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Public transit plans getting overhauled

by Ron Wood | August 26, 2016 at 1:00 a.m.

SPRINGDALE -- The region's 10-year public transportation plan is about to be overhauled.

Regional planners, public transportation providers and city officials are embarking on an update of the Northwest Arkansas 10 Year Transit Development Plan, Ozark Regional Transit board members were told Thursday. A priority is finding a dedicated, permanent funding source for public transit.

ORT adding para-transit vehicles

Ozark Regional Transit is adding five new vehicles built specifically for para-transit service, according to Joel Gardner, executive director.

The vehicles are similar to a large a SUV and are built by AM General and sold by Mobility Ventures. They will replace modified mini-vans ORT has been using.

The cost per unit is $46,000 before add-ons, Gardner said. ORT will add computers, radios and graphics bringing the cost per unit up to just shy of $48,000. Money for the vehicles is from federal highway dollars the region receives.

Gardner said he expects the MV-1 vehicles to be delivered within the next 14 days. It will take about another week to get them road ready and in service.

Source: Staff report

The current 10-year plan was adopted in 2010 by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, which is responsible for overseeing public transportation in the area. The new plan will provide guidance and an overall regional strategy for increasing public transit over the next decade.

The existing plan assumed a dedicated local funding source for transit would be in place for the three- to five-year short-range and the six- to 10-year long-range portions. But a bid to pass a tax increase with the proceeds going to transit was rejected by voters in 2012.

Transit providers get federal money, and local governmental entities also give Ozark Regional Transit and University of Arkansas Razorback Transit money. Ozark Transit makes some revenue off fares.

"The sales tax didn't pass, and we don't to this day have a dedicated funding source for ORT," said Tim Conklin, a senior planner with the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.

Don Marr, Fayetteville's representative to the transit board, said a problem with the earlier tax drive was backers asked for money first and promised to develop a plan rather than going to voters with a plan and asking them to pay for it.

Mike Lanier, who represents Madison County on the board, suggested estimated costs for services be included in the overall plan.

Board members also said they want to look at alternatives to a tax increase.

Conklin told the group the re-worked plan should mesh with transportation and downtown master plans in the works by the various cities and the University of Arkansas and should include a land use element to help cities and transit providers plan for sidewalks, park-and-ride lots, bus stops and other infrastructure.

The plan should also set performance targets and measures for the region's transit systems so the efficiency, effectiveness and productivity can be analyzed, Conklin said. He also wants to be able to compare transit in the Northwest Arkansas region to systems in other areas of the country.

The next steps include setting up a steering committee and hiring a consulting firm to help with the plan.

Marr said he wants to make sure the updated plan is followed.

"I want to make sure we don't pay for a plan that we don't use," Marr said.

The current transit plan sat on a shelf for two years, according to Joel Gardner, executive director for Ozark Transit. Gardner took over the transit in 2013.

"Under my watch, I can guarantee we don't build dust collectors," Gardner said.

NW News on 08/26/2016

Print Headline: Public transit getting a new 10-year plan

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