Fayetteville officials and citizens celebrated the opening of Van Asche Drive yesterday, as well they should. The road is an example of what our transportation system might be until we realize the potential of a light rail system. It is everything that the clusterfart at Joyce and North College is not. It is a boulevard with a handsome median, green space, sidewalks, and trail connections. Congratulations to everyone involved in the conception and construction of the project.
The Van Asche project cost taxpayers about $3 million, which seems about right for construction of that design. However, the city got word this week that the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department now claims that it would cost $42 million for the planned three mile improvement project on Crossover Road from Mission north to the city limits, and the state says it has only $15.4 million available for the project. Glenn Bolick, Highway Department apologist, had said the cost was about $20 million when the public hearing was held on the project in May. Even if you believe his assertion that inflation is 30% in the construction industry, that still does not make any sense.
Here's what makes sense. Highway Commission Chairman Jonathan Barnett of Siloam Springs is a tool of the self-appointed and non-elected business interests calling themselves the Northwest Arkansas Council. This group is behind the proposed Regional Mobility Authority that would have residents raise their own property or sales taxes to fund the Northwest Arkansas Council's two pet projects -- multi-lane bypasses around Bella Vista and north around Springdale. These would be of great convenience for the trucking industry, the poultry industry, and one large retailer. That might explain why the state highway department cannot find much money for Fayetteville in the 2007-2010 State Highway Improvement Program.
Barnett's term on the highway commission expires soon, but the governor is likely to appoint a replacement who is similarly beholden to the business interests represented by the Northwest Arkansas Council. The city should consider reallocating the $7.7 million committed for the Crossover improvement project to one that it can build without getting jerked around by the state. Look at punching Van Asche on west to Highway 112 or improving Crossover from Joyce north. That would also please the politically-connected residents of Candlewood Estates who had all along opposed the inclusion of bike lanes and a median on the Crossover project.