A Regional Land Use Transportation Decision Support Tool for Mississippi

PI: Brian Morton, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Co-PIs: John Poros, Ph.D., Mississippi State University; Joe Huegy, Ph.D., North Carolina State University

UTC Project Information

Transformative changes in land use and transportation are emerging in the 19-county Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area.  Despite the changes’ potential magnitude, a regional planning exercise has not been conducted.  Without an effort to imagine various land-use and transportation futures and quantitatively assess their consequences, the greatest possible increase in quality of life is unlikely to be achieved.

Historically, the area was known for agriculture and furniture manufacture.  A new high-tech, transportation-based economy has begun to develop: Toyota recently opened a vehicle assembly plant that will employ 2000 people near the village of Blue Springs.  The new plant has already induced employment of more than 3,600 in “tier one” suppliers.  A large specialty sheet steel plant and various aerospace industries have opened in the area.

A quite different development is also occurring.  The 43-mile Tanglefoot Trail will open next year, built on the GM&O Railroad line, near the area’s center and Toyota’s plant.  The trail, affiliated new businesses, and history centers are crucial in the area’s initiatives to support heritage-based and active-recreation-based tourism.

The Mississippi Hills national Heritage Area’s character is in flux. Its profound contradictions and problems could compromise tourism and erode quality of life:  historic downtowns surrounded by a tangle of new low-density development, commuters in single-occupant vehicles, and freight vehicles; impediments to bicycles and pedestrian travel; traffic congestion; air pollutant emissions from vehicles; and unnecessary expenditures of time and money on infrastructure and daily travel. The better alternative would accommodate growth with a built environment that facilitates achievement of a high degree of livability.

The overall goal of our project is a decision support tool that will help stakeholders create and assess hypothetical development scenarios and hence greatly enhance discussions about the area’s future.  The tool will objectively and rigorously assess scenarios with respect to land use, infrastructure costs; walk- and bike-friendliness; and travel behavior, in particular trip distribution, trip generation, modal split, and traffic assignment.

We will build and apply two analytical engines:  a Community Viz tool for scenario design and simple impact assessments and an integrated, zonal land use-travel demand model implemented in the TRANUS modeling platform.  Our project integrates concerns with livable communities and economic competitiveness – two themes adopted by the STRIDE consortium.

Project staff with Mississippi State University are already engaged with the area’s development issues, and they will serve as the liaison between the project team and stakeholders, thus providing the means for applying the project’s results.

More specifically, the project will achieve the following results:

  1. GIS-based and narrative profile of current land uses and socio-economic and infrastructure conditions

  2. Seven-town inventory of the suitability of existing roads for bicycle and pedestrian travel and town-level evaluations made according to the Walk Friendly Community and Bicycle Friendly Community Program Standards

  3. Future regional development scenarios based on current trends and compact development

  4. Community Viz and TRANUS-based models and impact assessments

  5. Presentations to stakeholders and action plan to help elected officials establish priorities for future transportation improvements and community designs