City hopes bonds will build roads

Posted: January 28, 2018 at 1:09 a.m.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK A view Tuesday looking south at the end of Gene George Boulevard near the intersection of Bleaux Avenue in Springdale. The extension of the Gene George Boulevard north will be one of the first projects Springdale will begin if a bond issue passes.

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth in a six-part series on the proposed Springdale bond issue. For previous stories, visit nwadg.com.

SPRINGDALE — Suzanne Cartwright gets a lot of windshield time. She drives her four children to four schools and herself to a fifth, where she works as a counselor. She taxis the kids after school to dance lessons, theatrical rehearsals, softball games, cheer-leading practice and church groups.

“I’m all over town,” she said.

Traffic congestion bothers her at peak times, but overall it’s not too bad, she said.

For now. She fears the city becoming like ones where drivers must leave an hour early to reach their destinations on time.

“That’s why people move out of those towns,” she said.

Special election

Springdale residents will vote on a $200 million bond issue to pay for projects in five areas. The sixth question on the ballot asks voters to renew a 1 percent sales tax to pay the bonds. The renewal must pass for any of the projects to be funded. Estimated costs and projects are:

• $71.4 million for street improvement.

• $47.4 million to refinance debt.

• $40.8 million for a criminal justice center and renovate the city administration building.

• $19.4 million for parks and trails.

• $16.4 million for three fire stations.

• $5.2 million to replace the animal shelter.

Source: Staff report

A proposed $200 million bond issue by the city of Springdale includes $71.4 million for street improvements. Springdale residents will vote Feb. 13 on the issue. The bonds would be repaid with an extension of a 1-cent sales tax.

“And as proceeds from the 1-cent sales tax grow as the city’s population and economy grow, that excess will be funneled into the roads bonds,” said Spring-dale Mayor Doug Sprouse. The cap on road spending on the bond projects is set at $92 million.

Sprouse said the completed road projects would help people get around town, as well as attract development, which would increase sales and property tax revenue.

FIVE-LANE BOX

The City Council will decide what road projects to build, Sprouse insisted, but he thinks the first would extend Gene George Boulevard north to Wagon Wheel Road, perhaps to the U.S. 412 bypass under construction. And possibly extend Gene George south to Johnson Mill Road.

Councilman Rick Evans agreed. “That’s already engineered to be done,” he said. “It’s ready to go.”

City staff are appraising land to acquire the right of way, said Bradley Baldwin, the director of the city’s engineering department.

The extension of Gene George would provide the city with another north-south thoroughfare to parallel Interstate 49 and reduce congestion at interstate access points, Sprouse said.

He also sees good development opportunity along the road, which already hosts Arvest Ballpark and the new Arkansas Children’s Northwest hospital.

The extension also would provide the western leg of a box of five-lane roads around Springdale, including Wagon Wheel to the north, Don Tyson Parkway to the south and an extension of Arkansas 265 to Arkansas 264 on the east, which is under construction by the Arkansas Transportation Department.

Extending Gene George north would be a quick project, with construction taking about 18 months, Baldwin said. The route doesn’t have an existing road to reroute and interrupt commutes, and the project can be opened in sections.

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“Folks hate construction, but it’s great to be part of a growing community,” Baldwin said.

The extension is estimated at $32 million.

“That’s almost half of the available money, but we will still have a lot left for other projects, and a lot is needed,” Sprouse said.

Another early project could be an overhaul of Huntsville Avenue from North Thompson Street west to Interstate 49, Baldwin said. The city would add a center turn lane from Thompson to Gutensohn Street, which can be done without widening the street, although driving lanes would be narrowed, Baldwin said.

The estimated cost would be $1.5 million and could be completed quickly. Construction could begin this spring, he said.

Sprouse feels a sense of urgency for the road projects. Other cities in Northwest Arkansas are planning for improvement bond votes in the next few years, he said. Construction prices will rise as the need for workers increases.

The bond program also would pay for continuing street improvements downtown to support revitalization efforts.

