SPRINGDALE -- The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission is adding a full-time staff member to focus on public transit.
Commissioners approved the move Wednesday afternoon. A three-year, $321,993 grant from the Walton Family Foundation will help pay for the position. The commission also has money available from an open position.
The commission adopted a regional transportation plan, Connect Northwest Arkansas, last year. The new planner will be responsible for coordinating, managing and implementing the plan. The planner also will oversee outreach to engage the public in transit projects and to improve participation in public transit.
"We're very excited about filling this position and look forward to working with both transit providers, human services organizations and our planning partners to help get this plan implemented," said Tim Conklin, assistant director of the planning commission.
The commission receives federal money for public transit and is responsible for public transit planning in the area. It allocates about $3 million a year in transit funding. Planners said they expect the region will be getting more money, based on growth since the 2010 Census.
The region has two public transit providers, Ozark Regional Transit and University of Arkansas Razorback Transit. A key role for the new hire will be coordinating with those providers and also helping human services organizations with acquiring vans to transport clients.
Joel Gardner, executive director at Ozark Regional Transit, welcomed the news.
"I think it is a great idea," Gardner said. "The fact that the needs of transit are being recognized at a level where this type of investment is being made is excellent."
Connect Northwest Arkansas, the 10-year public transportation development plan, looks at every aspect of public transit in the region and makes recommendations to improve and to increase service and the coverage area.
It envisions expanded routes and on-demand service in the region's urban areas.
Individual plans within Connect Northwest Arkansas have been developed specifically for Ozark Regional Transit and Razorback Transit to define their roles in a regional system. Individual plans also have been developed for each of the four major cities.
Work on Connect Northwest Arkansas was commissioned and paid for by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. The plan and the study leading up to it cost $280,000.
The plan also recommends finding a dedicated local funding source for regional public transit systems over the next 25 years.
Here’s a link to the Connect Northwest Arkansas, the region’s 10-year public transportation plan: