June 2011

News

Matt Windsor lives a life that's much like any other UAB employee, which means he's busy.

As the manager of UAB Publications and Periodicals in Creative & Marketing, there's always something that needs to be written, completed, planned or scheduled. He also has a busy home life with a wife and two young children. And his daily commute from Calera often got the best of him --mentally and physically.

"It was essentially taking up two hours of my day," he says. "I had to find a way to get some of that time back."

Windsor mentioned his need to find someone to carpool with him to fellow co-worker Jo Lynn Orr, who carpools with two others from Jasper. She signed up with the CommuteSmart program several years ago and suggested Windsor look into the program as a possible solution.

Windsor did just that and soon connected with Darlene Calfee, a registered nurse at The Veteran's Affairs Hospital. She offered him an opportunity to ride with her vanpool from Calera the last week of May to see if it was something that would fit his needs. Windsor was happy with the experience and now is part of the UAB Employee CommuteSmart Program.

"It's given me back those two hours I was missing," he says. "I can do work, read, nap -- whatever. It's also a lot less stressful. I find when I get home that I feel much better. And because we get here early in the mornings -- usually just after 6:30 a.m. -- and leave at 4 p.m., I'm home a little earlier in the evening, and I get to spend more time with my wife and kids."

CommuteSmart works with companies, organizations and institutions to develop tailored commute options programs that benefit them and their employees.

Windsor's group has as many as nine people riding on any given day. Monthly vanpool costs are approximately $120 per person; the option saves wear and tear on personal cars, reduce air pollution and saves each member money on parking.

"There's no doubt the money I will save is an added benefit," Windsor says. "I'm probably saving up to $100 a month when you figure in parking and gas. I'm also not putting the 60 miles a day I was on my car, so I should save money on oil changes and tires."

UAB also provides incentives for those who sign up to participate in the program, says Parking and Transportation Manager Karen Moody. Among the benefits are reserved parking spaces for commuters with three or more riders, and passes that enable those who must drive to work separately an opportunity to do so once per month, and split costs for the parking place deducted before taxes evenly among the group.

"There are other incentives from CommuteSmart such as a cash award of up to $120 for the carpool and gift cards each quarter," Moody says. "Participants also are guaranteed a ride home in case of an emergency. We've actually had to take someone home as far away as Gadsden.

"CommuteSmart really is a great benefit for all employees. All UAB employees have to do is form a three-person carpool, ride together three days a week and log their clean commutes at www.commutesmart.org to get started."

Windsor says CommuteSmart was instrumental in helping him find a vanpool, and he found their website easy to navigate.

Moody says she wants UAB employees to contact her and let her know their experiences in any of the university's transportation connections, including CommuteSmart, the Max bus service, Campus Ride and Campus Escort.

Moody also wants faculty to remind students of the UAB Student Rideshare Program. It works in much the same fashion as the employee program, providing students a reserved parking spot and four emergency parking passes to use per academic term.

The same incentives are available through CommuteSmart for students who participate in the program as long as they are registered with both CommuteSmart and UAB. For students to qualify, they must carpool at least two times per week.

"Both are really good programs," Moody says. "And we've got some people carpooling now who haven't taken advantage of this. It's something certainly worth doing."

To sign up for the CommuteSmart program or learn more, call 205-264-8455 or visit www.commutesmart.org/birmingham for details.

Via UAB

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham is offering loans to business owners affected by the April 27 tornado outbreak.

The RPC's Revolving Loan Fund, started in 1998, was originally intended to help new and expanding business in the six counties the commission serves -- Jefferson, Shelby, Blount, Chilton, St. Clair and Walker.

But, with so many businesses struggling in the wake of tornado devastation, it made sense to offer them a helping hand, said RPC spokesman Greg Wingo.

"The money's there. It makes sense to get it to those who are really hurting," Wingo said.

The loans generally range from $50,000 to $200,000, according to the RPC. However, they can be for as little as $1,000, said Yvonne Murray, the RPC's director of economic development.

