WHAT'S WRONG WITH THIS PICTURE? Nothing, is the answer. The Big Dam Bridge attracts many visitors, just as a trail from Little Rock to Hot Springs, nixed Tuesday night by Republican county officials, would do.
Bloc voting by the five Republicans on the Pulaski County Quorum Court stymied
a plan for an initial county investment in a largely federally funded grant to develop a 65-mile bike and pedestrian trail from Little Rock to Hot Springs.
The opposition was familiar to anyone who's followed some of the developments along the river in Little Rock and North Little Rock that benefited from earlier county road and bridge assistance. According to a Democrat-Gazette article, the sometimes level-headed JP Phil Stowers
"I believe that we have much greater needs in our country from an infrastructure perspective, and this is one of many that our federal government would be better served putting
our transportation dollars towards those needs — those bridges, those airports, those roads that need rehabilitation."
Such tunnel vision. This is the identical thinking of the Arkansas Department of Highway (D'oh) too. Only freeways and maybe arterial roads are transportation. Feet, bicycles, buses, trains? Something else, but not worthy of transportation infrastructure.
Apart from the general health benefit to the local populace, such trails can be immense tourism attractions. See the trail system built in Missouri. See the amazing plans in New York for an unbroken trail from Manhattan to the top of the state.
You need not travel far to see the benefits. Drive out to the Big Dam Bridge
or Three Rivers Bridge
on any nice day and try — try — to get a parking place. These places are thronged with bikers, walkers
and runners. The river trail system is equally popular. People like Stowers complained, too, when federal money was captured to preserve the Junction Bridge as a pedestrian crossing in downtown Little Rock. Imagine our city today without these amenities. Pick up any promotional brochure and see how often they are touted. Think of how many people would be drawn to an unbroken path from Little Rock to Hot Springs.
Pulaski would have shared with Saline and Garland counties about $520,000 in costs, while the federal government would contribute $2.6 million on
initial planning. It's possible the idea could get another vote by the Quorum Court, the county governing body, but it's unclear today. It got a 7-5 vote last night, needing eight, but a revote will require 10 of the 15 JPs. Only about 1 percent of the county's road and bridge tax goes to bike
lanes and trails as it is. We can and should do better.
The roadblocks to a good project with health and tourism benefits are these Republicans: Doug Reed
(476-1932) of Roland, Aaron Robinson
(772-2476) of Jacksonville, Luke McCoy
(291-9574) of Sherwood, Phil Stowers
(993-6165) of Maumelle and Paul Elliott
(231-3023) of Maumelle. Give them a call.
UPDATE: I got in touch with Stowers, occasionally level-headed as I said. He notes that he voted for funding for the Junction Bridge and Three Rivers project. The Big Dam Bridge came before his time on the Quorum Court.
Pulaski County has made tremendous investment in alternative transportation and recreational infrastructure over the past 20 years and I am proud to have been a part of that growth.
If we were talking about eventual high speed rail between LR & HS, I could get on board with a project and vision of that nature. I also support the visionary concept of light rail in the metro area (similar to DART in Dallas or the Metro-link in St.L) .
In 2017, with our crumbling national infrastructure that is already severely underfunded, I believe federal transportation dollars should be spent on those needs rather than a project with an estimated final price tag of over $30 Million dollars that would be primarily used for recreation, not transportation. It comes down to needs before wants.
My response: The mistake is to view traditional infrastructure and alternative infrastructure as a "want," or an extra. It is a "need," too.