the group uncommunicative and saying that it was treading on the planning board's authority.

Cox said that in one case MPO minutes from 2004 had noted it had been too early to implement zoning protection according to corridor protection laws and that there was no guarantee the route would be chosen by DOT.

He said that according to the minutes, Ricky Greene, DOT Division 4 engineer who is a MPO member, had said as late as May 2008 that without a full environmental study, there is a "high risk that the route selected by the MPO could not legally protect the corridor."

Cox questioned Mike Bruff, head of the DOT Transportation Planning Department, as to how and when DOT attorneys had made the opinion about the authority to protect highway corridors.

"All through the minutes you don't have this authority and now you are saying that you do," he said.

"He (Bruff) is saying the city and county does," said MPO Chairman and Goldsboro Mayor Pro Tem Chuck Allen. "First of all the MPO cannot zone anything."

"I realize that," Cox said.

"I'm glad," Allen said. "The second thing is what he said is that the city and the county have the authority through our long-range transportation plan to designate a corridor and control it through zoning. If we are going to protect the corridors, then yes, we are going to zone. That is the only way to protect them."

"From what you said, you have to agree that the MPO decision has a very high influence on what zoning is and where the zone goes," Cox said. "They don't have the authority, but they have the influence, a high level of influence. MPO decisions determine transportation in the city and county."

MPO member Jill Stark, who represents the Federal Highway Administration, said the reverse is true -- the MPO is strongly influenced by the city and county.

And Allen added it is a "very public process."

Allen said what was being talked about hadn't been a problem anyway because no one has had any money to do anything to start with.

"I wish we could say we have designated a corridor somewhere. That would be wonderful," Allen said.

During last week's meeting officials sought to assure residents that the MPO could not zone their property. It has no such authority, a point that Bruff reiterated Thursday morning.

"MPOs can make recommendations as far as long-range transportation plans as far as how future transportation is going to look and they can make recommendations as far as what type of land use around that corridor would best suit the improvements that are there," Bruff said yesterday. "There is no authority from a land use standpoint.

"Whatever the recommendations are from that corridor study they are still the responsibility of the local government that has planning jurisdiction over those corridors."