Future improvements to Champaign County’s transportation systems received a boost on Jan. 27 when Gov. John Kasich designated the Logan-Union-Champaign (LUC) Regional Planning Commission as an Ohio Regional Transportation Planning Organization (RTPO). With this designation, which covers Logan and Champaign counties, the LUC’s RTPO will be working hand and hand with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT).
“It means that the LUC’s RTPO is formally recognized as a body to enhance the planning, coordination and implementation of statewide strategic long-range transportation plans and transportation improvement programs, with an emphasis on addressing the needs of non-metropolitan areas of the state,” LUC Director Dave Gulden said. He noted the Ohio RTPO designation came following the LUC’s involvement in ODOT’s two-year RTPO Pilot Program, in which grant funding was used to complete and adopt a regional transportation plan last year for Champaign and Logan counties.
Champaign County Engineer Stephen McCall, who serves as LUC Regional Planning Commission Board president, said, “The RTPO is another potential avenue for transportation funding, and this official designation bodes well for the program.”
Along with formalizing the transportation planning process with ODOT, Gulden said, the RTPO designation gives the LUC a seat at the table when transportation decisions are made at the state level that affect Champaign and Logan counties.
Addressing regional transportation issues
From now until July 2017, Gulden said, the RTPO component of the LUC will be funded through an ODOT grant, with the focus on carrying out the RTPO’s scope of work.
“The next two-year scope includes involvement with the ODOT planning process, data items like traffic counts, grant writing like using the CDBG (Community Development Block Grant) program for transportation improvements, and regional transportation plan implementation.”
One area the 2015 regional transportation plan highlighted as needing to be studied more in-depth was the Indian Lake area, specifically the impact of seasonal traffic and population on the area’s transportation system.
As for Champaign County, Gulden said, the LUC’s RTPO will be looking into two specific forms of transportation – freight and bicycles.
“A freight profile will be developed as another sub-area plan, which will include Champaign County,” he said. “Also, ODOT is designating state bicycle routes that will impact Champaign County.”
City of Urbana Engineer Tyler Bumbalough, who also serves as an LUC Regional Planning Commission Board member, said developing a freight plan for Champaign County would benefit the city, especially the downtown area.
“Out of about 25,000 vehicles a day that pass through Monument Square, 7 percent are trucks,” he said. “That means about 1,750 trucks pass through each day, so, yeah, I think there’s demand for a freight plan.
“Grimes Field is an under-utilized asset for the city of Urbana, too. More freight coming in and out of there could benefit the city economically,” he added.
As for a U.S. Route 68 bypass being a possible part of the freight plan, Bumbalough said he doesn’t see the bypass being economically responsible at the state or local levels.
“Locally, downtown and the U.S. 68 corridor would suffer because drive-by business is critical to their well-being,” he said. “From a state standpoint, many existing infrastructure needs outweigh a new project.”
Champaign Economic Partnership Economic Development Director Marcia Bailey, who served on the steering committee during the creation of the regional transportation plan, said the LUC being designated an Ohio RTPO is a “great asset” for economic development within Champaign County.
“The plan identified areas of improvement in our transportation that would allow and foster economic and community growth in our region,” she said. “The LUC will be able to better assist the communities as we move forward with planning for development projects (residential, commercial and industrial) regarding transportation needs.”
From a county economic development perspective, looking at ways to improve how freight makes its way in and out of the county is something Bailey is looking forward to.
“A freight transportation plan will be vital in establishing a safe, cost-effective route for current and future businesses,” she said.
Joshua Keeran may be reached at 937-652-1331 (ext. 1774) or on Twitter @UDCKeeran.