Sat, March 02, 2024

Transportation impact on CSRA economic growth

The future of public transit needs in light of growth in Aiken County was the focus of the Feb. 8 “Good Morning North Augusta” breakfast, sponsored by the North Augusta Chamber of Commerce.

The Lower Savannah Council of Governments (COG) is working with a Minnesota-based company to study transportation and economic growth in the Aiken-Augusta area. Public transit in Aiken County had been operated by the City of Aiken but was turned over to COG in 2004.

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“Since then, we’ve modified a little bit of our transit system, our Best Friend Express, and the Dial-A-Ride system, but we have not really adjusted to all the changes that have been going on in the county, and more specifically in North Augusta,” explained Christine Chandler, Transit Manager for COG. “There have been lots of economic developments, residential, commercial developments in recent years, and we decided to adjust to that development and to hire a consultant to help us with our transit improvements.”

COG contracted with SRF Consulting Group in Minneapolis, a firm with a background in community planning and urban design, along with municipal engineering and utilities.

Alec More, Transit Planner/Project Manager with SRF Consulting Group, said one of the key focuses of their business is public transportation, particularly in areas like Aiken with an urban center combined with rural populations.

They began a study in Sept. 2023 with four main goals: Analyze the existing condition, identify opportunities for improvement, develop and evaluate alternatives, and draft and adopt a final plan.

“I think what’s important for this conversation is to really create a dialogue with you all as business owners, business representatives in the community, because we see your involvement in this kind of effort as being very important to the overall success and the outcome, and the recommendations of this kind of study,” More said.

Information collected can benefit individuals who use public transportation, and it can also spur economic development.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe Center said transportation and economic development are inextricably intertwined.

“A good transportation network can be the difference between a community that thrives and one that fails. At the center of every thriving community is a thriving economy; at the center of every thriving economy is an interconnected transportation network promoting success and connecting supply chains—a transportation network that people and businesses can be confident in.”

A report for the Committee on Transportation and Economic Development at the Minnesota Department of Transportation found the relationship between transportation investment and economic development goes beyond the basic need of moving goods and people from one place to another.

“Whereas there is no doubt that transportation is essential in the operation of a market economy, much still needs to be understood about ways in which an efficient transportation system can improve the productivity of the economy. Transportation also has a broader role in shaping development and the environment. Policy concerns in the next millennium will increasingly focus on the effects of transportation on where people live and on where businesses locate,” the report found.

More said an important part of their work is community engagement. They have met, and will continue meeting with government leadership, the general public and speaking directly with current transit users about what works and what needs to be improved or expanded.

The fact-finding will continue through June when the recommendations will be turned over to the Lower Savannah Council of Governments.

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