A Personal Website of Dr. Catherine Ross @ Georgia Institute of Technology

Megaregions & Regional Planning

The globalization of the economy is creating new competitive pressures and challenging assumptions held by policymakers about the places in which Americans live and work. The past decades have seen cities becoming increasingly connected through shared regions, infrastructure, interactions, and economic, environmental and cultural characteristics. These agglomerations of urban cores, their metropolitan areas of influence, and interconnected countryside compose a new unit that should be viewed as a whole because of its diverse interactions and strong interdependencies. This phenomenon connecting cities into tight economic and infrastructure relationships is called a megaregion. Megaregions are defined as, “networks of metropolitan centers and their areas of influence that have developed social, environmental, economic, and infrastructure relationships.” (C. Ross and M. Woo)

Research has identified ten emerging Megaregions throughout the based on proximity, diverse interactions, and other uniting characteristics. Megaregions encompass the country’s key population and economic drivers. Today, Megaregions account for 30% of the national land mass, but around 75% of population and employment. They are competitive engines that must be maintained, and the efficient flow of freight within and between Megaregions is critical to ensure competitiveness in a global environment. Therefore, policymakers and business leaders are recognizing that strategic nationwide investments at the Megaregions scale will enhance and maintain our capacity for growth.

The Atlanta region is positioned within a larger, multi-state (Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee) network of cities known as the Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM). The Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) functions as a leader within the megaregion, and the

Atlanta region serves as the largest logistics and distribution center for Piedmont Atlantic Megaregion (PAM). It is a hub for movement from seaports towards the heartland and the Mississippi River corridor, and along the string of Piedmont cities from North Carolina to Alabama. It is also home to the busiest airport in the world.

Megaregions & Regional Planning Projects:

Architecture of the Megaregion

Architecture of Megaregion is a framework to the next steps for transportation and infrastructure planning at the Megaregion scale in the U.S. This research addresses the following goals: examine current and historic structures and function of regional and statewide transportation planning and provision in the United States and internationally; identify the activities and structures of current transportation planning frameworks in terms of strengths and weaknesses; analyze the implications of changing, modifying and extending approaches to and structures of current transportation planning frameworks, especially those incorporating the Megaregions concept in transportation planning. The research attempts to identify existing opportunities where Megaregion concepts, approaches and structures can offer added value with respect to achieving the overall goals of transportation planning, across the various hierarchical levels where it happens. It will also identify new opportunities for Megaregion approaches and determine if it can fulfill the functional outcomes of planning activities in place today, while going over and above the status quo to achieve additional economic competitiveness (regional, national and even international where feasible), environmental and social quality of life outcomes on a broader scale.

Bring Freight Components into Statewide and Regional Travel Demand Forecasting

Transportation and infrastructure planning development of a strategic decision making process is critical for building regional economic competitiveness through the support of distribution and logistics. This research focuses on studying the main challenges such as: the lack of dedicated funding sources, incorporating megaregion-scale freight concerns in on-going MPO and DOT planning, considering freight and Megaregions within a multimodal framework, impacts of the deepening of the Panama Canal, and how to best capitalize on the key freight provisions of MAP-21.

Megaregions and Transportation Planning Framework

A pressing policy question for the Federal government, states, regions and local areas is how should America respond to continuous and geographically focused population growth, spreading traffic congestion, natural resource depletion and the loss of economic competitiveness in the global economy? More explicitly, how should we structure transportation and infrastructure investment and an appropriate policy framework to be more responsive to the challenges and opportunities? A megaregion approach may offer a value-added structure that can guide national transportation policy and investment, while explicitly addressing the relationships among demographic change, land resources, infrastructure investment and economic development.

Healthy Places & Impact Assessment

Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is defined by the International Association for Impact Assessment as “a combination of procedures, methods and tools that systematically judges the potential, and sometimes unintended, effects of a policy, plan, programme, or project on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population.” (Quigley et al. 2006). The final product of an HIA is a set of evidence-based recommendations that inform decision-makers and the general public with practical solutions that seek to magnify positive health impacts and remove or minimize negative impacts for a given project and often for future policies.

The shifting importance of issues from the traditional sphere of public health to that of the health and wellbeing of affected communities demands that our policymakers “be aware of the health consequences of their decisions and … accept their responsibilities for health” (WHO 1986). However, health is not routinely addressed in planning, policy-making, and public works without a standard procedure in place for the inclusion of health concerns. Although the current practice of environmental impact assessments consider ecological effects for large projects, they fail to include many pressing health concerns. This lack leaves communities vulnerable to many types of health threats such as obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases; infectious diseases; environmental pollution; and mental illness.


Quigley R, L de Broeder, P Furu, A. Bond, B. Cave, R. Bos. (2006). Health Impact Assessment International Best Practice Principles. Special Publication Series No. 5. Fargo, South Dakota, USA: International Association for Impact Assessment.

