This column went to press before Tuesday night’s meeting of the Little Rock Board of Directors. A UALR group was scheduled to present a report on whether Rebsamen Park Road should be extended to the west to join River Mountain Road.
Alltel, which has 2,300 employees in Riverdale, wants the road extended to create another access point to the neighborhood besides three existing entries along Cantrell Road.
Rebsamen can’t be extended without a super majority vote of the City Board thanks to a 1992 referendum that prohibited bridging Jimerson Creek for auto traffic.
I got an advance look at the work by a UALR team headed by Angela Laird Benton, dean of the College of Professional Studies. The group realized instantly that Riverdale traffic flow was about more than a Rebsamen extension. It broadened its work and recommends more talk and long-term planning on a range of issues. Now the question: Can city governance be a collaborative process?
First, traffic studies are needed. Is there really a pressing need for a new Riverdale outlet? I pass key Riverdale intersections at rush hour twice daily and don’t find them a headache. It’s certainly painless compared with major cities. What traffic, and how much, would be served by opening this route (at Alltel, more than half its workforce lives outside Little Rock or in neighborhoods that wouldn’t use this link)? Are there Cantrell projects, such as center turn lanes and signal improvements that could help access? What are the pros and cons of improving existing street connections from the south that serve Riverdale? (Devastation to my Hillcrest neighborhood, for one. Anything that makes that cut-through speedier means more traffic in a quiet residential area. Overlook and surrounding neighborhoods are similarly affected.)
The studies could be done by April. Meetings of 20 or so representatives of interested parties could begin in May and perhaps reach recommendations by July.
What are the options besides Cantrell improvements? Maybe an extension of Rebsamen, but with a design to slow traffic, though cost and environmental impact remain huge questions. Maybe light rail to reduce car commutes. The Midtown Expressway, linking Cantrell and Interstate 630, will get a fresh look. These are big and expensive ideas, but if players knew they were in the works, they might be more willing to compromise on short-term fixes.
“Human engineering” will be discussed — carpooling, bicycle commuting and staggered start times for major workforces.
Compromise won’t be easy. Opponents of the road extension think Alltel has been calling the shots. Alltel thinks it has been dissed by the City Board, which remains reluctant to overturn the 1992 referendum. Six members might be willing to put the issue back on the ballot. It would likely be a repeat outcome, particularly if the argument against it was little more than economic blackmail by Alltel.
None of the fixes are cheap or easy, Brenton says. But they concern the vibrancy of a neighborhood that brings an ideal mix of business, residences, retail, parks and entertainment to the core city. You want to nurture it, not ruin it. Easier traffic flow might help. But it also might hurt.
The Rebsamen extension, by the way, requires difficult engineering at the connection with River Mountain road, three railroad grade crossings and potential conflicts with both a historic black cemetery and the expensive new pedestrian bridge over Murray Lock and Dam.
They said Little Rock and North Little Rock would never merge their water systems. With UALR’s guidance, they did. Talking and long-term thinking sound like good places to start here.