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Group may add members after U.S. census in 2010

By Alex Bridges - abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- A regional transportation group may need to add more members soon.

The Winchester-Frederick County Metropolitan Planning Organization could grow depending on the next U.S. census in 2010, according to Chris Price, executive director of the Northern Shenandoah Valley Regional Commission.

Federal law mandates the creation of an MPO in areas of 50,000 people or more. The MPO, which was created in 2002 based on the 2000 census, currently includes the city, portions of Frederick County and the town of Stephens City as well as the Virginia Department of Transportation.

"This is likely to change in the 2010 census when they take a look at new population and travel densities," Price told the board Wednesday. "We suspect that the urbanized area of Frederick County [will] grow a little bit. We expect that portions of Clarke County, Warren County and Front Royal will likely come into the MPO service area after the 2010 census."

It's doubtful Warren County and Front Royal would have 50,000 people together to warrant the creation of their own MPO, and likely would have to join the Winchester-Frederick County group, Price said.

Price presented his annual report on the MPO to the board, highlighting the group's accomplishments as well as a look to its future.

The MPO has worked to coordinate studies on a number of major corridors, such as Va. 7 from downtown Winchester through Frederick County, and U.S. 522 south. The group is nearing completion of its City and Countywide Transit Services Plan.

Local officials sometimes have criticized the idea of MPOs as another layer of bureaucracy.

But Price noted the MPO plays an important role in improvements to regional transportation, often beginning with studies that can lead to implementing plans.

"One thing to understand about the MPO is that, under federal law, you are full equal partners with the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Virginia Department of Transportation," Price said. "The three of you are coequal partners in the transportation planning process and so I know sometimes it doesn't seem like that, especially when money's tight, it seems like decisions are made elsewhere, but pursuant to federal law you have as much authority to advance transportation planning priorities as does VDOT or the federal government."

While the group's work has included transportation improvement initiatives, Price acknowledged the need for implementation tools such as corridor and long-range plans.

"All of the planning in the world doesn't any bit of good unless you start to implement it," Price said.

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