Researchers at MSU to examine possible Tanglefoot development

Mississippi State’s Carl Small Town Center is partnering with the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University to figure out ways to handle the anticipated traffic increase when the Tanglefoot Trail opens early next year.

And, the schools will be using first-of-its-kind technology to do it.

A $120,000 grant awarded by the Southeast Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center will fund a study that will allow researchers to run test scenarios of possible development related to the 43-mile trail that will serve as Northeast Mississippi’s version of the Longleaf Trace.

Running along the old Gulf, Mobile and Ohio railroad, the 10-foot-wide trail will wind from Houston to New Albany, potentially serving as a paradise for walkers, joggers, bicyclists and those on horseback.

The best way for the communities between Houston and New Albany to develop around the trail is something Dr. John Poros hopes the cutting-edge software can tell researchers.

“We want to see how their development — whether they’re going to focus on their downtowns or if they’re going to become a typical spread-out suburb — will affect transportation choices they need to make, and things like air pollution, traffic, that sort of thing,” Poros, the Carl Center’s director, said in an interview last week. “What we will do is come up with a series of scenarios of how they might develop, and we’ll take those and run them in a GIS-based transportation program that the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill has put together. It will model transportation throughout that entire region. We’re trying to look at the impact if this area of North Mississippi develops in a dense way or in a more spread-out way, what the consequences would be. It’s a computer model that will look at all of these issues, and spit out some results for us. That’s the interesting and exciting part of it.”

Poros said researchers will spend the next 15 months compiling data, and plan to issue their findings in a report in December 2013. Leah Faulk Kemp, assistant director at the Carl Center, said in a press release that researchers hope to possibly save communities money and improve their air quality as people begin to use Tanglefoot.

“The project’s goal is to develop a plan over the next 15 months for increasing pedestrian and bicycle travel and decreasing traffic congestion, air pollution and unnecessary expenditures on new or wider roads,” Kemp said.

The Northeast Mississippi region is ripe for this kind of research, Poros said, because of the kind of growth it’s already experienced and the anticipation that it will continue as suppliers for Blue Springs’ Toyota plant continue to locate there.

“We thought this was the perfect test-bed for this technology. One of the reasons we were partners in this grant is that we’ve worked with all these communities in the past. We’ll be getting feedback from these communities. They’re going to help us with data. We’ll put together all these scenarios that make sense for each of the communities along the Tanglefoot Trail.”

It’s not all about smartly handling development, Poros added. At its heart, trails like Hattiesburg’s Longleaf and Tanglefoot are designed to improve the physical well-being of those who use it.

“There’s a health aspect to it, if we can get more people biking and even biking to work. There are also aspects in terms of traffic and pollution, as well. We have a lot of people who will be driving to the Toyota plant in Blue Springs, making long commutes in the process. How can we maybe begin to do something with the towns around the plant when people make the choice to move closer to it so they’ll have a shorter commute? That’s what this research is all about.

“With the growth North Mississippi is experiencing, this gave us a great opportunity to begin to understand what will happen in the future,” Poros continued. “On top of that, how can having this 43-mile trail begin to help in terms of some of those transportation choices, and perhaps instigating alternate transportation within these smaller towns.”

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