FAYETTEVILLE -- The city will get a shared-use side path on the Wedington Drive bridge over Interstate 49, but at significant cost because of a discrepancy over what's considered recreation or transportation.
The City Council voted to approve an agreement with the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department on the project. The agreement calls for the city to shell out $415,000 so pedestrians and bicyclists can go east-west across a double loop ramp for traffic entering Interstate 49 from Wedington Drive. The plan is part of a larger project to improve the interchange.
The original plan the state proposed called for bike lanes going in both directions with a sidewalk for pedestrians to the north. The city immediately recognized the plan wouldn't be safe, and requested a shared-use path instead, City Engineer Chris Brown said.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan received a letter in March in which the Highway Department stated it considers side paths as recreational, not as a means of transportation. Subsequently, the department requested $415,000 to construct the shared-use path.
The city tried to negotiate, but the Highway Department remained steadfast. On Tuesday, the council approved the cost-share agreement.
Alderman Matthew Petty called into question the state's "policy is policy shrug" to the city's requests.
"I think it is clear when you have 20,000 people, approximately, who live west of the interstate ... who, whether it's out of necessity or preference, would like to walk or ride their bike, they absolutely deserve a safe way to do that," he said. "I don't think there's anybody who studies this issue anywhere that thinks that the side path that we're proposing and asking for is less safe than the Highway Department's proposal for bike lanes."
It's possible the city won't have to foot the entire $415,000 bill. The side path would be eligible for money under the Transportation Alternatives Program, with an 80 percent federal share and 20 percent local match.
Petty remarked on the irony of the state classifying side paths as recreational, then recommending the city apply for a program called Transportation Alternatives.
"I couldn't be more confused," he said. "I don't want to be adversarial, even though it's probably in my nature to be aggressive on something like this."
Jordan began to describe the Highway Department's perception a bike lane is safe "where bicycles can practically clean the mirror off a car as they go by," but cut himself short.
"Well, bless their hearts," he said.
As it stands, the $415,000 cost would further exacerbate an already underfunded Zion Road Improvement Project, Brown said.
City officials have a meeting scheduled with Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel to go over the policy on side paths, Petty said.
In other business, the council left on its second reading a request to rezone the old Razorback Golf Course at 2514 W. Lori Drive.
Developer Bart Bauer has since dropped out of the project, but landowner Ron Caviness pressed on with the rezoning by adding a bill of assurance to the original proposal.
The bill of assurance calls for a maximum of 400 single-family homes in the areas of the 128-acres zoned for neighborhood conservation and neighborhood services. Alderwoman Adella Gray, who was not present at Tuesday's meeting, requested the item be left on its second reading so she could have a vote. City Attorney Kit Williams also wanted to wait until Caviness was present to discuss the issue further.
Development at the site has been a point of controversy since Lindsey Management proposed putting as many as 730 residential units, mostly apartments, on the property. The City Council rejected that proposal in March.
The City Council also on Tuesday passed its 2016 millage levy and approved authorization to issue and sell the Fayetteville Public Library's improvement bonds.
Property taxes will remain the same at 2.3 mills for the city's general fund and 0.8 mills for police and fire pensions. The library's levy will go up to 2.5 mills for operation and 1.2 mills for its expansion, which voters approved in August.
Alderman John La Tour was the only member to oppose both issues. He questioned why the city would sell the bonds now without knowing whether the library can expand to the old City Hospital land pending a state Supreme Court decision.
"Well, that's not exactly what I said, John," City Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said, adding the vote was to authorize the issuance of bonds, not to issue the bonds themselves.
The bonds won't be issued until early 2017, either after the Supreme Court gives an opinion on the land dispute or the library makes a decision on how to expand, Becker said.
NW News on 09/21/2016