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Freeway, trail progress top Metroplan agenda

The new logo for the Arkansas River Trail
The new logo for the Arkansas River Trail

North Belt Freeway considerations and Arkansas River Trail progress were among the agenda items heard at the Feb. 27 Metroplan board of directors.

The meeting was the first regular meeting for Cabot mayor Bill Cypert in his position as president of the board. Cypert was named to the position during the Dec. 17 board meeting.

The Arkansas River Trail Task Force has cooperated with the National Park Service and obtained a $25,000 grant for the River Trail to pay for signs and user education, Metroplan director Jim McKenzie said. Metroplan would be the grant recipient, but the board of directors must approve, he said.

The motion to allow Metroplan to be the grant manager was made and approved.

Action to decline a proposal on the North Belt Freeway from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department was brief with most discussion having been done during the January Metroplan planning retreat.

In a Nov. 28, 2012, letter, AHTD director Scott Bennett said AHTD would advance $15 million for design and right-of-way acquisition for NBF if the Metroplan board of directors would, in turn, pledge $26 million to the 2016-19 Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP). The TIP funds would be a 50 percent partnership with AHTD on design and right-of-way acquisition for the NBF.

However, the Metroplan response is to not make such an agreement, “In any kind of binding way…”

The response lists, “Uncertainty as to the level of future federal funding, uncertainty over our legal ability to future commit both federal and local match funds, and uncertainty over the level of partnering that would ultimately be required to construct the project …” for not taking the offer.

McKenzie presented a resolution, at Cypert’s suggestion, to form an ad hoc committee to assist the Metroplan staff in considering alternatives to the NBF should the decision be made to end efforts to build the highway.

The committee would include the mayors of Cabot, Jacksonville, Sherwood, Little Rock, Austin, Ward, Greenbrier, Conway, an AHTD representative, and three county judges.

The resolution was approved.

At the August 2012 Metroplan meeting, Cypert declared that despite the time spent in past discussions of the North Belt Freeway, the project had become a distraction, drawing attention from other, badly needed projects, he said.

Cypert said in August that despite renewed efforts to “just keep it alive,” he was ready to, “Just kill it.”

“[Cabot has] urgent short-term and critical infrastructure traffic capacity needs that need to be addressed. But here we are just talking about keeping something alive; this to just keep talking and that’s about it.”

If the North Belt Freeway were built, then it would connect the interchange of Arkansas Highway 440 and U.S. Highway 67/167, between Jacksonville and Sherwood, with the Interstate 430/I-40 interchange near North Little Rock. It is the only uncompleted freeway segment of the interstate system surrounding the Little Rock/North Little Rock area.

Rob Stephens, chairperson of the Arkansas River Trail Task Force, reported on development of the Arkansas River Trail during 2012, and plans for a $25,000 federal grant.

The Arkansas River Trail System is a 34-mile loop through Little Rock and North Little Rock, connecting 38 parks, six museums and more than 5,000 acres of federal, state and local parks.

More directional signs have been installed through the Three Rivers Bridge area, a significant part of ART, Stephens said. “Use of the trail has increased dramatically,” he said.

The Task Force has been a $25,000 grant from the River Trails Conservation Program, “Unless it goes over the fiscal cliff in sequestration,” Stephens said. Much of the grant is for additional signage on the trail, addition of informational kiosks and other refinements, he said. While the grant might sound large, $25,000 does not go far, Stephens said.

A new logo along with signs has been developed, and the ART Web site is up, he said.

The website is http://arkansasrivertrail.org/

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