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News Draft transportation plan delivered to county

Ryan Sherby, Region A planner with the Southwestern Commission, presented the Comprehensive Transportation Plan to the Macon County Commissioners. Photo by Bobby CogginsPublic comment hearing scheduled for August 9

Following closely on the heels of a recently approved general and comprehensive development plan for Macon County, this week county commissioners officially received a draft Comprehensive Transportation Plan (CTP). The transportation plan, the result of nearly two years of public input and committee work, looks to meet the transportation needs for the county as it grows over the next 25 years.

At Tuesday’s commissioners meeting, Ryan Sherby, a Region A planner with the Southwestern Commission and the primary facilitator of the committee’s work over the past year presented the plan, giving an overview of the process, review of the plan itself, the adoption process and how the plan will be utilized in the future.

Appointed by the board of commissioners in 2009, the first meeting of the CTP committee, comprised of stakeholders and local officials, was held in June of that year. Explaining the process, Sherby said that the committee analyzed data, surveyed the public, produced recommendations and presented the recommendations at a public workshop in August, 2010. The additional public input was used to refine the plan and come to the draft presented on Tuesday.

“It was a long process,” Sherby said. He commented that the development of the plan was remarkable in the level of public input that was collected and incorporated into the plan. He commented that the public was invited to comment twice during every meeting of the committee, “which is a non-traditional approach in these processes.”

Sherby then highlighted each of the major highway components of the plan for which improvements were recommended based on both safety and capacity issues. He went on to list other specific recommended improvements to non-highway routes around the county, as well as recommendations for public transportation, bicycle routes and pedestrian thoroughfares. The plan also details specific recommended improvements to the Little Tennessee Greenway.

Before adopting the plan, the county will hold a public hearing scheduled for Aug. 9, 6 p.m., at the county courthouse. Sherby recommended that both municipalities in the county, the towns of Franklin and Highlands, also formally adopt the recommendations in plan that pertain to them.The plan will then be forwarded to the North Carolina Department of Transportation for final adoption.

From planning to funding

As part of the state’s new prioritization effort, every two years, Region A, the six-county regional Rural Planning Organization (RPO) submits to the NCDOT its top priorities for highway, road, bike and pedestrian projects. The projects are then put through the state’s planning methodology to decide which ones will be funded in the future.

“This plan puts Macon County in a strong position to seek future funding for its transportation infrastructure projects,” Sherby told the board, noting that the existence of a plan is part of the way the RPO ranks the 25 projects it forwards to the NCDOT. “That was done to reward planning because it shows that you’ve sent these projects through a community-based process, projects vetted by the community that have not just come out of nowhere. It gives us a strong foundation to promote our projects upward to the DOT.”

Sherby noted that in the future the state may require that all projects that are to be included in the statewide five-year Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) go through such a process. Jackson County recently completed its own CTP, and Swain, Clay and Cherokee counties are also in the process of producing plans.

The plan is flexible, added Sherby. “We may have a major land use or traffic generation change in the next five to ten years, but we can simply amend the plan by going back through the adoption process and resubmitting it to the DOT,” he explained.

The commissioners did not debate or discuss the plan other than to express their thanks to those who had participated in creating it.

Macon County commissioner Ronnie Beale, who chairs the RPO for the region, commented that the establishment of the planning organizations was part of governor Bev Perdue's initiative to depoliticize the NCDOT planning process and allow more public involvement.

“These are not just documents that have been taken lightly,” Beale said. “Every community takes them very seriously. They know it is planning for the future.”

The draft Comprehensive Transportation Plan can be viewed on the county website and on the Region A website of the Southwestern Commission at http://www.regiona.org/Macon_CTP.htm.





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