That's the official name of the proposed Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department project to improve the approach to the viaduct over the UP tracks east of Dillard's HQ and the Episcopal Collegiate School. The viaduct and the road approaching from the west have long been the scene of frequent automobile accidents. The curve is not a constant radius turn and is fairly sharp relative to the speeds with which cars often travel in the area. Add a sprinkling of rain and you can be pretty certain that someone will crash into the bridge structure or other traffic furniture, hence the usual sprinkling of broken glass, turn signal covers and bumper parts along the sidewalk to which cyclists are relegated as we make our way through the patchwork of a bike route that serves this high-traffic stretch.
In short, the safety improvements for drivers are justifiable and needed. So, what does it mean to cycling infrastructure?
This area is the heart of one of the biggest obstacles to "closing the loop" on the Arkansas River Trail System and also represents a danger zone for folks attempting to use bikes for transportation to downtown Little Rock. The City of Little Rock has proposed the ambitious $20m "River Bluffs" trail section to run along the river behind the Dillard's headquarters, which failed to garner the federal grant money required to make it a reality. As an alternative, the City laid out a sketchy plan to bridge the Union Pacific tracks from the "Medical Mile" trail section and then somehow join the sidewalk just west of the tracks and viaduct. I've asked how this would be done and the answer was something like "we're open to suggestions". Here's one suggestion: Pay attention to public announcements from the highway department and work with them to address your needs. That may be simplistic, but somebody in city government should have been 1)aware of this project and 2) aware of its potential impact on the city's street plan for alternative transportation. It seems that the AHTD's Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator could also have served a role in communicating with the City.
The highway improvements do not include any changes to the viaduct structure, but will soften the curve for about 350feet west of it.
I see this as an opportunity lost because a clear plan by Little Rock and coordination with the Highway Department could possibly result in the integration into this project of the City's planned tie-in of the River Trail to Cantrell Road. The AHTD project has bid once, but the bids exceeded the budget and were rejected. The job will re-bid on May2, 2012. Every square foot of real estate in this area is precious due to the proximity of the UP tracks, Cantrell Road, and the intensive commercial and school developments, making this a squeeze point, so precise long-term planning should be applied to any changes in the infrastructure. I fear that once this project is completed, it will become even more difficult to plot a cycling route. I made inquiries with a City of Little Rock official who had no knowledge of the plan. Highway department spokesman Randy Ort was very helpful in assisting me in finding information on the project, but Little Rock's cycling initiatives were not a consideration in addressing the safety issues on this urban stretch of state highway.
My opinion is that both the City and cycling advocates have missed an opportunity. The federal transportation dollars are allocated for safety improvements, but any discussion of construction through the area should have involved the City and at least have included consideration of alternative transportation needs.