Terms of the loans "are very flexible and made on a case-by-case basis," Murray said.

"We're hoping to try and find a solution for them," Murray said of storm affected businesses.

Wingo said the loans are even available to businesses that were not in the path of the tornadoes, but have clients or a customer base that were affected by the storms, he said.

Murray said applicants need to include a budget of what the funds will be used for as well as a project description and brief history of the business and its operation.

Application documents can be found on the RPC website under the economic development or can be requested by calling Murray at 264-8428.

Via al.com

Pell City will re-draw council districts

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Pell City -- Pell City residents will be realigned into new council districts for the 2012 municipal election.

Council members and Mayor Bill Hereford have asked the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham for a contract proposal to draw the new district lines. Brett Isom, the commission's geographic information systems administrator, said the cost of drawing and preparing the maps will be slightly more than $10,000.

The city's population has increased to 12,695, according to the 2010 census, boosting the number of residents in one council district by 44 percent, while three others showed declines of between 16 and 18 percent.

District 4, currently represented by Councilman Donnie Todd, has grown to a population of 3,673, while Districts 2, 3, and 5 - represented by James McGowan, Dot Wood, and Donnie Guinn, respectively - have dipped to about 2,100 residents each.

The standard district size is 2,539 residents, according to the planning commission. District 2 contains the city's largest concentration of minority residents, at 47 percent, and Isom said the new maps are expected to include one district with a large minority population.

The council must approve the maps at least six months prior to the next city election next August.

In other matters at its meeting on Monday, council members:

  • Reappointed Robert Simmons to the library board and Mary Palmer, Sara Brazzolotto, and Tim Gulledge to the board of adjustments.
  • Appointed Ofes Forman Jr. to the city's industrial development board.
  • Agreed to postpone until later in the month considering job descriptions for new city attorney, IT support specialist, and engineer positions.
  • Approved spending $7,300 to match a radio grant obtained by the Pell City Fire Department.

Via St Clair News-Aegis

Cynthia Barton, Office Manager, RPCGB

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Hometown: I currently reside in Gardendale, AL, but I was born in Nuremberg, West Germany, when it was still divided.

Education: Took coursework towards a degree in Business Administration - 90% complete.

How long have you been with the RPCGB?: I have been working with the RPCGB for 11 years, but employed by the RPCGB for 10 years.

Give a short overview of your job: I am the Office Manager as well as a staff person for the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). I am responsible for taking minutes at MPO related meetings, assisting with public involvement meetings, and coordination of the Semi-Annual Unified Planning Work Program. As Office Manager, I am responsible for the general maintenance and upkeep of the office and equipment as well as serving as the Safety Coordinator and Workman's Comp Officer. I also assist our staff as needed in day-to-day tasks.

What is your favorite aspect of your job?: I love working with the multitude of people that I come in
contact with on a daily basis. I enjoy being taught from those who can teach.

Tell us one thing we don't know about you: I was a competition roller skater and clog dancer when I was younger.

Finish this sentence: "Ten years from now, I hope to be..." Traveling.

MONTGOMERY, Alabama -- Leaders of a partnership formed to suggest plans for the long-term recovery of tornado-ravaged communities said today that they hope the group will help avoid duplication in identifying needs and delivering help.

"The idea is to get everyone together . . . to assist the local leaders in these communities," said Jim Byard Jr., director of the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs. Gov. Robert Bentley earlier this month picked ADECA as the state's coordinating agency for long-term community recovery from April's devastating tornadoes.
Byard, at Bentley's direction, invited people from government agencies, companies, associations and other groups to meet at the Capitol today to develop a partnership to recommend plans for long-term storm recovery.

About 100 people showed up, including many employees of ADECA and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, along with officials with Alabama Power, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, the state home builders association, state transportation department and many other groups.

Partnership members plan to meet again July 7 at the Alabama Center for Commerce in Montgomery to better define community needs in six areas: health and social services, economic development, community planning, housing, infrastructure and natural and cultural resources.

