story by Ben Pollock, special to The City Wire
Other cities call such a road system a beltway, but Fayetteville city planners call theirs the "Mayor's Box," Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan said, adding that it's the key to the city's street plan.
"I think we've got to start with the box," the mayor said in a recent interview in his office off the Fayetteville Square. (See the map at the bottom of this story.)
As a City Council member, Jordan was chairman of the Street Committee when planning for the beltway began in about 2004, said City Engineer Chris Brown, and it got that name then. Dan Coody was mayor at the time.
The box is about 21.5 miles long, Brown said. The cost is about $33.5 million previously budgeted and approved, two-thirds of which comes from city coffers and the rest from state and federal sources. The dollar figure does not include competed stretches, he said.
The roads that form a rough square around the city are or will be in a few years four lanes wide with left-turn lanes, and to the sides 10 feet of greenway between them and wide sidewalks. Fayetteville's multiuse trail project is well under way, and this plan makes sidewalks an adjunct to it.
Sidewalks accompany the ring of roads, but more are planned to lead to all public and private schools within, Jordan said. The intent is to encourage parents to let their children return to walking to school.
"I think it's going back to that again. But we haven't had the type of sidewalks to encourage that," he said. The planned sidewalks are 5 feet wide and set apart from traffic by that 10 feet of greenway.
With the sidewalks and grassy areas, "I'd like to call it a 'green beltway,'" the mayor said.
Except for the northwest corner of the Mayor's Box – Rupple Road north of Mount Comfort Road then a portion of Howard Nickell Road – the road extensions or widenings all are approved and funded. That last section is not a priority, Brown said. While there's some residential development there, it's slower growing than other areas and also lies on or outside city limits with unincorporated Washington County.
Rather than a policy spreading out city limits to accommodate a growing population, the box "establishes your growth boundaries, and then you infill from there," Jordan said.
SOUTH AND EAST SEGMENTS
The southern leg mainly comprises 15th Street, with Martin Luther King Boulevard to the west of Razorback Road and a portion of Huntsville Road to the east. It already is nearly complete, Brown said. Fifteenth Street between School (U.S. 71 Business) and Armstrong avenues is set to remain less than four lanes wide in the near term. Traffic flows "pretty well" there, Brown said, and the city will leave it alone for a while. Improvements to Huntsville (which also is Arkansas 16 so the state pays about half) between Armstrong Avenue to Crossover are costing about $3.5 million, Brown said.
The east leg comprises Crossover Road. Construction nearly is complete between Mission and Joyce boulevards, and should be done this fall. South of that is expected to be finished in fall 2014. The stretch from Joyce north to the city limits, which lie outside the beltway at that points, has a summer 2015 target. Because Crossover also is Arkansas 265, costs are being shared with the state Highway and Transportation Department.
The segments now under construction altogether cost about $16 million, Brown said – $8 million city funds and $8 million from the state. The bill for the Mission to Joyce stretch of Crossover is $12.5 million of this total.
NORTH AND WEST SEGMENTS
The northern leg has Joyce to Steele Boulevard and is complete. Van Asche Drive will lose its twisting curves from Garland Avenue (Arkansas 112) east to Steele. A straight, wide thoroughfare will be the new Van Asche, to the south and west of Northwest Arkansas Mall. Its construction is to begin early next year and be completed in spring 2015.
The northern and western segments of the box that have not been started will cost about$17.5 million, of which approximately $3.5 million comes from federal aid and the rest by the city. The new Van Asche from Garland/112 to Gregg Avenue has a budget set at $4 million of that $17.5 million, Brown said.
Continued widening and extensions of Rupple Road form the western portion. It is being separated into at least three projects, Brown said.
The southernmost part creates an extension of Rupple to start M.L. King (U.S. 62) and continue to Persimmon Street, where Owl Creek Elementary School sits. Rupple there will be nearly all new construction and needs further traffic studies, Brown said, and should start in fall 2014, ending 18 months later, perhaps early 2016.
Rupple from Persimmon to a residential lane, Starry Night View just south of Mount Comfort Road, is to start in early 2015 and be ready in mid-2016. Starry Night to Mount Comfort should be started by mid-2016 and be completed by the end of that year.
The King/62 to Mount Comfort segments should cost $13.5 million of the $17.5 million budget, Brown said.
The unfunded section of the Mayor's Box begins on Rupple north of Mount Comfort.
Brown said "current construction costs are running at an average of $1,000 per linear foot of roadway." Thus, the unfunded road extensions or two-lane segments needing four-lane width in the beltway total about 20,000 linear feet, he said, and would need another $20 million to wrap it up.
For Jordan, the Mayor's Box is more than easing automotive traffic. A "walkable community" is a goal.
"It's not just about roads, it's about sidewalks, bike lanes, bus routes, sidewalks and trails connecting into it."