Pulaski County leaders are hoping the second time is the charm for a resolution that would be a first step toward a paved 65-mile hike and bike trail between Little Rock and Hot Springs.
Last month, Republican members of the county's Quorum Court blocked a measure that would have committed the county to the first phase of the trail project by accepting a $2.6 million federal grant. The grant's conditions require that localities pay 20 percent, or roughly $520,000, of the project's phase-one total cost.
When that resolution came up for a vote on June 28, three Democratic members of the voting body were absent, meaning that the remaining Democrats needed at least one vote in favor from the five-member Republican bloc. On that day, a 7-5 vote in favor of the resolution -- with Democrats Tyler Denton, Teresa Coney and Robert Green absent -- resulted in the measure coming a single vote short of a majority.
But this Thursday, County Judge Barry Hyde will revive the resolution, expecting the Quorum Court's 15-member body to be less hampered by absenteeism.
"We don't have it very often, but this has shaped out to be a rare party-line vote. It's really a matter of getting the Democrats to show up," said Justin Blagg, director of Quorum Court services.
Last month, it was fiscal conservatism that stymied the project. Republican members said any tax dollars put toward the project would be better suited for other infrastructure projects.
"I believe that we have much greater needs in our country from an infrastructure perspective," Justice of the Peace Phil Stowers, R-Maumelle, said last month. "Our federal government would be better served putting our transportation dollars towards those needs -- those bridges, those airports, those roads that need rehabilitation."
Stowers said he's heard feedback from both sides since last month's vote. And while a scheduling conflict will prevent him from attending the meeting this Thursday, bicycle activists in the community are expecting to show up in full force.
"I really have no idea how many people will be there, but we are going to try and pack the house to show support for this," said Mason Ellis, secretary of the Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas.
Ellis listed several organizations that have been coordinating in the past month to display their enthusiasm, including the Central Arkansas Trail Alliance, Saline County Friends of the Southwest Trail and Friends of Fourche Creek.
Many have said they want to see this project become central Arkansas' counterpart to Northwest Arkansas' Razorback Regional Greenway, which runs from south Fayetteville north to Bella Vista.
That project began in 2000 and was completed over the course of 15 years as municipalities and regional planners built out segments of the trail. In 2009, the Walton Family Foundation awarded the project a $15 million grant, which enabled planners to tie segments together into a 37-mile trail. Today, the trail is a significant tourist attraction.
Ellis expects to similarly see central Arkansas' project attract private interest.
"If we can hit this first milestone, and really get this substantial grant and really start to show that this is a real tangible thing, I think you'll start to see more private donors come in and help funding," he said.
Tentatively called the Southwest Trail, the path would generally follow the right-of-way of an abandoned Missouri Pacific Railroad line and connect 11 communities between Little Rock and Hot Springs, including Bryant, Lonsdale, and Bauxite.
An early study of the project, conducted by Bentonville-based Alta Planning & Design in 2015, estimated total project costs to be in the neighborhood of $33 million, and would generate $3 million of tourist spending in the region's economy per year.
The first phase of the project would pay for a preliminary engineering study and an environmental impact study. The federal grant, which comes through the Federal Lands Access Program, would pay for 80 percent of the costs. Pulaski County, Garland County and Saline County must each pass resolutions that would pay for the 20 percent match.
Rick Davis, the county judge for Carland County, plans to put the resolution before his Quorum Court in early August. Saline County Quorum Court Administrator Rhonda Richards also expects the resolution to go before the Saline County Quorum Court in a similar time frame.
Ellis said he hopes his bicycle-advocacy group would replicate a show of support as those resolutions are voted upon.
Metro on 07/25/2017
Print Headline: JPs will revive proposal for 65-mile trail