People involved in each group later will be asked to suggest ways to deliver federal, state and private money or other resources in a comprehensive recovery effort, said ADECA official Jessica Dent, the state coordinator for long-term disaster recovery.

Charles Ball, executive director of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, attended the meeting "to make more connections with people who may have expertise and resources that can be used within our region for rebuilding."

Asked what he thought would come out of the partnership meetings, Ball said, "Hopefully, we'll have some type of semblance of a statewide implementation plan for storm recovery. I don't know if anybody knows what that looks like yet, but I think it's a noble goal."

Via al.com

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama -- Plans for U.S. 280 remain uncertain, but the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham is moving ahead with its study of possible transit options for the heavily traveled highway.

RPC officials said whatever transit option the study determines would work best could be implemented whether the state goes with an elevated toll road or a recently unveiled plan from grassroots group ReThink 280 that calls for overhead bridges and sunken roads.

"We are keeping our channels open with ReThink 280 and ALDOT," said RPC spokesman Greg Wingo.
The RPC is in the process of determining which of the five following options would be the most cost effective way of using transit to decrease traffic congestion on 280, said project manager Mike Kaczorowski.

  • Take the "no-build" plan that calls for no action to increase transit options.
  • Add more buses and more bus stops along the 35-mile stretch from Interstate 20/59 in Birmingham to the Talladega County line.
  • Add "queue jumping lanes" that would give buses a lane only at the intersections and allow them to pass through intersections a few seconds before other vehicles.
  • Place bus-only lanes on both the east and west bound sides of 280 to carry "bus rapid transit," which Kaczorowski said was a sort of "light rail on rubber tires" that travel longer distances at higher speeds and have fewer stops than most buses.
  • Expand 280 to 10 lanes, with two lanes in both directions that would include tolls but would use overpasses and underpasses at intersections rather than traffic signals. Buses would also use these toll lanes.

This phase of the $900,000 study, which was funded by the Federal Transit Administration, should be complete by late summer and will be discussed in public meetings, Kaczorowski said.

The information from those meetings will then be used to compile the final report, which Kaczorowski said should be complete in September or October.

Kaczorowski acknowledged that completing the study does not guarantee that funding can be found for any of the options or that residents would choose transit over their own cars.

"Funding is decreasing across the board, but it doesn't mean they'll stop building entirely. Birmingham is ripe for some type of premium transit," Kaczorowski said.

Other Southern cities -- Austin, Charlotte, and Nashville -- in recent years have implemented bus rapid transit systems that are comparable to some of the plans being considered for U.S. 280, he said.

"We can't just keep building lanes for single occupancy vehicles," Kaczorowski said. "You can't keep sprawling."
But even if they people it, will the people come?

Kaczorowski said he was encouraged by the success of CommuteSmart vanpool programs that started on the corridor in 1999 and believes the key is to make transit an attractive alternative.

"This is a very auto-oriented culture. It's definitely a challenge," Kaczorowski said.

"There are cities in the Southeast that have had successful transit systems. It's got to be able to compete with the automobile. That's not insurmountable."

Via al.com

Fairfield forum to focus on transit

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FAIRFIELD, Alabama -- The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham plans to host a public forum and open house on Thursday in Fairfield as it moves forward with a study of transit in the Southwest Corridor of Jefferson County. The forum will last from 4 to 8 p.m. at the Fairfield Civic Center.

Residents in the corridor are encouraged to attend and participate.

The RPC began the Southwest Corridor Study last year. The project's goal is to find what best mode of public transit will fit the corridor, which stretches from Birmingham to McCalla along U.S. 11, or the Bessemer Super High way.
Cities impacted by the study include Birmingham, Midfield, Fairfield, Brigh ton, Bessemer, Lipscomb and Bessemer, as well com munities such as McCalla.

Darrell Howard, project manager for the RPC, said the forum will give resi dents a chance to partici pate in discussions on im proving public transit and the community's economic and physical condition.