“One thing you can count on when you’re replacing downtown is that it’s going to take longer than projected,” Baldwin said. “Especially as they dig up infrastructure that’s been there 80 to 100 years that they weren’t always so good at telling you where it is.”

PROJECTS ABOUND

Priorities for the road improvements are to connect residents to places they want to go and spur development, Sprouse said. Both factors can often be addressed at the same time, he added.

Philip Taldo of Springdale, a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission, compared the proposed projects to the east-west corridors of Don Tyson Parkway and Wagon Wheel Road completed under the 2012/2013 bond program.

“Springdale is a shining example of the effort that should be put into east-west travel to make travel overall better in our region,” said Jeff Hawkins, director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

Baldwin gathered staff from city departments, council members, chamber of commerce representatives and several developers in 2016 to talk about the city’s streets.

“We put all our ideas on the table,” he said. “We talked about what roads we needed, what roads we needed to improve and planned future development. It was $250 million worth of work. It gave us a huge head start.”

The city put the resulting 34 projects in book form, with preliminary layout and cost estimates determined by Engineering Services of Spring-dale.

Among the projects that could be funded with a bond reissue are improving 40th Street north of Falcon Road to support the Game & Fish Commission’s planned Northwest Arkansas Nature and Education Center; extending 48th Street north of its end point at the Walmart Super-center on Elm Springs Road; extending Ford and Turnbow avenues west of Arkansas 265 to Butterfield Coach Road and adding a left-turn lane at Ford.

Philip Talbert, owner of the Spring-Green lawn care office, which holds contracts from Bella Vista to Fort Smith, said any development that spurs residential development increases his business, especially if growth comes at a safe rate.

Initial improvement projects seem to focus on building development and traffic flow for the west side of town, but an extension of Don Tyson Parkway east to U.S. 412 is also among possible projects.

The east side benefited from projects built with money from the 2012/2013 bond program, including the extension of Don Tyson to Habberton Road and the C.L. “Charlie” and Willie George Park, said Evans, who represents residents in the southeastern section of the city.

AHEAD OF THE GAME

Many places across the state claim they need this four-lane road here or that exit there to attract development, Hawkins said. “They say, ‘Build it, and they will come.’

“But in Northwest Arkansas, we haven’t built it, and they’ve come anyway. We’re playing catch-up.”

Hawkins said several high-profile projects are on hold in the area because the cities don’t have the money to build the infrastructure.

“Springdale has made quite an effort through their bond programs to build what needs to be built,” Hawkins said.

Springdale and other cities and counties in the state receive road money through the Connecting Arkansas Program. Arkansas voters approved a one-half cent sales tax in November 2012 to pay for the $1.8 billion program.

County and city governments each get 15 percent of the Connecting Arkansas revenue with the state highway system receiving 70 percent. The state began collecting the sales tax July 1, 2013, and it is expected to generate about $230 million a year through 2023.

State and federal money for roads is drying up, Taldo said. But cities like Springdale tax themselves to build these roads, and the state and federal agencies look at them as being proactive and reward them with money for projects.

“Then ours get done first,” he said.

Springdale’s location in the center of Northwest Arkansas poises it to draw development. The city sits at the crossroads of the nation’s No. 1 and No. 7 high priority projects: Interstate 49 and U.S. 412, Hawkins said.

Some people believe that extending thoroughfares advances growth outside of the Metropolitan Statistical Area, which can lead to sprawl, said Danny Straessle, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

“If you extend a road, growth will follow,” he said. “It’s up to the municipalities to manage their own growth in the way they chose to do it. They’ve got to contain it, monitor it, manage it, or they will develop traffic congestion and have to look at expanding the capacities for their roads.”

“When I got here, I would see parkways through what seemed to be pasture land,” Baldwin said. “Then all of the sudden, there was the children’s hospital.

“We need to catch people’s eyes when they are looking to come to this part of the country. We want them to see Springdale is a good place to be.”

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at ljoenks@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK A view Tuesday looking north at the end of Gene George Boulevard near the intersection of Bleaux Avenue in Sprin...

A map showing the proposed Springdale road extension