Transportation Planning Takes Big Picture Approach (Opinion)

by Talk Business & Politics ([email protected]) 122 views 

The potential pathways for future growth in Northwest Arkansas lie along the Bella Vista bypass, Northwest Arkansas Western Beltway, Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Access Road, Springdale bypass and the East Belt/Old Wire Road corridor.

Transportation planners live in a rarified atmosphere of funding eligibility and environmental constraints, and the lines on a map drawn by wise leaders of the past are taking shape before our eyes. We are once again reminded to follow the infrastructure.

The state’s Highway and Transportation Department and the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission hold seemingly continuous public hearings as these plans and budgets progress.

Funding and political justification for the slow, costly highway projects lag behind development by a decade or sometimes two.

 Conversely, new alignments attract development slowly. It took Fayetteville about 25 years to grow out to the Fulbright Expressway, and a similar lag occurred along Interstate 540’s now well-developed interchanges in Springdale and Rogers.

Developments that depend on rooftops such as commercial strip centers, auto service and restaurants have spread westward as population and travel patterns became justification for investment.

Decision-makers in transportation agencies typically respond to traffic counts and congestion complaints, and seldom commit the huge sums of money required for new streets without a defined, urgent need.

This process, although understandable, has prevented the pre-emptive approach of developing a grid system and an efficient transportation network.

The Northwest Arkansas Council has partnered with the Arkansas Highway Commission to study creative solutions to our regional transportation problems. The Regional Mobility Authority has formed to facilitate possible financing of major regional improvements and the NARPC has secured funds to link the region’s trail systems and commemorate our Trail of Tears segment, the old Butterfield Stagecoach route and Civil War troop movements.

This Heritage Trail System has already influenced development patterns in Fayetteville and Bentonville, and as the linkages between communities improve, so will nearby land-use patterns.

Smart real estate plays will be made on the corners and edges of large-scale, slow-moving public works projects. The hard part is often the small-business endurance test that we call “major widening.”

The popularity of the trails systems demonstrates that the “bang for the buck” infrastructure project today is a small-scale, pedestrian-friendly system that complements the grid. North Little Rock’s Rivertrail, linked by the Big Dam Bridge to Little Rock, represents only a tiny piece of transportation funds, but has gained the admiration and popularity of a broad sector of the public. Projects like this will help generate user support for infrastructure funding.

Also, the Kerr/McClellan Lock & Dam system was a visionary transportation project of the 1960s that we have not fully appreciated or taken advantage of. It’s time to look at barge and rail solutions that have been obscured by the “just-in-time delivery” truck culture.

Terms like waterfront, railhead, River Rail and trailhead will become increasingly important in the future.

Arkansas is one of three states that don’t have a Department of Transportation. The focus on highways in planning and budgeting neglects transit, rail, intermodal and integrated solutions. What’s needed is an entity that can see the big picture and work with all these pieces of the transportation puzzle.

Craig Hull, CCIM, is president of Hull & Company Commercial Real Estate & Consulting. He’s also a Transportation Advisory Committee member and a member of the Ozark Regional Transit board of directors. He can be reached at [email protected] or 479-273-5454.