"Our goal is to work with the community to gauge a set of recommendations that benefit everyone, re gardless of socio-economic status or transit depen dency," Howard said. "The only way to arrive at this point is to encourage a high level of community involve ment."

Short presentations will take place at 5 and 6 p.m. The presentations will in clude an overview of all the different plans and projects proposed for the corridor, and a discussion where people can share their views about how the corri dor should develop, offi cials said.

Via al.com

COUNTY LINE, Alabama -- A calm crowd of about 50 people gathered at County Line Town Hall tonight, at times tearfully pleading with town council members to stop a proposed landfill.

Less than 10 people officially requested to speak during the public hearing, but council members allowed several more audience members to take the podium. Some people even addressed the council more than once, while others submitted their comments in writing.

No one spoke in favor of the proposed 219-acre landfill, that could accept up to 2,000 tons of household garbage and medical waste each day.

"You just can't put a dump where the people don't want it," said Gloria Kennedy, who moved to a nearby community a few years ago. "You are supposed to be representing the people."

Kennedy said she lived in a city for years before she finally convinced her husband to move to the country. They decided to build a home and retire on property near County Line, in part, due to the rural natural surroundings. The couple convinced their children to move near them as well, never suspecting that a landfill could be built a few miles from their homes.

Most of the people who addressed the council on Monday night said they were concerned about what the landfill would mean to the environment, traffic, property values and the quality of life in County Line and surrounding communities.

County Line only has a population of 270 people and would never need a "nasty dump," said Annette Atchley, resident.

For the most part, council members only discussed procedural issues of the meeting, such as how many people were allowed in the meeting room because of the fire code.

The exception was Mayor Larry Calvert, first cousin to the landowner proposing the landfill. "We all make garbage, don't we?" Calvert said. "We sure do. But nobody wants it in their back yard, do they?"
He did not elaborate and did not speak to media after the meeting.

Opponents of the landfill have questioned the family connection between landowner John David Calvert and members of the town council. Four of the five council members are connected to the Calvert family, and three of them have been appointed by Mayor Calvert after elected members resigned.

The council has already passed a new Solid Waste Management plan that would allow a household garbage landfill, despite opposition from the Blount County Commission, nearby towns, the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham and numerous concerned residents.

Monday's public hearing was the next step toward local approval of the specific landfill proposal submitted by Thornhill Marion Properties, the company that would own and operate the landfill on John David Calvert's land.
The council can now vote on the proposed landfill, or do nothing, said Matthew Weathers, an attorney representing Thornhill Marion Properties. If the council takes no action within 90 days of receiving the permit application, the landfill automatically has local approval and will go to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management for a permit, he said.

Since Alabama has a two-year moratorium on new landfill permits, the application would probably not be processed by ADEM until that moratorium is lifted, Weathers said.

Thornhill Marion Properties wanted to go through with local approval at this point, because a number of scenarios could play out in the Alabama Legislature, Weathers said. If no changes are made to state landfill regulations, then the County Line landfill would be on track to get a permit when the moratorium is lifted, he said.

The council is considering a number of options and will probably consult with legal counsel concerning the moratorium, said Dennis Finch, council member. He has previously said that revenue from the landfill would help pay for much needed services in County Line, a town that is located in both Jefferson and Blount counties.

Council members could discuss the landfill as early as tonight, Finch said, during County Line's normally scheduled council meeting.

Via AL.com

Population rise draws talks of redistricting

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PELL CITY -- The City Council began formal talks about redistricting for next year's election after the 2010 census showed a substantial increase in the city's population.

Brett Isom, a geographic information systems administrator for the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham, told the council Monday night that the city saw 33-34 percent growth since the last census, which will require a new form of government after the 2012 election.

"There's no reason to think we can't keep five districts," Isom said.

The Regional Planning Commission helped the city re-establish voting districts after the 2000 census came out.

"We were able to maintain a minority district," Isom said.

