Updated Thu, Nov 14, 2013 2:22 pm
Work is beginning on development of a regional transportation plan that is part of a two-year pilot project funded primarily by the Ohio Department of Transportation.
The $324,000 project is being undertaken by Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District. Some area residents have been receiving mailed surveys as part of the project.
ODOT spokesman David Rose said that while there have already been metropolitan planning organizations, the purpose of the pilot project is to establish regional planning in rural areas of Ohio.
"The ultimate goal is to enhance rural transportation planning," Rose said. "It will enhance an improved project development at the local level."
Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District has been designated by ODOT as a Regional Transportation Planning Organization — one of five organizations in Ohio to receive the designation.
Buckeye Hills serves eight counties, which will be the region covered by the transportation plan that is developed. The counties include Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Perry and Washington.
Bret Allphin, development director for Buckeye Hills, said the $324,000 two-year project is being funded 90 percent by ODOT, 10 percent locally. The timeline calls for the completed transportation plan to be adopted by the project's policy committee by June 30, 2015.
The plan is to cover all modes of transportation, not just highways. It will inventory existing conditions, make a projection of future conditions, prioritize transportation needs and provide estimated costs for meeting those needs, according to a work plan developed by Buckeye Hills.
Allphin said two advisory committees are being established to assist in development of the plan — a technical committee, scheduled to have its first meeting Nov. 20, and a citizens committee, scheduled to meet Dec. 3.
Although Allphin indicated that membership of the committees is still being finalized, he said Athens County's current members of the technical committee are County Engineer Jeff Maiden, Athens Mayor Paul Wiehl and Athens Public Works Director Andy Stone. Currently the only Athens County member of the citizens committee is former county planner Bob Eichenberg.
Some residents of the region are receiving a mailed survey that Allphin said was development by ODOT with input from Buckeye Hills. Among other things, it asks participants to rate the importance of several transportation topics — such as relieving traffic congestion, improving roadway safety, providing public transportation, expanding bicycle facilities and improving access to airports.
Buckeye Hills recently hired Karen Pawloski as transportation manager to lead the region's pilot project. She previously worked for ODOT's District 10 in various capacities, including public information specialist, business and human resources administrator and, for 11 months, as deputy director.
What will happen when the transportation plan is completed?
Allphin said Buckeye Hills will seek funding through sources it has used in the past — such as the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Economic Development Administration — to implement projects in the plan. He said ODOT has not set aside funding for the projects.