After becoming aware of the planned Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department project to make safety improvements to Cantrell Road immediately west of the Union Pacific viaduct and posting an article about it, I attended a meeting of the Little Rock Bike Friendly Community Committee last Wednesday. I'm not on the BFC, but sit in when I can, as it represents an opportunity to deal directly with folks from city government and it allows them to learn of issues concerning cyclists. To briefly set the stage for my point, should I ever get around to making one, the city is planning a link from the Medical Mile River Trail section to Cantrell Road just west of the viaduct. The AHTD is bidding a project to rebuild the curve on Cantrell just west of the viaduct.So, both governmental entities are planning concrete and steel projects on the same very crowded piece of ground.
And they are not talking to each other.
On the surface, it just seems plain silly. Neither the city nor the AHTD claimed awareness of the other's project, and nobody that I was able to talk to about it seemed very concerned. This obviously isn't the first time city planners have had to deal with AHTD projects and I think this situation is just the first one to get my attention. It appears that the highway department exercises its autonomy when dealing with urban highways and the LR folks just shrug and say, "it's their right-of-way and they don't have to tell us." I did find out that the AHTD project was brought up in a Metroplan meeting some time ago, but it apparently did not get much attention from the city.
This appears to be just another example the kind of governmental inefficiency, arrogance and infighting that drives folks to the Tea Party, but it's not that simple. It is the result of decades of turf battles and political wrangling that has left us with a constitutionally independent agency in the form of the AHTD. The highway department is governed by a commission and is purposely insulated from the whims and possible strong-arm tactics of the state legislature. I can also see that urban highways like Highway 10/ Cantrell Road present somewhat unique challenges in that too much input, from city government, for example, could result in endless debate over minor projects. Some of the city folks seemed a little put out that they were questioned on this matter, but I think they were showing their frustration that comes with dealing with the AHTD. That said, these are smart, capable people who mean well, but there seems to be something broken about the working relationships between agencies.
I will admit to a degree of political naivete, and I'm sure there is more to this story. While I am beginning to understand how all of this comes to pass, it doesn't serve the best interest of tax payers. The reality is that it's just plain silly.