Quaker Valley COG aims to develop region’s shared assets

Tuesday, February 5, 2019 | 6:03 AM

The Quaker Valley Council of Governments (QVCOG) has raised $130,000 for phase one of its Route 65 research study, set to begin next month.

Executive Director Susan Hockenberry said the Route 65 Corridor Project is an example of her organization’s ongoing emphasis on the Quaker Valley region’s shared assets. Along with projects like a shared geographic information system (GIS) initiative, it will help communities plan for the future.

According to the QVCOG website, the corridor study examines opportunities for multi-municipal cooperation, increasing connectivity and accessibility and maximizing the economic impact of the Route 65, among other areas of inquiry. Its geographic scope includes a 32-mile stretch of road that runs through QVCOG member municipalities and seven communities in Beaver County.

QVCOG’s partner in the study, Carnegie Mellon University’s Remaking Cities Institute, is receiving $90,000 of the grant funding and will perform most of the research. Phase one funding has come from the state Department of Community and Economic Development and Mobility21, a university research initiative sponsored by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Hockenberry said.

“The important part of this is, this is going to arm us with some information that later we can use to plan for projects,” said Jean-Sebastien Valois, a Kilbuck Township supervisor who serves as president of the QVCOG.

Community members will have a chance to help determine the future of the corridor. QVCOG plans to hold monthly educational and input events, where attendees can share their feedback on issues like safety and economic development and learn about the study’s results as they are published. These events begin in March and will be posted on QVCOG’s website, said Hockenberry.

Although the study has multiple phases, Hockenberry said that “a significant chunk of the research is going to be done here in the first six or seven months of this year.”

During this time, QVCOG will also be helping communities build interactive maps through its shared GIS program. Through a geographic information mapping tool called ArcGIS, municipalities are using open data from government and other sources to map regional assets, according to QVCOG representatives.

Valois emphasized the economies of scale the project offers. When one community, like Kilbuck, maps all of its road signs, that technology then becomes available for users in nearby COG communities to use for the same purpose.

“Our goal for 2019 is to use it to document the presence, location and condition of all township signs and catch basins. We see that as a good project to get us and our public works crews familiar with the software and ready to use it for more advanced projects in the future,” said Matthew Doebler, an Aleppo Township commissioner and QVCOG board member.

Through quarterly training cohorts organized by the COG, government officials can improve their GIS proficiency and share knowledge with each other.

“It’s a many-to-many communication, we have a group of learners. Our goal is not to hoard knowledge, we want to spread knowledge,” Hockenberry said.

Purchasing the shared service through QVCOG helps make GIS feasible for smaller municipalities. Kilbuck Township, for example, would pay over $1,500 more for GIS if it had to buy the technology on its own, she added.

Shared GIS isn’t the only joint purchasing arrangement QVCOG is prioritizing this year. The organization is currently collecting survey data from local governments to evaluate the potential for aggregate purchasing of solar power installations. QVCOG is also supporting member municipalities participating in a five-year waste collection agreement with Waste Management. The COG serves as a single point of contact with the company, according to Hockenberry.

She also cited time-sharing arrangements, designed to give municipalities technical assistance. QVCOG provides consulting services to governments that request help with financial administration and interpretation of zoning ordinances, according to the organization’s website.

As executive director, Hockenberry’s expertise will be key to growing these initiatives in 2019, according to Valois. Although she is now working on a contractual basis, due to changes in dues revenue from members, her role remains the same, he added.

“It’s pretty exciting to see these kinds of modernizations happening in local government and certainly in service to intergovernmental endeavors,” said Hockenberry.

Sam Bojarski is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.