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City set to model future?

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A proposal to create a computerized snapshot of Columbus to predict effects of proposed development has been put on hold until cost factors are better understood.

An Evansville company, Bernadin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc., would be paid up to $200,000 to develop the program, according to a proposal presented by Laurence Brown, director of the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization. Up to 80 percent of that could be reimbursed by federal funding, he said, with the city’s cost at about $40,000.

“I’m not convinced yet that this is a priority at this time, and I am very concerned about the size of the price tag,” Mayor Kristin Brown said.

The program would be similar to a Sims game. But instead of virtual people going about virtual activities, this would be a what-if scenario based on the parameters of what Columbus is now, and what it could be in the future.

The could-be part of the equation is placing proposed development into the program, such as a new four-lane road, or extending an existing street, and allowing the computer program to forecast how traffic patterns, pedestrian routes and other variables would change if the development occurred. The data would be used to develop a metropolitan transportation plan for the city through 2040, which is one task the company would be asked to complete.

About the proposal

WHAT: The Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization wants to hire Bernadin, Lochmueller & Associates Inc., Evansville, to create a travel demand model, transportation and land-use scenario analyses and a metropolitan transportation plan for the city.

COST: Services would be invoiced on an hourly, time-and-materials basis not to exceed $200,000. All but $40,000 could be reimbursed by federal funding, said Laurence Brown, director of the metropolitan planning organization.

DETAILS: The company would create three land-use and five transportation scenarios to correspond to what the city could look like by 2040. Scenarios evaluate where development could occur, transit service improvements, use of roads and travel demand. The city could develop additional scenarios, if needed. The company would also develop a 2015-2040 metropolitan transportation plan for the Columbus Area Metropolitan Planning Organization.

The two-year project would provide the city with a model that would include all of Bartholomew County and the Edinburgh area and could be used by city and county planning officials, Laurence Brown said.

The program could tell planners the effect of putting a two-lane road in an area, as opposed to a four lanes, and the type of development that choice might cause.

For example, big-box stores tend to want to locate on four-lane highways for easier customer access, he said. The program could tell planners how much traffic would be generated by a four-lane-road development and how it would affect business or residential property nearby.

The scenarios created for the city would allow planning officials to more accurately predict traffic and pedestrian uses before development projects are approved, said David Goffinet, director of public involvement for the Evansville company. A growth scenario is set up and city planners could ask it questions, in order to better prepare city transportation plans.

The program is designed to predict “what a 49-year-old guy might get in their car and do in Columbus in one trip while on errands,” Goffinet said, explaining that demographics, employment and purchasing preferences play into the computer program. “The model predicts how people will travel based on where they live and how much they make,” he said.

To make this model, the Evansville company would rely on a variety of sources, including the city and county planning department, census data, traffic counts, land use and zoning ordinance information and others, including surveying local businesses. The company also would examine the city’s transit routes, sidewalks and bike routes to determine common ways people move around in Columbus. City officials would provide database information about wetlands, floodplains, steep slopes, prime farmland and forested areas, which become part of the scenarios.

The company would provide three land-use and five transportation scenarios that correspond to future use, up to year 2040. The company provides options so the city could create additional scenarios, if needed.

Input would be sought in a series of open-to-the-public meetings with Columbus residents, who would be asked what they think Columbus should look like in 2040, Goffinet said. Those ideas could then be incorporated into the scenarios, he said.

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