MOUNT VERNON — A morning of meetings Thursday with the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission ended with an invitation to the Knox County Commissioners to join the transportation and economic expansion planning group.
Representatives of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC) met with county and municipal officials to discuss transportation projects before going into a meeting with commissioners to pitch the benefits of membership.
MORPC is the U.S. Department of Transportation’s designated authority for transportation planning for the central Ohio region, including Knox County. MORPC helps its members advance their projects through advocacy and technical assistance. In addition to transportation, it specializes in financing services for projects, regional mapping and data collection, energy and air quality resources, economic growth, broadband, and advocacy and lobbying services, Thea J. Walsh, MORPC transportation systems and funding director, said.
MORPC’s region is composed of a seven-county area with Franklin County at its center.
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The first meeting of the morning, with Nathaniel Kaelin, MORPC competitive advantage program manager, and Mike Borger, MORPC senior planner, saw a wish list of transportation and infrastructure projects in Knox County grow from nine to 14.
The meeting was part of MORPC’s Central Ohio Rural Planning Organization (CORPO), which is near the end of a two-year collaboration identifying transportation and other projects in MORPC’s region. Knox County is an associate in CORPO.
MORPC is to serve as a bridge between funding and advocacy for the CORPO projects, finding grant sources and getting the projects to the attention of state and federal legislators. The projects in Knox County include the creation of new roads, such as a proposed extension of Beech Street to Belmont Avenue east across undeveloped land in Mount Vernon, estimated at $5.1 million, and wastewater improvements protecting the water quality of Knox Lake, estimated at $7.5 million or more.
Kaelin said projects most likely to catch the attention of federal and state legislators for the next round of funding are “shovel-ready” projects that have plans in hand. Legislators also want to see projects that incorporate participation from the private sector, Kaelin said.
Partners at the meeting included representatives of Knox County, Mount Vernon, Centerburg and the Ohio Department of Transportation.
Knox County Area Development Foundation president Jeffry Harris said the list of projects will be reviewed and prioritized by county and municipal partners. The list should be ready to present to MORPC by October, Harris said.
Borger and Kaelin joined Walsh in the meeting with commissioners to discuss membership in MORPC. Joining MORPC in 2019 would cost the county 37 cents per capita, or about $16,883.10. Becoming a voting member of CORPO would cost a further $7,500. The membership does not include the city of Mount Vernon and would give Knox County three board seats on MORPC.
The county may opt to continue as an associate, which is free. However, joining MORPC means putting the expertise of MORPC’s staff and resources at the county’s fingertips, Borger said. When the county needs MORPC’s resources or help, “we go find” it, Borger said; if MORPC doesn’t have the needed information, they will go find it, and incorporate the information for the organization’s other members.
Commissioner Thom Collier said the proposal is under consideration.
“I think we are leaning towards it,” Collier said. “We need to look at the funding and the timing of it.”