World Health Organization (1986). Ottawa Charter for Health Promotion. First International Conference on Health Promotion. Ottawa, Canada.

Megaregions & Regional Planning Projects:

Aerotropolis Atlanta Brownfield Redevelopment Health Impact Assessment

The Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD) will be conducting a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on redevelopment plans for the site of the former Hapeville Ford Assembly Plant in Hapeville, GA. The assembly plant is to be redeveloped as "Aerotropolis Atlanta", with over 6.5 million square feet of office, hotel, shopping and airport parking facilities, as well as a solar energy component. The 122-acre site is bounded by I-75, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the new residential development of Asbury Park, and downtown Hapeville. The site was deemed a brownfield, and has undergone remediation for potential contaminants.

Atlanta Beltline Health Impact Assessment

The Atlanta BeltLine would convert a 22-mile span of freight railway into a transit and trail loop, surrounded by parks and residential and commercial development. While many people enter debates about the architectural style, density, or purpose of a new development, everyone can agree that a development should contribute to the health of the people who live, work, and go to school there. But when we start a new development project, are we building a healthy place? How do we understand the health impacts of a new development? To answer these questions for the Atlanta BeltLine redevelopment project, CQGRD conducted a Health Impact Assessment (HIA). An HIA is a collection of procedures and tools by which projects, policies, and programs can be evaluated based on their potential effects on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. While theHIA tool is widely used abroad, the BeltLine HIA is one of the first conducted in the United States. This ambitious redevelopment, once realized, would begin to transform Atlanta into a city connected by transit, trails, and green space with significant health consequences.

Atlanta Regional Plan 2040 Health Impact Assessment

The Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD) a research center of the Georgia Institute of Technology's College of Architecture, will conduct a comprehensive Health Impact Assessment (HIA) on PLAN 2040, the long-term regional comprehensive plan being prepared by the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC). The ARC is Atlanta’s regional planning and intergovernmental coordination agency. PLAN 2040 will integrate multiple aspects of regional planning, including transportation and land use, housing, greenspace, water, and air quality through the year 2040. Will it promote safe, livable, affordable communities with a stable economic base? Will it allow metro Atlanta residents to choose healthy, active lifestyles? How will it affect everyday activities like going to work, to school, or to the store? CQGRD will investigate these questions and many others and suggest ways to make PLAN 2040, and subsequently other regional planning efforts, more health-oriented. Additionally, CQGRD will provide HIA training and technical assistance to project partners. Through the HIA process, CQGRD seeks to present sustainability, economic benefit and health as mutually-supportive, attainable goals of transportation and land use planning. A final report is expected in September 2011.

Choice Neighborhood Initiative Albany, Georgia: Rapid to Intermediate Health Impact Assessment

The Georgia Institute of Technology conducted a rapid-intermediate Health Impact Assessment (HIA) in partnership with the Georgia Department of Public Health to examine how the proposed redevelopment of McIntosh Homes in Albany, Georgia would affect residents’ health. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has provided funding to convert McIntosh Homes to a mixed-income neighborhood. Many current residents live in socioeconomic and physical conditions that exacerbate the health risks of caused by crime and chronic diseases. These exacerbating conditions include vacant and poorly-maintained properties, a lack of healthy food sources, minimal greenspace, and low socioeconomic status.

The researchers studied existing conditions, solicited stakeholder input, and gathered evidence from past studies to propose recommendations to improve community health. These recommendations include converting underutilized land to greenspace, establishing a community garden, prioritizing pedestrian safety and traffic calming, and improving access to the adjacent Riverwalk multi-use trail. Additionally, the researchers recommend communication-based strategies to reduce resident stress, careful demolition to minimize impacts to respiratory health, and provision of affordable housing and healthy foods in the redevelopment area.

City of Milton, GA Bike and Pedestrian Plan

CQGRD worked in conjunction with Georgia Tech's School of City and Regional Planning and the Center for GIS to produce a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan for the newly established City of Milton, GA. This plan proposes a network of multiuse trails to connect Milton’s neighborhoods with its parks, schools, libraries, stores, sports facilities, and other public spaces.

Health Benefits of the Atlanta Beltline Eastside Trail

This project measures and aims to enhance the health benefits associated with construction of a walking and cycling trail along the northeastern portion of the Atlanta BeltLine corridor. The final report for the project documents the existing conditions in the study area and measures the existing behavior of the population in the study area. This data compiled in this report will provide the basis for future study to determine how behavior changes once the trail is constructed. This will enable the research team to measure the potential health benefits associated with the construction of the Eastside Trail. The research will specifically determine whether the trail design, implementation, and associated activities increase physical activity for the surrounding population, improve access to destinations, and provide an increased opportunity for active modes of travel.

