Tran­sit study to ex­am­ine U.S. 71B route

Group to look at cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, pos­si­ble changes

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - RON WOOD

SPRING­DALE — Ozark Re­gional Tran­sit is strug­gling to rise from the ashes of a dev­as­tat­ing fire that de­stroyed most of its bus fleet, but of­fi­cials still are look­ing at ways to ex­pand ser­vices down the road.

The pub­lic tran­sit provider has com­mis­sioned a study of the U.S. 71B cor­ri­dor from Fayet­teville to Ben­tonville to de­ter­mine whether a “light” ver­sion of bus rapid tran­sit would be fea­si­ble.

“I think we can pro­vide a lot of ser­vice for a lot of peo­ple,” Joel Gard­ner, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor, told board mem­bers Thurs­day.

Bus rapid tran­sit typ­i­cally uses ded­i­cated lanes giv­ing pri­or­ity to buses at in­ter­sec­tions and uses de­sign fea­tures to re­duce de­lays caused by pas­sen­gers board­ing or leav­ing buses or

pur­chas­ing fares. The idea is to com­bine the ca­pac­ity and speed of a metro rail sys­tem with the flex­i­bil­ity, lower cost and sim­plic­ity of a bus sys­tem.

The tran­sit study is look­ing for less ex­pen­sive and less in­tru­sive op­tions that can be done rel­a­tively quickly.

“We’re look­ing to feed con­nec­tions north­bound and south­bound, de­pend­ing on how it pans out fi­nan­cially,” Gard­ner said. “The over­all fo­cus is to get peo­ple who are liv­ing in Fayet­teville up to ar­eas where they work in Ben­tonville or peo­ple liv­ing in the Ben­tonville and Rogers area down to where they work in Fayet­teville and, of course, in be­tween.”

A study will be done by KFH Group of Austin, Texas, and is ex­pected to be­gin Wed­nes­day and con­clude June 30. Re­sults are ex­pected to be pre­sented in July.

“They’re go­ing to look at the 71 Busi­ness cor­ri­dor as it sets right now, with­out im­prove­ments, then they’re go­ing to look at what it’s go­ing to take to im­prove it so that we can use this cor­ri­dor, with some mi­nor mod­i­fi­ca­tions, so that the buses in­te­grate with the ex­ist­ing traf­fic,” Gard­ner said.

Gard­ner said the study will con­sider traf­fic sig­nal pri­or­i­ties, park-and-ride lo­ca­tions with bus sta­tions and bus pull­outs, among other things.

The study is be­ing paid for with a Wal­ton Fam­ily Foun­da­tion grant of about $140,000. Gard­ner said he and tran­sit staff have been work­ing for the last 18 months to se­cure money for the study.

Gard­ner said he even­tu­ally would like to see buses leav­ing each end of the Ben­tonville-to-Fayet­teville cor­ri­dor ev­ery 10 to 15 min­utes dur­ing peak hours with reg­u­lar stops along the way. Off-peak hours would pos­si­bly see 30-minute in­ter­vals.

Tim Con­klin, a se­nior plan­ner at the North­west Arkansas Re­gional Plan­ning Com­mis­sion, said more in­for­ma­tion about pub­lic tran­sit op­tions is al­ways help­ful.

“Ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion on the fea­si­bil­ity and the cost of do­ing some­thing that’s maybe a lit­tle less than what we’ve stud­ied would be wel­comed for the re­gion to bet­ter un­der­stand what these types of trans­porta­tion sys­tems look like and cost to run,” Con­klin said. “At some point, as a re­gion, we need to dis­cuss how our tran­sit sys­tem op­er­ates and whether we can af­ford ad­di­tional evening ser­vice and week­end ser­vice as a re­gion. We do need to have an over­all tran­sit dis­cus­sion be­cause cur­rently it’s lim­ited and fund­ing to pro­vide that ser­vice is also lim­ited.”

Bus rapid tran­sit was con­sid­ered in an anal­y­sis of trans­porta­tion al­ter­na­tives done for Re­gional Plan­ning in 2014. The study found a tra­di­tional bus rapid tran­sit sys­tem on the cor­ri­dor would cost some $100 mil­lion and take 10 years to im­ple­ment.

That same anal­y­sis found com­muter rail on the Arkansas & Mis­souri Rail­road rightof-way would cost some $664 mil­lion and $2.2 bil­lion on new right-of-way closer to In­ter­state 49.

“It’s look­ing at some­thing less than we looked at that could po­ten­tially be im­ple­mented in a shorter time frame at a lower cost,” Con­klin said of the Ozark Re­gional Tran­sit study. “I think Re­gional Plan­ning would be re­ally in­ter­ested in par­tic­i­pat­ing and col­lab­o­rat­ing with ORT and their con­sul­tant to look at how it com­ple­ments what we have done in the past and see what rec­om­men­da­tions they come up with re­gard to it on 71B through the ci­ties.”

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