Consultants with Olsson, a Nebraska-based engineering and design firm, recently recommended about $3.63 million in improvements to bus stops of Springdale-based transit provider Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) as part of a study supported by the Walton Family Foundation.
Shawn Strate, project manager for Olsson, discussed the improvements in a recent presentation to ORT board members. In the Thursday (Aug. 26) meeting, board members accepted a draft of the study that recommended improvements for 417 stops in Bentonville, Fayetteville, Rogers and Springdale.
In December, Olsson began a study of ORT’s 420 bus stops, and Strate said a team of five or six employees completed a survey of every stop in January. He explained the vision for the project was that each bus stop should be safe, accessible, comfortable and inviting and have amenities.
He said improvements should be prioritized based on stops with the most passenger traffic. The busiest three fixed-route stops are at the Northwest Arkansas Mall, Hillcrest Towers in Fayetteville and the Walmart Supercenter on Pleasant Street in Springdale.
According to the study, many stops lacked the basic components of handicapped accessibility, with only 15% of stops (61) having a concrete landing area at least 5 feet by 8 feet and connected to a sidewalk. Also, 78% of stops (323) had a nearby sidewalk, 9% had a bench, 6% had a trash can, and 5% had a shelter.
The study showed four improvement levels, with the first level offering the basic components of handicapped accessibility. The next level would have a larger concrete pad, a bench and a trash can, Strate said. The third level would include a larger concrete pad, shelter and bike racks in some locations. The fourth level would include previously noted amenities but in greater quantity. Also, these stops might include pull-off lanes where buses can stop for a few minutes, he said.
Other recommendations included adding double-sided bus stop signs, route information at each stop, and consistent placement of bus stop signs.
Joel Gardner, executive director for ORT, said he would like to present the study to area city councils to see whether they would like to complete the recommended improvements to the top five stops in each of the cities in 2023. He said the goal is to improve bus stop safety.
ORT used grant money to pay for the study. In November, ORT received $985,608 from the Walton Family Foundation to pay for several initiatives, including a bus stop accessibility study. Gardner said the study cost $283,840.
Though the recommendations to improve the bus stops are expected to cost about $3.63 million, the cost would be nearly $5.5 million if including the stops that have yet to be installed. These stops are those that were included in Connect Northwest Arkansas, a 10-year transit plan.
Asked whether grant money would be available for the recommended improvements, Gardner said this might depend on how the cities would like to proceed. Officials also noted the importance of adding sidewalks to get to the stops.
In other business, Ryan Carr, an ORT board member representing Springdale, was appointed chairman of the board.