Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview
Overview of Fayetteville, AR

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Way to Go, Mayor Womack!

I attended the annual business luncheon last Friday (Jan. 18) at the John Q. Hammonds Convention Center in Rogers, sponsored by the Center for Business and Economic Research of the U of A (more on this in a future post).

As I zipped up I-540 from Fayetteville I made good time, since it was before mid-day. But then I arrived at the Pinnacle Hills Parkway exit. Cars were backed up at a standstill so that it took almost 1/2 hour to go from where the northbound exit ramp leaves I-540, under the freeway to where the newly widened street turns left onto Pinnacle Hills Parkway. The way the stoplights were adjusted, only a few cars could turn left at each light, so that there were even more cars behind me still "parked" not only on the exit ramp, but a good ways down the freeway.

As I arrived at the intersection to make a left turn onto Pinnacle Hills, a gentleman in a black overcoat entered the scene and began directing traffic. He blocked part of the traffic going south on Pinnacle Hills so that people from the freeway exit turning left to get to the meeting could proceed more smoothly. With more than 1,000 business people in attendance, the traffic bottleneck made a lot of them late. I did get there on time, but just barely. As I was leaving, I chatted with another person from the luncheon who told me that the man directing traffic was Rogers' Mayor Steve Womack and that he did "stuff like that" from time to time.

I applaud Mayor Womack's initiative in taking charge of the situation and making sure business people got to this important annual economic event (if it was him--I'm not sure since I have never met him personally). But the incident points out the continuing problem of infrastructure keeping up with growth in NW Arkansas, particularly with regard to transportation.

Following are a few updates on various transportation/infrastructure projects for NW Arkansas:

The exit for Pinnacle Hills Promenade Mall is open from northbound I-540 but the overpass to the west side of I-540 and the exit from southbound I-540 are not. If the overpass had been finished, the traffic delay I encountered would probably not have happened.

In southwest Rogers, work is under way on Pauline Whitaker Parkway, a north-south street that will connect with the Promenade interchange on the west side of I-540, providing access to the new Mercy Medical Center, which will open in March. According to the current timetable, the road should be completed in May.

Several other north-south road improvements will soon be open in Rogers.

Bentonville is also busy widening roads, improving interchanges, installing drains, and working on concepts for future projects. As hard as the city works, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the need for more infrastructure.

One bright spot is the cities of Rogers and Bentonville partnering on some projects that affect both.

Bella Vista will, unfortunately, have to struggle with its traffic bottleneck long into the future. U.S. Hwy. 71 carries all interstate traffic right through the middle of town. A bypass connecting Arkansas and Missouri has been studied for years but now seems dead in the water. The latest estimates show a $139 million shortfall between construction cost and projected income from tolls. That report caused Missouri to reassign the funds they were planning to spend for their portion of the connector.

Springdale is going full speed ahead on three east-west corridors to relieve traffic on U.S. Hwy. 412. The city and voters alike are to be commended for their foresight and planning. Voters approved a 1% sales tax in 2003 to back $105 million in bonds and the city has been constructing roads non-stop. In light of ever-increasing inflation and growth, that vote was a good move.

In November 2007, the first section of the southern corridor between 40th and 48th streets opened. When complete in spring of 2009 the southern corridor will run from 48th Street to Butterfield Coach Road, which is currently the eastern edge of the city limits.

The northern corridor, which is located near Wagon Wheel Road, is scheduled for completion in the first half of 2009.

Portions of the central corridor have been complete for some time. The phase that will connect Hwy. 71B to Old Missouri Road is scheduled to finish in November 2008. The third phase of the central corridor that will connect Emma Avenue to Robinson Avenue on the eastern side of the city is scheduled to be complete in May 2009.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department opened a new, wider 6-mile section of U.S. 412 near Hindsville. If and when all the planned improvements are made to U.S. 412, it will be a 4-lane highway from the Oklahoma border east to Huntsville. The state is also planning to widen a 1.6-mile stretch of Old Wire Road in Springdale from Randall Wobbe Lane north to Arkansas 264. No work is evident here yet.

Fayetteville is also busy improving roads but perhaps not on the same scale as some of the other cities. Portions of Wedington Drive are being widened and, it seems to me, moving along at a good pace. As I recall, it took some five years to widen about three miles of Hwy. 265 so I am impressed with the progress I see on Wedington.

And on the subject of Hwy. 265, Fayetteville has been notified by the state transportation department that it wants to proceed with widening that highway from Mission Boulevard north to Joyce Boulevard. Earlier plans had called for a 4-lane highway north to the Springdale city limit but inflation caused those plans to be scrapped.

Meanwhile, plans for public transportation on a major scale are sorely lacking. Ozark Regional Transportation provides some bus service on fixed routes in Fayetteville and Springdale. A few routes in Rogers and Bentonville are scheduled for this year. Sadly, a route from Springdale to Lowell to Rogers was canceled recently due to lack of funding.

Razorback Transit at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville provides free bus service for the area around the campus and to the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

It seems to me that serious consideration must be given to improving public transportation on a regional scale (think light rail or funding for a beefed-up bus system). I don’t pretend to be a planning engineer but I do know congestion, traffic delays, and gridlock when I see it. Every once in a while I hear “light rail” being tossed around but I haven’t see any firm projections.

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