Saturday, February 9, 2008

Steve Rust Gets It Right

Steve Rust, President of the Fayetteville Economic Development Council, yesterday attended a discussion on ecological economics and sustainable solutions organized by Sarah Lewis of the Springline Consulting Group. There were lots of smart people there and some with money, but none said anything wiser than Rust.

Rust argued that the thing that will help our area grow smart is to have a plan on the books regarding a mass transit system. “That will influence how we grow,” he said. “To me that is a huge priority to get that done. We’ll grow a lot smarter than if we just let it go and 10 to 20 years from now say, ‘Gee, I wish we had mass transit.’”

The need for a sensible and sustainable mass transit system, including light rail, is not a new article of faith with Rust. For several years, he has worked closely with the late John Lewis, Ron Goforth of Beta-Rubicon, John Bradberry of Greenway LLC, and Steve Luoni of the UA Community Design Center to advocate smart growth and regional light rail. He has testified for the need before the Fayetteville Council of Neighborhoods and the Arkansas Joint Legislative Committee on Public Transportation, and he has met with former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Congressman John Boozman, and Senator Blanche Lincoln to seek funding.

Public input meetings have demonstrated overwhelming citizen support for commuter rail service over the construction of the proposed Western Beltway. Despite the dedicated efforts of Rust and others, however, the Chamber of Cowbirds, the Northwest Arkansas Council of Corporations and Wealthy Business Executives, and their captive and unaccountable Regional Mobility Authority ignore mass transit and demand more multi-lane highways to accommodate the trucks of Wal-Mart, Tyson, and J.B. Hunt. Money talks.

The University of Arkansas rejected Luoni's request that their lobbyists seek funding for a feasibility study of a light rail system, and Congresman John Boozman ignored Rust's request for federal funds. Mayor Dan Coody has spent over $300,000 in city funds for a Washington lobbyist to seek pork funding for bigger roads demanded by the Cowbirds and the business interests for mall access, but Fayetteville has not requested a nickel for advancing a mass transit system to serve the people.

Be of good cheer and strong heart, Steve Rust. Your efforts are not for naught. Perhaps the next mayor will actually walk the walk of smart growth and be concerned with actually helping and serving the average citizens of our wonderful community.

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