by Marty Cook
Posted 2/17/2014 12:00 am
Updated 5 months ago
Infrastructure is one of Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan’s favorite subjects.
The city plans to break ground later this month on a one-mile stretch of Van Asche Drive that is a continuation of the “Mayor’s Box” development. The $4.5 million Van Asche project will create a new straight-shot four-lane road that connects the existing road to Highway 112.
The Mayor’s Box is the term city officials came up with in 2006, when Dan Coody was the mayor, for the system of road expansion on the borders of the city. A traffic study commissioned in 2003 said the city needed more than $160 million in improvements to its streets, and the Mayor’s Box is part of the attempt to address those needs.
“You build your city’s future now,” Jordan said. “If you build the proper infrastructure, you can grow the city and it’ll be able to handle the growth. We’re building the infrastructure for the city for the next 50 years right now.”
In 2006, city voters approved a bond issue that generated $65.9 million that, coupled with state funds, Fayetteville is using to upgrade its streets. Even after the Mayor’s Box is done, the city will still have many more projects to fulfill the needs outlined in the traffic study.
“Cities are always trying to play catch-up,” City Engineer Chris Brown said. “The study said we needed $160 million to fix all the problems, and we’re getting a little more than halfway through. We are always going to be behind. You do the best you can with the funds available.”
The Mayor’s Box was developed shortly after the completion of the traffic study while Jordan was a member of the Fayetteville City Council. Crossover Road in the east was expanded, and state funds helped with the cost because Crossover is also Highway 265.
Jordan is excited about developing Rupple Road on the west side of town. The city plans to build and expand Rupple from Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in the south to eventually connect to Howard Nickell Road in the northwest corner.
Jordan said Rupple runs through undeveloped land that should become a destination spot for businesses and residences once the work, scheduled to start next year, is completed.
“I’m certainly a firm believer in ‘if you build it, they will come,’” Jordan said. “If you build the infrastructure first, you know folks are going to come. When the road is built, they’ll develop alongside the road.”
Jordan and Brown said studies haven’t determined whether Rupple should be built immediately as a four-lane road or as a two-lane road that can expand as population growth demands it. Without endless funds to build infrastructure, city officials have to plan out each project that makes up the overall box, as well as the more than $60 million in other improvements the study said the city needed.
“We’re going to build more infrastructure in the next three years than we’ve built in 20 years around here,” Jordan said.
It’s not just roads that Jordan and the city are building. Jordan said the road improvement is tied in with sidewalks and Fayetteville’s extensive trail system.
Jordan said the city budget for sidewalks will nearly triple from $500,000 to nearly $1.5 million, and the city will build four miles of trails in 2014 after building nearly six miles this past year.
The overall plan in Jordan’s mind is obvious as he repeatedly pops out from behind his desk to point out the existing schools in Fayetteville and how the street and sidewalk upgrades connect the community.
“We’re going to spend the same amount of money on sidewalks that we’ve been spending on trails so we can get the double whammy,” Jordan said. “For years we’ve needed a good sidewalk program but we didn’t have the funding. These schools interlock with a half-mile radius and we spiderweb them out.
“Every child will be able to walk safely to school. It makes us a walkable community.”
Once the box is completed — the only section not funded yet is Rupple to Howard Nickell Road in the northwest corner that crosses outside the city limits — the city plans to develop areas inside the box. Brown said Fayetteville’s growth and east-west corridors are complicated by terrain and the University of Arkansas, which owns a significant portion of city space.
“We’re kind of limited what we can do east-west in the central part of the city,” Brown said. “We’re trying to make additional access in the north and south. It helps disperse traffic. It doesn’t solve all the traffic woes in the city, but it sets up the perimeter of the city and then you infill.”
Jordan said having more sidewalks, trails and bicycle lanes will help the environment by reducing carbon emissions, but developing the overall plan will have a significant business impact, he said. Brown said a major company located in Fayetteville because the trails system and walking paths were wanted by employees.
A bond issue last year gave the city funds to build a major regional park in the south that will be a major attraction, Jordan said.
“You can go around this city either by car or public transportation or by bike or you can walk,” Jordan said. “People want to be able to walk places. Your population drives the business engine of your city. We have big-city amenities with a small-town feel.”
Jordan said he understands how the current construction can be a nuisance — Garland Avenue is a fine example of a road best untraveled during busy times of the day — but said people will just have to be patient. The final product will benefit everyone and be worth the wait.
“You don’t get trophies for building infrastructure,” Jordan said. “No one is going to remember who built the infrastructure, but you know what? Once it is built it will help advance this city for our children and our children’s children.
“If we are going to develop the economic engine of this city, we have to build infrastructure. It has to happen.”