NWA planners buy transit planning software, discuss future highway projects

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 419 views 

Northwest Arkansas cities and two transit providers will soon have access to a cloud-based software that has over the past year provided route planning information to Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit.

On Wednesday (April 4), members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission approved a three-year contract for the Remix transit planning software, under an $18,800 annual contract with the software developer. Federal funding will pay for 80% of the contract, leaving the regional planning commission, ORT and Fayetteville-based Razorback Transit to each pay the remaining $1,253 annually.

ORT acquired the software as part of its study on bus rapid transit along the U.S. Highway 71B corridor. Executive director Joel Gardner said the software has saved the transit provider “hours upon hours of labor.” The software’s accuracy has led him to trust it and allowed ORT to focus on planning instead of calculations.

The software provides costs and the number of buses required to operate a specific route identified by the user, based on the number and frequency of stops along the way. The software also offers demographics along an identified route, such as the number of jobs or population sorted by household income, Gardner said. As opposed to other software that offers demographics, it uses the most recent population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau.

Years ago, ORT had planned routes manually by using string or drawing on maps. More recently, it used online mapping tools but would still need to research speed limit and census data before determining cost and the number of buses required to run the route. But the Remix software has all the data needed to determine this as about five to six data sources are combined in the software.

Northwest Arkansas Planning Commission plans to use the software to update its 10-year Transit Development Plan and to prepare for the 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan. Tim Conklin, transportation programs manager for the commission, said the cloud-based software will be available to Northwest Arkansas cities, which are voting members of the planning commission’s board.

Conklin showed a video of the software during the meeting Wednesday, and it can show the amount of time for a person to get from one point in a transit system to another by placing that person in a given point in the system.

Conklin also presented some of the projects the Arkansas Department of Transportation recently proposed to be included in the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for federal fiscal years 2021 and 2022. Federal fiscal years run from October through September, and the 2018 federal fiscal year started Oct. 1.

One of the projects included in the proposed program was the next phase of the U.S. Highway 412 bypass, between Highway 112 north of Elm Springs and Highway 412 in west Tontitown. The first phase of the project, between Interstate 49 and Highway 112, is nearly completed and is expected to open before Memorial Day weekend. Ribbon cutting for it is set for April 18.

The second phase of the bypass project included purchasing right of way for the 6.17-mile project, and the cost estimate for the land purchases was $28 million.

Next, was a project to widen Highway 112, between Arkansas Highway 12 and West Wallis Road in Benton County. The 4.33-mile project was expected to cost $26 million.

After the meeting, Dick Trammel, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, said the growth along Highway 112 has led ArDOT to consider widening the highway. He said the highway department is working with agencies such as the regional planning commission to identify needed transportation projects.

Other projects on the list included adding passing lanes on Arkansas Highway 59, over 11.09 miles between Gentry and Gravette, and the $25.5 million interchange project at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and I-49 in Fayetteville. Trammel said the addition of the Simmons Foods plant, north of Gentry, led ArDOT to consider the passing lanes to accommodate for the extra traffic expected along the highway. The poultry processing plant is expected to start with 800 jobs and rise to 2,000 jobs, Trammel said.

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