Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Light Rail – What is it and when is it coming to Northwest Arkansas?

As a professional Realtor®, I spend a good amount of time on the roads of NW Arkansas and frequently get stuck in gridlock. Traffic backs up on the ramps to and from I-540. The major intersections in Fayetteville and Bentonville repeatedly resemble parking lots. Traffic congestion is a huge waste of productive time, causes unnecessary expense at the gas station, adds to pollution, and increases daily stress.

If you’ve read my previous blogs, you heard me complain about the need for improvements to infrastructure and a light rail transportation system in NW Arkansas. Perhaps the time is getting closer for some serious consideration of light rail.

First, let me explain the term “light rail.” It generally refers to a system of streetcars that operate on some type of electric rail, ideally separated from automobile traffic. However, life is seldom ideal so light rail is often mixed with other city traffic.

Light rail usually makes frequent stops to load and unload passengers. It does not operate as fast as true rapid transit systems such as those found in large cities (think subways and elevated trains in New York or Chicago). Neither is it a railroad train that runs between cities and across the country.

Infrastructure has simply not been able to keep up in NW Arkansas. No matter how fast new roads are built or widened, they become clogged. Yet, many people don’t want to seriously consider light rail yet. Would they rather wait until we way behind on that front as well?

No one knows what a light rail system would cost. Coupling design/engineering/utility costs with right-of-way acquisitions and construction costs puts the estimate as high as $1 billion. That’s an astronomical amount of money. On the other hand, doing nothing for another 10 or 15 years would probably make $1 billion sound like a bargain.

There are many points to consider, such as:

Is our population large enough to support a light rail system? (Estimates are approximately 400,000 people live in Washington and Benton Counties.)

Would people avail themselves of light rail or continue to drive their gas-guzzling SUVs?

What other economic benefits would a light rail system provide?

What are the costs of not building a light rail system? (More and more roads?)

What high will the cost of gasoline rise?

I am not the first to think a feasibility study needs to be conducted to evaluate light rail and other methods of moving people around this area. The study might cost $1 million but the cost of doing nothing is much more expensive. My hope is that we can get moving on the study within the next year.

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