By SHANNON WATKINS
The Virginia Interfaith Council hosted a presentation by the New River Valley Livability Initiative, a three-year grant project through the New River Valley Planning District Commission, at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Blacksburg on Tuesday, April 18. The focus was on public transportation for Valley residents.
Carol Davis, who acts as a public outreach facilitator for the Initiative, discussed the 2012 interim report about the NRV, specifically focusing on public transportation and factors it affects in the citizens’ lives.
In an overview of the report, Davis noted that in Giles and Pulaski counties, young adult and mid-career populations are declining, while going up in Floyd and Montgomery counties and Radford; although by 2030 the number of seniors in the NRV as a whole will nearly double. This will create a greater demand for public services but a smaller tax base to support them.
“The isolation that comes with not being able to get where you need to go,” said Davis, “is significantly correlated with being placed prematurely in a nursing home, which is not an option that many older adults really prefer, not to mention quite an expensive option.”
Commuting patterns in the NRV, from 2005-2010, showed that the percentage of workers commuting out of Pulaski County for their jobs increased 53.6 percent, topped only by Giles County at 63.3 percent, although Davis noted the Giles County figure “hasn’t changed dramatically over the last five years, while there has been a very dramatic increase in Pulaski County, where they have lost a lot of those middle-class manufacturing jobs.”
The study also found that of those driving more than 25 miles to work, almost 30 percent were low-income (defined by the study as making less than $35,000 per year) while only about 20 percent were high-income ($35,000 or above).
“In particular the job losses of Pulaski County over the last couple of decades have really translated into a more dramatic outleaving,” said Davis.
Davis also stated that “transportation cost is really a hidden and poorly understood cost of housing. In the rural areas, where there might be very affordable housing options, the transportation costs that accompany that can really make your overall whole housing costs quite unaffordable. The combined housing and transportation costs are now still in the realm of what’s considered affordable, but the concern is that over time, transportation costs are expected to increase.”
After the Initiative asked around the region for over a year and a half, it was found that one of the top priorities for people was to see more options for public transit.
Davis cautioned as far as the Livability Initiative goes, “The ultimate goal at the end is to provide our local government with good data that helps them understand the most pressing data about their community,” so this does not necessarily translate into immediate action by the Planning District Commission.
Nonetheless, Davis said, “There’s a lot of interest in having those (current) transit systems link up.”