Health Impact Assessment: Tool for Planning and Analysis

A health impact is a change in health risk reasonably attributable to a policy or project, and a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) is one of the many combinations of procedures or methods by which a proposed policy or program may be judged as to the effects it may have on the health of a specific population. It is a means of ensuring that the potential impacts on health are taken into account as part of the decision making process for policies, programs, and other development projects. This research project is studying the health assessments, which begins to build a bridge between city design and planning and public health.

Health Housing: Forging the Economic and Empirical Foundation (2007)

Healthy Housing: Forging the Economic and Empirical Foundation identifies the economic and empirical links between housing and health, develops a new conceptual model on the complex effects of housing on health, identifies the direct and indirect links between housing and health, benchmarks the current housing and health link for the 13-county Atlanta region, and presents recommendations and future research needs to strengthen the link between housing and health.

Sustainable Transport Infrastructure

The Center seeks to develop innovative transportation infrastructure design that support quality growth and promote greater access for non-drivers.

Sustainable Transport Infrastructure Research Projects:

Freight Movement, Port Facilities and Economic Competitiveness

The Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development (CQGRD) is conducting research to assess the impact of increased port traffic on the Megaregion transportation system. Critical transportation infrastructure needs can best be addressed at the Megaregion scale through inter-jurisdictional cooperation which allows regions, cities and towns to compete globally as cohesive regions connected by efficient and reliable transportation links. The research questions include: What is the current state of port-related trucking on the east coast? How will increased port activity affect regional transportation networks? How can we measure trucks’ economic impact on counties?

Community and Environmental Scan and Assessment: Atlanta Regional Freight Mobility Plan

This study involves data collection via surveys and interviews of freight stakeholders, identification and assessment of existing and future freight movement, development of freight-supported land use guidelines, evaluation of environmental and social impacts related to freight movement and development of strategies, and recommendations to proactively address freight and goods movement needs and challenges in the Atlanta region. It examines five existing or emerging freight corridors designated by the Atlanta Regional Commission and analyzes them in terms of environmental justice, ensuring that disproportionate effects of government action or policy do not fall upon low income or minority populations and environmental impacts. The resulting study measures community and environmental impacts, both specific to certain freight areas and seen across all areas, and provides ways to best mitigate these impacts while ensuring continued freight mobility.

Development Potential of the SR365 Corridor in Hall County, GA: A Quality Growth Study

This study explores transportation, green infrastructure, and livability opportunities and constraints in this rapidly growing county in northwest Georgia, between Atlanta and Chattanooga.

The Atlanta Beltline: Transit Feasibility White Paper

The BeltLine Transit Panel was assembled by the Atlanta Development Authority (ADA) to review the studies done to date on the BeltLine project and assess and comment on the feasibility of the transit component and how it might function in relation to an integrated transit system for Central Atlanta. The end purpose of this work is to synthesize the information developed on the BeltLine for its transit potential and provide guidance and suggest principles on how the BeltLine transit might develop over time.

Due to the constrains of available information and timeframe, the Panel held three public meetings from which they identified key issues facing the transit elements of the BeltLine proposal and developed suggested guidance on how these issues might be resolved. In the process, the Panel identified key findings that need to be considered by the ADA and other decision-making bodies in order to move the BeltLine forward.

Megaregions and Transportation Planning Framework

This project outlines a strategy for exploring the potential of the megaregion as a value-added structure that will guide national transportation policy and investment, while explicitly addressing the relationships among demographic change, land resources, infrastructure investment, and economic development. It examines mechanisms to plan for, finance, and supply infrastructure that reinforce the competitiveness of current leading economic regions, while simultaneously linking to rural areas and under-performing regions that often experience only the negative externalities of economic growth. This research project has been designed to analyze the broad spectrum of possibilities of integrating the megaregion concept into current decision-making processes for transportation investment in the U.S. The results will provide researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers with access to a rigorously designed and structured national megaregion framework to guide decisions on how transportation infrastructure needs should be addressed to ensure mobility, livability, and our current and future competitiveness. To respond to these needs, this proposal offers a work plan that addresses three research goals: Examine the formation of megaregions in the United States from the perspective of transportation demand, infrastructure supply and economic relationships; Survey the best-practice of megaregion planning around the globe and historically within the U.S.; and Develop a conceptual framework that incorporates the megaregion concept into existing policy and governance processes.

Atlanta Metropolitan Congestion Pricing Study

This project provides a comprehensive examination of public perceptions and preferences regarding pricing options in metropolitan Atlanta. Results of the project will help guide the Georgia Department of Transportation and the State Road and Tollway Authority of Georgia in the siting, evaluation, and implementation of future congestion pricing strategies.

