Cape considers joining metro planning association

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

A federally funded metropolitan planning organization could be in Cape Girardeau's future thanks to the efforts of a transportation consultant who believes the area has a large enough population to meet Census Bureau requirements.

The Cape Girardeau County Commission on Thursday approved a resolution to participate in what's being called the Greater Cape Girardeau Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. It would involve the cities of Cape Girardeau, Jackson, Scott City as well as Cape Girardeau County.

The Cape Girardeau City Council is scheduled to consider a similar resolution at its meeting today. The meeting, which begins at 7 p.m., was moved from its usual Monday night schedule because of Labor Day.

Mitch Robinson, executive director of the Cape Girardeau Area Industrial Recruitment Association, which hired the transportation consultant, said he also plans to seek approval from Jackson and Scott City officials.

Robinson said the resolutions are the first step in asking the Census Bureau to declare the region an urbanized area. To get such a designation, there has to be a population cluster of at least 50,000.

The Cape Girardeau area is seeking to become the seventh MPO in Missouri. The others are in St. Louis, Kansas City, St. Joseph, Columbia, Joplin and Springfield.

The cities of Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City had a combined population of 51,887 in the 2000 census. But the Census Bureau concluded in 2002 that the area didn't have sufficient population density to garner metropolitan planning organization status.

Robinson said that's because no one lives in the flood plain area between Cape Girardeau and Scott City, or in the county parks and the Cape Girardeau Memorial Park Cemetery situated between Cape Girardeau and Jackson.

Perhaps by end of year

But transportation consultant Lonnie Haefner of St. Louis has concluded that those unpopulated areas shouldn't prevent the Cape Girardeau area from meeting population density requirements.

"We feel comfortable we will be able to get that approval," Robinson said, adding that federal approval could come by the end of the year.

City officials said establishment of a MPO would enable the region to secure federal grants for transportation planning and give local governments a greater voice in setting priorities for transportation improvements.

"It would allow us to go out and get federal planning grants that we currently can't get," Robinson said.

Cape Girardeau councilman Matt Hopkins said such funding could help move up planning for road projects that otherwise might be lower in priority on the Missouri Department of Transportation's improvements list.

"It would allow hopefully for speedier economic development," Hopkins said. He said it also might boost funding for public transit projects.

Robinson said elected officials for the participating local governments would set policies for the MPO, which could hire an executive director and planning staff.

Missouri Department of Transportation officials estimated in 2001 that a Cape Girardeau MPO could receive about $90,000 a year in federal money for staff and planning expenses. That money would have to be matched with about $18,000 from the participating local governments, officials said at the time.

Robinson estimated that the proposed MPO would realize a similar operating budget today.

Hopkins said there will be plenty of time to work out the details if the Cape Girardeau-Jackson-Scott City area secures the necessary federal approval.

"We have to get the designation first," he said.

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