MPO to Kick Off Imagine 2035 Public Phase

By Eric Smith

An initiative designed to give citizens and communities input in the region’s future transportation needs will reach a critical milestone next week with the first round of its public meeting phase.

Imagine 2035, the Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization’s planning process to create a long-term transportation and land-use plan for the Mid-South, was approved last summer by the MPO’s policy board.

The program formally enters its second phase – the “visioning” phase – Monday night with the first of 12 public meetings during the next month.

The first meeting is in Arlington, with other meetings scheduled for Memphis, Bartlett, Cordova, Hernando, Olive Branch, Millington, Gallaway and Mason. The full schedule is available at www.imagine2035.com.

The meetings, which run through May 13, will give residents a chance to offer feedback on how development plus transportation and logistical assets like roads and bridges can best suit their communities.

MPO will hold other public meeting rounds throughout the year, and it will incorporate modeling software and input from various municipalities making transportation plans for their jurisdictions.

Imagine 2035 has a specific purpose. MPO is federally mandated to develop a long-range transportation plan for the region, and the first step to developing that plan – a follow-up to the 2026 long-range plan – is to address future land-use issues, such as where transportation needs will be and how land use will play a role in meeting those needs.

The next long-range transportation plan must be adopted by March 2012. MPO’s coverage area includes all of Shelby County, the four western miles of Fayette County and the 10 northern miles of DeSoto County.

Imagine 2035 is a critical component of creating that plan, said MPO transportation planner Paul Morris.

“Everybody has an idea of what they want their future to look like,” he said. “The question then becomes, what type of transportation system do we need to have to accommodate the projected growth and development of our community?”

As Morris noted, myriad growth and economic development trends will dictate the region’s transportation needs during the next quarter-century.

With DeSoto County’s population expected to almost double in the next two decades, how will its growth affect roads such as Interstates 69 and 269?

With bustling intermodal yards like Norfolk Southern’s new facility in Rossville and BNSF Railway Co.’s expanded one in Southeast Shelby County, what does that do for Tenn. 385 and Lamar Avenue (U.S. 78)?

And with the proposed development of a car plant in Tunica – plus the nascent facility in nearby Tupelo – will the large number of auto suppliers setting up shop in North Mississippi create capacity issues?

Morris said the “visioning” phase of Imagine 2035 will be to discuss such scenarios and plan accordingly.

“We understand that certain development patterns have certain transportation implications,” Morris said. “By getting an idea of what type of development people would like to see, we could then develop a transportation system that could accommodate those needs.”

Residents who attend the public meetings will be able to voice concerns about traffic and their communities’ ability to handle heavily used roads.

“The better we talk with the public and the more input we can get from the public, the better land-use transportation plan we can develop, which in turn would help us develop a better long-range transportation plan,” Morris said.

MPO administrator Martha Lott, who wasn’t available for comment this week, said in a statement: “This process will give our community the chance to discuss the ‘what-ifs’ of our metropolitan area, and consider the trade-offs between how our community grows and the transportation decisions needed to support that growth.”

Brett Roler, MPO planner and Imagine 2035 project manager, added: “This is a great chance for the community to not only see what our region might look like 25 years from now, but also take an active part in shaping its future.”

Funding for the initiative comes from MPO planning money provided by the Federal Highway Administration. Morris estimated the initiative’s cost at around $250,000.

For more about the Imagine 2035 initiative, see the Sept. 7 edition of The Daily News at www.memphisdailynews.com.