He said the minority totals in District 2 dropped below the 50 percent mark since the last redistricting. When District 2 was redistricted after the release of the 2000 census, 56 percent of the population of District 2 was minorities. Now only about 47 percent of the District 2 population represents the minority vote, and the current total population for District 2 is at 2,120.

District 4, which is represented by Councilman Donnie Todd, saw the biggest increase in population and currently has 3,673 residents.

Isom said ideally each district should have about 2,539 voters, give or take a 5 percent deviation. Currently, population numbers deviate 7-45 percent in each voting district.

Isom said according to the 2010 census, the total population for District 1, which is represented by Councilman Greg Gossett, is at 2,717; District 3, which is represented by Councilwoman Dot Wood, is at 2,099; the population count for District 5, which is represented by Donnie Guinn, is at 2,086.

The Regional Planning Commission will charge the city $10,000 to assist with helping establish new voting district lines for the August 2012 municipal elections. The city has not formally hired the agency to assist in the redistricting effort but is expected to.

Federal authorities must approve the new district voting lines at least six months prior to the 2012 municipal election, and it should take 60 days for the federal review, Isom said.

He said the entire process could take about eight months to complete.

Mayor Bill Hereford said he wants the redistricting process to move forward quickly.

"We want to stay ahead of the curve," he said.

Via The Daily Home.

RPCGB to Host Scenario Planning Workshop

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SAVE THE DATE:

Scenario Planning: A Framework to Guide Transportation System Investments
July 28, 2011
8:00 am to 4:30 pm

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in partnership with the RPCGB, is sponsoring a one-day Scenario Planning Workshop for community leaders. The workshop, entitled Scenario Planning: Creating a Framework to Guide Transportation System Investments, will be held on Thursday, July 28, 2011 from 8:00 am to 4:30 pm at the RPCGB offices. Please make plans to attend. Additional details will be provided in the next few weeks.

This Scenario Planning Workshop is a first step in updating the Birmingham Regional Transportation Plan. As a community leader, the RPCGB is seeking your assistance to better understand and address the physical, socioeconomic, and cultural changes that the region is experiencing. The scenario planning workshop will provide guidance for developing the planning framework for the region's transportation system. The scenario planning workshop will enable the region's elected, business, and community leaders to provide direct input on the Birmingham Regional Transportation Planning process.

To reserve a seat, please visit http://birminghamscenarioplanning.eventbrite.com

For immediate questions, contact: Darrell Howard, RPCGB Deputy Director of Planning.

RPCGB to Host Second Community Forum for Study

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The RPCGB, along with its consultant team led by Atkins, is conducting the second Community Forum for the Southwest Corridor Transit Study on Thursday, June 23. The study is charged with examining premium transit alternatives along a 22-mile long corridor that extends from downtown Birmingham to the Jefferson/Tuscaloosa County Line. The study is focused on identifying the most practical transit service, and land use and economic development potential. The study will look for opportunities to reshape communities and identify retail, industrial, and residential reinvestment strategies.

The study will consider a range of transit options from express bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) services to rail-based transit. A number of potential alignments for improved transit services also will be evaluated, including looking at all existing and abandoned transportation facilities running through the length of the corridor. The varied character of the study area - from the downtown urban area, older industrial districts, mature residential communities, established suburbs, historic districts such as the Bessemer downtown, and the developing suburban fringe to include the emerging transportation and warehousing district near McCalla - presents many opportunities for development served by quality transit options.

The forum will take place during a three-day workshop at the Fairfield Civic Center. A study team will conduct closed sessions with working groups focused on transit, community development, economic development and other study-related interests. The general public is invited to attend a public session on June 23 to review elements of the workshop and overall study information. Held in an open house format, the public can attend anytime from 4:00 pm to 8:00 pm, with interactive sessions occurring at 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm to provide participants an opportunity to give input on the vision and goals for the study.

For additional information, please visit the project website , or contact Darrell L. Howard, the Southwest Corridor Transit Study's project manager.

