Northwest Arkansas' new 2045 transportation plan approved

NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF Traffic flows on Interstate 49 as seen from the J.B. Hunt Transport headquarters in Lowell.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/BEN GOFF Traffic flows on Interstate 49 as seen from the J.B. Hunt Transport headquarters in Lowell.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday approved a plan for how people will get around the area for the next 25 years.

The 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan will serve as a guide including highways, public transit, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. The plan has been in the works for almost two years and passed unanimously with no further comments nor questions from commissioners.

The Arkansas Economic Development Institute estimates almost 1 million people will call the region home in 25 years.

"With that, we show increased density in employment and households along a 10-mile wide corridor of I-49," said Tim Conklin, assistant director at Regional Planning. "So, more than three-quarters of the population are shown along that corridor and 90% of the future employment in our region."

Planners also met with representatives of the area's major cities to look at travel demand, future population, land use plans and employment in the region.

The plan includes 25 years worth of projects, including completing the U.S. 412 Northern Bypass, an access road to the Northwest Arkansas National Airport and turning Arkansas 112 into a major north/south corridor.

Numerous roads will be improved and steps will be taken to better manage traffic congestion under the plan.

"Many of our major urban thoroughfares in the major cities are going to become increasingly congested over the next 25 years," Conklin said.

Any project requiring federal money has to be part of the plan. The region is expected to receive about $2 billion in state and federal money, adjusted for inflation, for transportation projects over the next 25 years, according to Regional Planning. About $1.5 billion of that is expected to go to roads and the remainder to transit, bike and pedestrian projects.

Regional Planning's boundary area includes all of Benton and Washington counties and a small portion of McDonald County to Pineville, Mo.

The commission's major tasks are administration and support of programs and money, general development, comprehensive planning, short and long-range transportation planning and the region's Transportation Improvement Program.

The goals of the 2045 plan are to create a transportation network that's safe, reliable and reduces congestion, improves ease of movement and supports economic development.

The various cities, particularly the big four along the Interstate 49 corridor -- Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville -- each have their own long-range transportation and development plans. Those are being incorporated into the 2045 regional planning document.

Residents can expect new interchanges and new and improved corridors, which are those routes that form the primary connections between cities, neighborhoods, suburbs and the region as a whole.

Also planned is better traffic access management -- controlling the location, design, spacing and operation of access points, such as driveways, parking lot entrances and intersections -- to help the flow of traffic.

There will be an emphasis on building "complete" streets and interchanges -- roads that are designed to include sidewalks, bike lanes and public transit accommodations.

Additional overpasses across I-49 are intended to make it easier to travel from one side of the interstate to the other while avoiding traffic entering and leaving the interstate.

The plan also has something for walkers, cyclists and those who want to hop on a bus to get around.

Rolled into the 2045 plan is a recently approved 10-year public transportation plan. Connect Northwest Arkansas makes recommendations to improve and increase public transit coverage and service over the next decade. The plan envisions expanded routes and on-demand service in the cities along the I-49 corridor.

The plan talks about finding a dedicated local funding source for regional public transit systems over the next 25 years.

The Regional Bike-Ped Plan, part of the overall 2045 plan, builds upon previous regional bicycle and pedestrian initiatives, including the Northwest Arkansas Razorback Greenway, to link communities and regional destinations. Each city with a population of more than 1,000 has its own bike-ped plan.

The 2045 plan also envisions walkable communities for pedestrians.

Chapters are included in the plan on protecting the environment, such as the Northwest Arkansas Open Space Plan and the Cave Springs Karst study, which looks at improving stormwater drainage management. Affordable housing and land use plans are also elements of the plan, as is a chapter on environmental justice.

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Here’s the plan

The 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan will serve as the 25-year regional transportation plan for the Northwest Arkansas metropolitan transportation planning area. It will provide a long-range, comprehensive look at the region’s transportation needs and implementation strategies including, but not limited to highways, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. Here’s the link: https://www.nwarpc.… .

Source: Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission