Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Good Suit Club Is at It Once Again

Jonathan Barnette of Siloam Springs is Chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission and the longest serving member. Since Mike Huckabee appointed him in 1999, he has had sole authority for allocating roughly 20% of the highway spending in the state, and he has done a pith poor job, regardless of whether your priorities are for more concrete slabs to accommodate the trucking moguls or more sustainable alternative means of transportation for local residents

Art Hobson’s column today is spot on as he considers our transportation system and sighs, “In Northwest Arkansas, there’s a fever to expand Interstate 540 to eight, count ‘em, eight lanes. And as though that were not sufficiently over-the-top, the geniuses on the Northwest Arkansas Council — the renowned “good suit club” representing Wal-Mart, Tyson’s, etc. — who got us into this mess are already conjuring up another big highway even further west, the ‘western beltway.’ Far be it from them to seriously consider the system that many have proposed for the region: a light rail ‘backbone’ from Bentonville down at least through Greenland, fleshed out with an extensive bus network focused on the rail hubs and other important destinations. There was real interest in such a system a couple of years ago, and a delegation went to Washington DC to drum up support for the needed million-dollar feasibility study, but rather than supporting this project U. S. Rep. John Boozman has dropped the ball. It seems clear that his Northwest Arkansas backers favor asphalt over rails.”

The Northwest Arkansas Council aka Good Suit Club wants the quorum courts of Benton and Washington counties to approve a Regional Mobility Authority (or as the Morning News honestly called it a regional “highway” authority), with the power to propose sales taxes, toll roads, and other financing methods for roads, over and above the current state and federal gas taxes. The authorizing legislation was sold as a mobility authority that might fund a regional light rail system or other means besides just more roadwork, but that was never what the regional business interests had in mind. This is the same group that previously persuaded Fayetteville and Washington County to go along with funding the Regional Airport in Benton County. Now they want our money to pay for multi-lane bypasses around Bella Vista and Springdale. We should not fall for it this time.

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