Friday, February 3, 2017 — Regional planning commission director discusses available programs with chamber

The Regional Planning Commission of Greater Birmingham recently updated its website to make information on the services and programs it offers readily available and easy to understand.

“One of the things I really wanted to do when we did the new site was to have little videos explaining what our services are because you can go to some websites, they may have 50 pages of text you have to navigate through,” said RPCGB Executive Director Charles Ball. “… So we put the videos on the main page, in case you want just a short overview.”

During the Feb. 2 South Shelby Chamber of Commerce luncheon, Ball also sought to explain some of those programs to chamber members, while reviewing ongoing projects. To start his presentation, Ball showed some of the new RPCGB videos, which cover topics such as transportation planning, community planning, economic development and the Medicaid Waiver program. While the Medicaid Waiver program is available for Jefferson County, not Shelby County, Ball said he chose to include it so that luncheon attendees were aware of the program and could let friends, family members or others know it was available.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t know about it until they have to know about it,” Ball said.

The video on transportation planning discussed past projects such as RPCGB’s access management study on U.S. 280, carpool lanes on I-65, greenway projects in Helena and Homewood and other projects across the region. It also discussed APPLE transportation project feasibility studies.

“Normally when you’re doing a transportation project with federal funds, you’re allowed to do preliminary engineering at the very beginning of the process,” Ball said. “Should you decide, with that pre-engineering work, that you don’t want to do that project, if you use fed money, you have to pay it back. With APPLE program, you do not have to pay it back if you decide not to do the project.”

Ball also encouraged individuals to get involved with Shelby County’s ongoing development of a bicycle and pedestrian plan. Public involvement meetings to gain input on where residents hoped to see better bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly amenities were held in January, and the county plans to use that information to develop a plan for future projects.

“If there’s a way for you to participate, because this is your plan, make sure you find a way to do that,” Ball said.

Sheriff John Samaniego asked Ball if there were plans for a rapid transit system in the works at this time, and Ball said there has been preliminary planning and studies on a potential system.

“We call them alternative analyses, which is the first step toward getting federal funding for being able to do a project like that,” Ball said. The RPCGB carved out about $6 million for those preliminary steps, Ball said, and has done studies in downtown Birmingham, along U.S. 280, on I-65 S and on U.S. 11 East and West.

The city of Birmingham took three of the regional planning commission’s studies, combined them into one project and applied for a grant for a bus/ rapid transit project, Ball said. The city received $20 million for that project, which will likely be up and running in 2019.

“I have a dream that one day as a region, we’ll come up with some type of consensus on what we want from a transit standpoint, and then we’ll come up with a dedicated funding source to make that happen,” Ball said.