MEETING DETAILS:
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Fairfield Civic Center
6509 East J. Oliver Boulevard
Fairfield, AL 35064-1836
4:00-8:00 pm

Participants can feel free to drop in anytime during the meeting hours and remain for as long as they would like. There will be project presentations at 5:00 pm and 6:30 pm, along with an interactive exercise for participants to provide input. Refreshments and snacks will be served.

RPCGB Assists in Tornado Disaster Recovery

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The April 27 tornadoes left many homes and businesses destroyed in the RPCGB's six county region. The Commission is actively assisting in the rebuilding efforts in several different areas and has created a section on the RPCGB website dedicated to regional recovery.

Employees and employers looking to make commuting to and from work a little easier in the affected areas can take advantage of the CommuteSmart program. CommuteSmart's Ridematching database allows individuals to find others looking to share a commute, and living and/or working in Jefferson and Shelby Counties. The program is free and it's easy for individuals to get started. Individuals can sign up at www.commutesmart.org or call 1-87-RIDEMATCH for further assistance.

Many businesses were hit hard by the tornadoes. The RPCGB provides a revolving loan fund that can assist in getting the region's employers back on their feet. The RPCGB will work with businesses to provide very flexible terms and interest rates given the difficulties faced during the rebuilding process. To find out how you can take advantage of this opportunity, visit the revolving loan fund section or call Yvonne Murray at 264-8428.

The RPCGB is known for its community planning expertise. The Commission can provide community planning assistance, including comprehensive and master plans to municipalities looking to rebuild their communities. Our team of community planners can assess the needs of each affected municipality to determine the best course of action. The RPCGB can also provide mapping assistance to affected communities.

We all must work together to rebuild and make this region stronger than before. If your area was affected by the recent tornadoes and you need assistance with community planning, mapping, business loans or workplace transportation assistance, please contact us using our contact form or call 205-251-8139 with any questions.

County urged to commute smart

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St. Clair County -- Rising gas prices and ongoing road construction are two good reasons for St. Clair County residents who commute to Jefferson or Shelby counties to consider carpooling, local officials were told this week.

"We're talking every day with people from St. Clair County," said Lindsey Gray, program director for CommuteSmart, an initiative of the Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham. The program aims to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution in the metro area by encouraging commuters to change their driving habits.

A total of 12,875 local residents commute to Jefferson County, and 1,263 drive to Shelby County for work, Gray told members of the St. Clair County Mayors' Association. More than 1,300 Jefferson residents and 300 Shelby residents commute to St. Clair, she said, citing numbers from the 2000 Census.

"We have not made a big push outside of Jefferson and Shelby counties yet, but we're starting with (St. Clair) because there is so much interest in our database," Gray said. "This program exists, it could benefit St. Clair County residents, and there is interest here."

More than 1,200 St. Clair commuters have registered with the CommuteSmart ride matching database, which allows commuters to access a list of individuals who live nearby and work at the same or nearby companies to arrange for carpools.

Through the federally funded program, commuters can earn as much as $120 in incentives for carpooling during their first 90 days of participation. A minimum of 13 commutes is required, and each day's carpool must be documented, Gray said.

After the initial 90-day period, commuters can earn quarterly $25 gas cards.

CommuteSmart's vanpool program could particularly benefit St. Clair residents, according to Gray.

A vanpool involves five to seven people who travel to work together in a van provided by CommuteSmart, which also pays for insurance and routine maintenance. Participants share the cost of fuel, which could amount to between $60 and $120 per person per month.

"With a vanpool, you can get to work for a month on what it would cost you to put one tank of gas in your car," Gray said. "It reduces wear and tear on your car, and you can enjoy a less stressful commute and save money."

Between October 2009, and September 2010, it is estimated that vanpooling saved metro commuters a total of 188,825 gallons of fuel costing $489,632. Interest in vanpooling has been expressed in Pell City and Moody, she added.

To register for the program or for more information, visit www.commutesmart.org.

Via St. Clair News-Aegis