Should the Chatham County Metropolitan Planning Organization seek to include portions of Effingham County, Springfield likely won’t be taking part.
Springfield officials have expressed misgivings about entering into the Coastal Region MPO, which oversees transportation planning for Chatham County. The current boundary for the CORE MPO includes Chatham County, but according to federal rules setting up MPOs, the lines must be redrawn in the next three years to include the Savannah urbanized area that extends to Effingham and Bryan counties. The MPO lines also must be drawn to include areas expected to become urbanized in the next 20 years.
“They’re looking to see how to distribute seats and costs,” Springfield City Manager Brett Bennett said.
MPO representatives met with the Effingham Transportation Advisory Board in February, discussing potential boundaries for the MPO. County Administrator David Crawley said it is likely the TAB will make a recommendation to the county commissioners on the best boundaries for an expanded MPO.
The Effingham Transportation Advisory Board asked for Springfield City Council input.
Springfield, if included in the MPO, would be involved in transportation projects in all of Chatham and the portions of Bryan drawn into the MPO.
“I don’t know that we have a project significant at that table to warrant federal funds,” Bennett said. “If you’re going to get federal money for transportation, not to include (transportation enhancement) funding, then you better be part of an MPO and be on its work program. The negative is, you have to pay to be part of the MPO.”
MPOs are required after an area deemed as urbanized has reached a population of 50,000.
There is, however, a cost to being a member of the MPO, Bennett explained, anywhere from $10,000-$30,000 annually.
“I don’t know that the benefit would come anywhere near it,” he said.
Bennett also worried about the level of representation Springfield would get on the MPO’s board. There currently are 19 voting members of the CORE MPO.
“The county as a whole would only have two seats,” he said.
Inclusion in the MPO doesn’t require a vote from the Springfield City Council, Bennett explained. It will be a countywide decision on what parts of the county will be included.
The population growth of the southern end of the county has led to re-thinking the boundary lines of the CORE MPO.
“It’s grown into south Effingham because of the population growth,” Bennett said. “A portion of Effingham is now going to be included. They can elect to include the whole county or just that portion.”
Under federal guidelines for metropolitan planning areas, the MPA could include the entire metropolitan statistical area, as defined by the Census Bureau. Effingham, Bryan and Chatham counties are included in the Savannah MSA, for a total population of more than 347,000.
But some of the more rural areas of Effingham and Bryan counties are not expected to become urbanized areas in the next 20 years.