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Granville, Mon Commission agree on traffic lights, spar over funding process

MORGANTOWN — The town of Granville would like traffic lights placed at two intersections along University Town Centre Drive as soon as possible and it would like University Town Centre TIF dollars to pay for them.

That was the request Wednesday as Granville officials, including Mayor Patty Lewis, Recorder Mary Beth Renner and Executive Administrator Latina Mayle sat for a work session with the Monongalia County Commission.

Lewis said the town’s council would like signals placed where University Town Centre Drive passes between Walmart and the WVU Medicine facility as well as at the bottom of the hill, between Granville Square and Sesame Drive, which provides access to Chick-fil-A, Wendy’s and Panda Express.

The good news — the commissioners agreed unanimously that the intersections need to be addressed, as did the Morgantown Monongalia Metropolitan Policy Board last month when it gave the green light for traffic counts at the intersections by MPO staff.

The bad news — those traffic counts are only the beginning.

“If the counts say, ‘yes, you need a traffic light,’ then you’ll need a more in-depth study. You’ll need to look at signal timing, you need to look at all the movements that need to be done. You need to understand, do you need a left-turn arrow and those sorts of things,” MPO Executive Director Bill Austin said. “This is like the first threshold, yes or no, do you need a signal. Then you need to be able to design the signal.”

While the MPO’s discussion initially seemed to indicate the counts should wait until the opening of Bass Pro Shops later this fall, Austin said they could be completed in the next couple weeks.

Lewis said there’s no need to wait for additional vehicles.

“The traffic is so bad now, it scares me to think we’re going to delay doing a traffic study, knowing Bass Pro is going to open in a couple months and we’ve got Christmas coming. I hate to see the delay,” she said.

Worse news, at least as far as Granville is concerned, is that the question of whether or not TIF – or tax increment finance – dollars can be used is a complicated one to say the least.

The TIF model is a development process through which the tax liability of the district is locked in for a period up to 30 years. Additional tax increment generated through improvements are then reinvested in the district in the form of infrastructure.

The Granville contingent bristled when Commission President Sean Sikora indicated representatives of developer WestRidge would need to be involved in the conversation.

The discussion then delved into the complexities of the TIFs before Lewis, clearly frustrated, rephrased the request.

“OK. I’m going to respectfully request that the developer find money to install those two traffic signals,” she said. “I don’t know how else to put it.”

Sikora explained that the increment created by the district is used to repay investments already made by the developer.

“What I’m trying to point to is there’s not a big pool of money that’s just sitting around waiting for someone to figure out a use for it,” Sikora said, noting that the projected future success of the district determines the level of investment.

“We can sit down and make the developer crunch the numbers and say ‘Listen, what is there available,’ ” he added.

While members of the commission pointed to substantial growth in Granville’s annual budget since the formation of the TIF district, the consensus appeared to be that the parties involved can reach a solution.

“We’re willing to work,” Sikora said. “Everybody in this room agrees that this needs to be addressed. The only question is how to do it.”

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