Travel survey goal is efficiency

By Vicki Hyatt | Jan 11, 2013
Photo by: File photo

A regional travel behavior survey being spearheaded by the French Broad River Metropolitan Planning Organization is aimed at using federal transportation funds more efficiently and beefing up the number of projects than can be completed.

Paul Black, director of the organization, has been meeting with local government entities across the three-county planning district to discuss the benefits of pinpointing travel and transportation behavior specifically in Western North Carolina.

Currently, data used to plan transportation projects in the region comes from a much broader statistics base.

“The worry is we’re over-scoping a lot of projects,” Black told the Haywood County commissioners Monday. “We’re looking for potential to save money, speed up some other projects and get better data on our visitor and seasonal population.”

As a requirement to receive federal transportation funds, assigned planning districts were set up. Decisions on which projects to pursue filter through the planning organizations, and funding decisions are data-based.

For instance, the French Broad data doesn’t reflect the slower pace of growth here as compared to Raleigh or Charlotte, Black said, nor does it consider the seasonal or tourist population in the region.

A survey based on the size and scale roads in the French Broad region could mean the $1.6 billion in road investment funds available here could perhaps be scaled down so additional projects could be tackled.

In addition, the more region-specific information could be used by chambers of commerce, planners and emergency management staff to better serve the area.

Eighty percent of the study cost will be paid for with federal transportation funds — an amount contingent on raising $72,000 within the region.

So far Buncombe and Haywood counties have agreed to fund their proportionate share, as have the cities of Asheville and Waynesville.

Haywood County Commission Chairman Mark Swanger said the lack of accurate data have hindered past efforts at industry recruitment.

He asked whether such a study could provide better information that would include seasonal visitors and residents, which he suspects are far higher than the U.S. Census data shows.

Black said that would be the case. For instance, recreational vehicle parks aren’t counted in the census, and the regional travel survey would count all the spaces to plan for the peak capacity.

“We know that I-40 traffic hovers at 60,000 cars a day,” he said. “Some of it is through traffic, freight, but a lot is local commuters. We need to make sure there is a good option in the event something happens to I-40.”