Thursday, August 14, 2008

Question Authority

Last month, the Ozark Regional Transit Board voted to eliminate at least two bus routes because of increased costs, although they have a record number of riders. “The political leadership in the cities and counties won’t set mass transit as a priority unless the public does,” said ORT director Phil Pumphrey. The entire budget is only $2.2 million a year, and the decision to cut routes has real consequences for real people who depend on public ttransportation.

Today, the Northwest Arkansas Times pondered in print, "If we’re not mistaken, our cities and counties recently joined together to form a regional mobility authority, an entity that means to raise public funds (via toll, taxes, etc.) to create options that simply could not exist without its existence. The list of projects its biggest supporters are dreaming about include the creation of a Bella Vista bypass, a bypass around U.S. 412 in Springdale, and a 'western beltway' circumventing Interstate 540 and connecting Greenland to Bella Vista.

"But we’re increasingly becoming convinced that carving out a new highway to the west is a far, far less urgent need than other improvements to transportation. And one cannot sensibly talk about improving transportation options and reducing congestion without putting mass transit high on the list of priorities. At the least, part of any responsible solution has to be the encouragement of individuals to park their cars and keep them off the highway altogether. Progressive discussion cannot be void of mass transit, nor can it be successful if
Northwest Arkansas leaders find it acceptable to see the spare budget Ozark Regional Transit operates on get even smaller.

"...That’s why we hope the leaders of the regional mobility authority — mayors of member cities or their representatives, plus the county judges of Benton and Washington counties — take great care to protect against becoming known as merely a 'road-building authority,' and instead evolve into a transportation authority in the truest sense."

Those suggestions were previously presented by Fayetteville citizens in comments to the NWA Planning Commission.
Lioneld Jordan wrote, "First priority for funding any study should be given to undertaking a 'Transportation Alternatives Analysis', wherein all the transportation concepts should be studied and examined in relation to each other, including improvements to I-540, state highways, city streets, mass transit buses, light rail, and walking and biking trails."

Jordan also noted, "Fayetteville and Washington County have recently become members of the Regional Mobility Authority. This new organization should be involved in any such a major transportation decision that could preempt alternative solutions. This organization should be committed to providing a comprehensive inter-modal transportation system which most efficiently serves the human and economic needs of the metropolitan area and Northwest Arkansas region, and they should be able to consider all available options regarding such a system."

Last week, the Policy Committee of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission showed little interest in mass transit and voted 25-1 to fund an $800,000 feasibility study of the concrete slab for big trucks that they are calling the Western Beltway. Fayetteville Mayor Dan Coody was absent from the meeting, and his proxy did not vote.

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