Decision & Planning Support Tools

A decision and planning support tool (DPST) helps guide stakeholders in process and program decisions. DPST is designed to help clarify and enumerate the goals, objectives, and vision for projects that affect a community and allow comparison of project design scenarios based on their ability to effectively and equitably realize the project’s vision. It provides a means of measuring both baseline conditions throughout a project and potential impacts of new development on those baseline conditions.

Decision & Planning Support Tools Research Projects:

City of Decatur, GA Community Transportation Plan and Rapid HIA

Active Living through active travel is the call to action for the City of Decatur, GA. Decatur, a city of approximately 20,000 residents located in the largely auto-oriented Atlanta metropolitan area, has chosen to take a decidedly different course than many of its neighboring cities. It has embraced the principles and research surrounding active living to craft a Community Transportation Plan. CQGRD partnered with Sycamore Consulting, Inc. and Kimley Horn and Associates to help the City of Decatur develop a Community Transportation Plan to make Active Living a serious part of their transprotationsystem. The Plan was completed in fall 2007 and already Decatur has taken policy actions to achieve their goals. Foremost, Decatur has created a new Active Living Division within the Department of Community and Economic Development. The Division will combine traditional recreation programs with quality of life programs like environmental sustainability, alternative transportation planning and efforts to encourage an active living lifestyle in our community. The International City/County Management Association, with an interest in encouraging active live through better government management, has recognized Decatur’s pioneering work and is already committed to track the outcomes and community benefits of Decatur’s Active Living Division in a two-year study that will identify performance measures and best practices for other cities.

Context Sensitive Solutions

Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS) has emerged as a strategy for expanding and incorporating community preferences and environmental considerations into project development and design. CSS is a collaborative, interdisciplinary approach that involves all stakeholders to develop a transportation facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic, aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining safety and mobility.

Development and Implementation of a Decision Support Tool for the Atlanta Beltline

The Center for Quality Growth and Regional Development will led a team in developing a Decision Support Tool for the Atlanta BeltLine. The Decision Support Tool will measure the impact of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and ensure accountability for effective and equitable implementation of the BeltLine. Further, it will build upon and coordinate with existing or ongoing work regarding environmental impacts, community benefits, planning activities conducted through BeltLine planning units and study groups, and other components of the community engagement and planning process. The tool will organize relevant information, spatially resolve actions of the plan, predict impacts, inform decision making, and generate performance measures and other metrics. Key team members include the Georgia Tech School of Civil and Environmental Engineering, the Georgia Tech School of Public Policy, the Georgia Tech School of Economics, and Cambridge Systematics.

Economic Diversification of Camden County, GA: Quality Growth and Development Report

In 2005, Georgia Tech’s CQGRD and Enterprise Innovation Institute developed recommendations for an economic diversification plan for Camden County that integrated strategies reinforcing quality growth. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of Defense’s Office of Economic Adjustment, the focal point of the study was to explore economic diversification and reduce the county’s dependence on Kings Bay Naval Submarine Base that has long dominated the regional economy.

Part of this project conducted a quality growth audit of existing plans and regulations and an inventory of existing infrastructure. This work led to recommendations regarding asset management for infrastructure, the creation of a green infrastructure system, and approaches for the integrated corridor management of Camden’s key roadways.

In response to the study, various community-wide task forces have been formed, including workforce development, affordable housing, and entrepreneurship. Research from the effort has supported the process to develop a county-wide comprehensive plan which includes several key recommendations provided by the Georgia Tech team. The effort has also fueled the process to develop a “green print plan.” The project was completed in October 2005.

Impact of Regional SPLOSTS on County Infrastructure

To address regional transportation problems and meet increasing demand for transportation infrastructure at that scale, the Georgia General Assembly in 2010 passed legislation that will allow counties to establish 12 special tax districts throughout the state based on existing regional commission boundaries to create transportation regional SPLOSTs. The Georgia Transportation Investment Act of 2010 (HB 277) comes in light of the regional challenges faced by the State of Georgia. The new legislation is expected to promote cost-sharing between local and regional entities as well as supplement dwindling federal support for transportation infrastructure. The decision-making process involves consensus among local and regional entities and representation by the legislature in choosing projects that meet investment criteria. This research project will look at the implications of such a regional SPLOST on the ability of individual counties to provide county-specific SPLOST initiatives for transportation and other public projects (e.g. schools), and provide the findings to the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Troup County, GA Strategic Plan

To explore how best to leverage the growth coming to West Georgia, leaders from Troup County and the cities ofHogansville, LaGrange, and West Point have undertaken a two-year planning initiative with Georgia Tech designed to set the course for a sustainable future. The goal of the effort is to identify innovative strategies for promoting quality growth, fostering healthy economic development, enhancing the quality of life and protecting Troup County’s sense of place and community.