Fayetteville Arkansas, University of Arkansas--Old Main Overview

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

Friday, September 11, 2009

Light Rail for NW Arkansas?

Picture working for Walmart, living in Fayetteville or Springdale and not having to fight traffic to get to and from work. Read the newspaper on the way (if they still exist) or keep up with your email. This could be the reality in 10 to 20 years in NW Arkansas.

Thursday the idea for light rail in NW Arkansas got a boost when the Washington County Quorum Court unanimously passed a resolution to implement a feasibility study on the issue. This is the first step toward getting federal funding for such a project.

This is welcome news to me, as I have been bemoaning the slowness of infrastructure improvements in NW Arkansas for a long time, especially for transportation. But the city of Fayetteville passed a similar resolution on July 7, and Springdale passed a similar resolution on August 25.

Some people think the idea is way too idealistic and can never come to pass, but a growing number of supporters say otherwise. Justice of the Peace Gary Carnahan, who brought forward the resolution is one of them. He compared the idea of light rail now to the development of the NW Arkansas Regional Airport and credited our “nice airport” to visionary people in the area.

For light rail, one of those visionaries is Stephen Luoni, director of the University of Arkansas Community Design Center in the Architecture Department. About a month ago, I heard Luoni speak at an informational meeting at the Fayetteville Public Library. It all made perfect sense to me since we already have the rails for a large part of the system. A majority of costs in other areas have been to acquire right of way, and we already have an underused rail system passing through all of our major towns.

The Community Design Center has already thought through many aspects of the project and compared it to similar projects in other parts of the country. Although NW Arkansas is not a major city, such projects in other less populated regions have met with success.

The poster child for light rail projects has been Dallas, where similar objections were voiced two decades ago. Now the Dallas rail system is considered to be one of the best in the country and has generated more than $1 billion in mixed-use, high quality urban development.

The NW Arkansas system would extend from the Fayetteville airport north through Fayetteville, Johnson, Springdale, Lowell, Rogers and Bentonville and end at the NW Arkansas Regional Airport. It could stimulate economic development, create new housing and commercial projects revitalizing central areas of our towns, and provide sustainable “green” growth instead of the sprawl that results from new highway construction. It would be a less expensive way to move more people, and it could enhance our already-famous quality of life indices.

Other advantages are that it would allow more parts of NW Arkansas to stay “natural” and create so-called Transit-Oriented Development (TOD). This type of development creates a lifestyle not just a transportation system, and it guides smart growth. I could go on, but there’s too much for just a blog article.

For the feasibility study to actually take place, federal funding must be pursued by the NW Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Mobility Authority, and the Northwest Arkansas Council.

I hope they start the process soon. It’s going to take a long time for all of this to happen so we need to start now.

For more information about the system envisioned, visit the U of A Community Design Center website at http://uacdc.uark.edu/. Download a nifty book about the envisioned transit system, or for a small fee, have them mail you a copy.

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