Complete Build Out Current ZoningGIS Tool Developed to Reduce Automobile Travel & Increase Quality of Life in Growing Rural Communities

A study by: Brian Morton, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; John Poros, Ph.D., Mississippi State University; Joe Huegy, Ph.D., North Carolina State University
(STRIDE Project 2012-003 A Regional Land Use Transportation Decision Support Tool for Mississippi)

A colossal change is occurring at Mississippi Hills Heritage, an area comprising 19 counties in the northeast part of the state. Upholstered furniture was the economic lifeblood of the area, but in the past decade, a new high tech manufacturing economy has begun to develop. With the opening of a Toyota vehicle assembly plant in Blue Springs (near Tupelo) and six tier one suppliers throughout the region (3,628 jobs altogether), long and short distance commuting has increased in this rural environment, straining local road systems and contributing to increasing sprawl and dependence on automobiles. In this context, the development of a tool to help local government and the state guide population growth so that automobile travel will be reduced while increasing the quality of life for residents is important. The image above shows the current zoning.

The Regional Land-Use Transportation Decision Support Tool that Dr. Brian Morton of UNC Chapel Hill and his multi-institutional team are working on aims to do just that. The Tool consists of two analytical engines: CommunityViz planning software for scenario design, and a land use-travel demand model built with the TRANUS modeling platform. TRANUS-based models explicitly represent a study area’s economy and real-estate markets; spatially allocate study-area control totals for population and employment; and, conditional on the scenario design, project trip distribution, trip generation, mode choice, and trip assignment. CommunityViz allows planners to create build-out scenarios in which the allowed development is forecasted and mapped with high spatial resolution.

Dr. Brian Morton and his team have started with development proposals for the four major communities in the area, Tupelo, New Albany, Pontotoc, and Houston. In these proposals, we have favored new housing development at a minimum density of seven dwelling units per acre and within walking and biking distance to the town center. Additionally, we have attempted to connect new development to the 43-mile Tanglefoot Trail, a Class 1 bike/hike trail built on the abandoned GM&O Railroad line linking Houston to New Albany (see picture at left). These scenarios have been shared with two of the communities to seek their input with plans to present to the other two communities. The communities we presented to have been interested to see that they have room for growth within their city limits, as well as receptive to the higher density, mixed use development proposals we have shown them.

By creating alternate development scenarios in CommunityViz and testing the transportation implications of those growth scenarios with the TRANUS-based model, the team will propose a roadmap for future development for the Mississippi Hills region. We hope that the modeling and the scenarios that we generate will help local elected officials as well as citizens understand the choice between the status quo and a more bike and pedestrian friendly future as they proceed in this region poised for change. The second image above shows new zoning for the complete build-out.