STARKVILLE, Miss. -- When the Tanglefoot Trail opens next year, commerce and traffic are expected to increase in seven Northeast Mississippi communities.
The 43-mile long, 10-foot wide paved trail for pedestrians and bicyclists will run from New Albany to Houston, along the former Gulf, Mobile & Ohio Railroad line built in 1872 by Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner's great-grandfather, Col. William C. Faulkner. The trail was named for a steam engine used to build the rail line.
Mississippi State's Carl Small Town Center, a nonprofit organization in the university's College of Architecture, Art and Design, recently received a $120,380 grant, in conjunction with North Carolina State University and the Center for Urban and Regional Studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, to assist elected officials in Chickasaw, Pontotoc and Union counties as they plan for future transportation improvements and community designs.
The three universities will collaborate to create an economic development and transportation planning decision-support tool -- the first of its kind available to Mississippi communities -- which takes into account land use, infrastructure costs, travel behaviors and biking and walking friendliness, project leaders announced.
Officials in the communities located along the trail line will be able to use the computerized decision-support tool to develop hypothetical community-development scenarios, which will help those officials decide the best locations for roads and businesses, said John Poros, director of MSU's CSTC.
Officials then will be able to facilitate shorter trips and higher levels of pedestrian and bicycle travel, thereby benefitting residents, tourists and commuters, he explained.
Because the Tanglefoot Trail will likely bring increased transportation and expanded customer bases to New Albany, Pontotoc, Houston, Ingomar, Ecru, Algoma and New Houlka, this decision-support tool will help those communities' local governments improve quality of life, as well as help each town grow, said Leah Faulk Kemp, assistant director at the CSTC.
"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," she added.
Poros said the project will benefit the entire state since the decision-support tool developed for analyzing growth, development and transportation can be applied to other areas of Mississippi, especially communities that already have or are considering building bike trails.
The Tanglefoot Trail is expected to open early in 2013 and project leaders expect to release the final report by Dec. 31, 2013, he noted.
MSU's College of Architecture, Art and Design team will include one undergraduate intern architect and one graduate research assistant to assist with the CSTC's role in the project. This participation will serve to enhance both the CSTC intern program and the School of Architecture's community design courses, Poros said.
One of the MSU team's primary roles will be to collaborate with government, business and nonprofit stakeholders from all seven communities along the Tanglefoot Trail as the decision-support tool is developed, he explained.
Because the CSTC has been engaged in city and town development projects along the trail line, Poros said, the MSU center will build on the existing relationships.
"Having worked there for more than 10 years, we will be equipped to provide expertise in the North Mississippi area and serve as a liaison between the project team and the stakeholders," he added. "The CSTC also brings the ability to design, analyze and help both the stakeholders and researchers visualize possible changes to these towns."
After evaluating bike- and pedestrian-friendliness in the seven communities along the trail, project leaders will use the results to encourage local governments to apply for bike- and pedestrian-friendly community designations, which could attract more tourists and more industry.
"The grant also benefits the MSU community by increasing the university's expertise in rural-transportation modeling and planning by using state-of-the-art simulation tools," Poros said.
The grant was awarded by the Southeastern Transportation Research, Innovation, Development and Education Center, a regional transportation center at the University of Florida, and MSU's CSTC will receive $22,192 for its role in the project, he said.
Two private foundations associated with the College of Architecture, Art and Design are also helping to supplement the CSTC's role: together, the Fred Carl Endowment of the CSTC and the Hearin Foundation are contributing an additional $33,861 to the project.