For now, as little as possible of Effingham County will be included in metro Savannah’s transportation planning arm, commissioners decided.
As a result of the 2010 Census, Effingham County has been drawn into the Savannah urbanized area and will become part of the Coastal Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO handles transportation studies and planning for the Metropolitan Planning Commission.
“Several things have to happen,” said temporary county administrator Toss Allen. “This is just the first step of a very long negotiation process with a lot of moving parts to it.”
The MPO must cover the urbanized area and what is expected to be urbanized in the next 20 years, Allen explained.
Still to be determined, Allen added, is how the revamped MPO board will be established and what Effingham’s share of the funding will be. Parts of Bryan County also are being added to the CORE MPO.
“We know what the costs are,” Allen said. “But not how they’ll be split.”
The CORE MPO is made up of representatives from Chatham County, Savannah, Bloomingdale, Garden City, Pooler, Port Wentworth, Thunderbolt, Tybee Island and Vernonburg. It also includes members from such entities as the Savannah Airport Commission, the Georgia Ports Authority, the Savannah Economic Development Authority, Hunter Army Airfield and the state Department of Transportation.
The Effingham Transportation Advisory Board, in a non-binding vote, also decided that the smallest possible area to be included was best.
One of the options for how much of Effingham to put in the MPO used the Congressional district lines as a boundary, with the part of the county in the 1st District in the MPO and the 12th District portion of the county outside the MPO’s bounds.
Springfield’s city council already has declared it did not want to be a part of the MPO, and Allen said Guyton’s city council preferred not to be included.
Taking the boundary to the Congressional district line would allow for transportation studies to take in more roads and more area, Allen pointed out, without taking in substantially more population. Population could be used to determine the MPO’s board makeup and therefore, how much each entity will have to pay.
Should Effingham and Rincon each get a seat on the reconfigured MPO board, which could have 16 seats, it could be about $50,000 for the local share, or about one-eighth of the MPO’s funding.
“I don’t think moving it from what has to be in there to the Congressional line is going to make any difference,” county commission Chairman Wendall Kessler. “The other good thing about the line is it’s a good defining point.”
Allen said the MPO area also opens up new sources of transportation funding. Effingham has been restricted to rural road funding up to now, but it could have pools of money reserved for urban roads opened.
“There are bunch of pots (of funding) we have never been able to get into,” he said.
Membership in the MPO also will not affect the county’s funding from the state for local maintenance improvement grants, known as LMIG. The MPO only controls federally-funded projects, Allen explained.
Allen added that former county administrator David Crawley had approached MPC Director Tommy Thompson about using the county’s engineering staff as in-kind service for its contribution to the MPO.
“I sort of like the idea, because it puts our staff looking out for our county, working in our building,” he said.
The Effingham Parkway, which has a federal earmark under the county’s discretion, is in the MPO’s long-range transportation plan and it is in its transportation improvement plan.
The only possible federal projects in Effingham, Allen said, are the parkway and the Interstate 16-Old River Road interchange.
Commissioners could decide later to include more area into the county’s portion of the MPO. Allen also weighed the positives and negatives of the proposed boundaries.
“From an elected official’s standpoint, the negative is you don’t want to give up control if you don’t have to. From an engineering standpoint, I don’t see a downside to it,” he said.
Allen also said the area between the boundary adopted and the Congressional line likely won’t have many federally-funded road projects, but didn’t rule it out.
“To me, there’s just too many unanswered questions to give up any more,” said Commissioner Phil Kieffer. “That may be the best thing, but with the information we have, I just don’t see it.”
The MPO already has included Effingham in two studies, one for potential park-and-ride areas and advanced traffic management system, which would time all of the traffic signals.
“Personally, I’m not in favor of being in it all,” Kessler said. “But that’s not an option.”