This presentation will report on work to prepare and apply a decision support tool for a study area in north east Mississippi called the Mississippi Hills National Heritage Area. The study area is mostly rural with small towns. The region has been known for agriculture and furniture manufacture. Recently Toyota opened a vehicle assembly plant employing approximately 2,000 with an additional 3,600 more employees in “tier one” suppliers. This level of employment growth has the potential to substantially change the development patterns of the small towns in the study area. At about the same time, a forty three mile long class one rail trail called the Tanglefoot Trail has opened built on the GM&O railroad line near the Toyota plant. This research project built a decision support tool for analyzing scenarios to determine if alternative patterns of growth could limit congestion and increase use of the Tanglefoot Trail. A CommunityViz tool has been developed to create realistic scenarios based on existing development and suitability of land for future development. A land use-transportation model was developed for the study area using the TRANUS platform to assess the location of future development and travel demand.

Two scenarios have been prepared and assessed using the analytic tools. The first is a current trends scenario constructed on the basis of current land use controls in the towns in the study area. The second is a more compact pattern of development with more land use mixing focused on four small towns. It is expected that the second scenario will provide more connectivity and accessibility allowing for shorter trip lengths and more bicycle and pedestrian trips. The scenarios are intended to illustrate different ways that small towns can develop, while maintaining their rural community character. The results and insights gained from applying the scenario assessment tools will be presented. These will include visualizations of the scenarios in CommunityViz and the results of the application of the land use-transportation model. The uses of these tools for enhancing the economic competitiveness of rural areas and small towns will be explored.