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Western Arkansas intermodal board set to review, approve future goals and objectives

by Thomas Saccente | April 9, 2023 at 1:02 a.m.
Sasha Grist, executive director of the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, right, speaks while Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst, left, listens during the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority Board of Directors meeting Wednesday. (River Valley Democrat-Gazette/Thomas Saccente)

VAN BUREN -- The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority is figuring out how it can improve transportation in the River Valley.

The authority's board met Wednesday at the Van Buren Public Library to discuss its goals and objectives. The board also discussed a mission statement.

Sasha Grist, executive director of the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, said the authority needs a thorough plan to improve transportation for itself and other entities in the region, such as the Port of Fort Smith and Port of Van Buren.

"The goals and objectives will provide us with a plan to look at what future projects we need to be going for," Grist said.

Grist added the goals and objectives could also help the authority apply for grants. She intends to make sure the authority will review them yearly after approving them and update them as needed.

The authority plans and develops initiatives for improvements benefiting western Arkansas, according to the Planning and Development District website. It coordinates with government and pursues public and private investments. The district provides the authority board administrative and personnel support.

The authority published goals in 2016 with objectives through which to meet them. These included continuing to support a regional intermodal port along the Arkansas River; finding additional money and supporting all modes of transportation; promoting the development of a planned extension of Interstate 49 between Barling and Alma by the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

Grist said Planning and Development District staff prepared goals and objectives for members of the authority board to review during a meeting "a couple of weeks ago."

The document, which Grist presented Wednesday, consisted of five categories of goals for the Intermodal Authority to accomplish. Similar to what the authority published before, the goals each came with objectives, with the objectives containing a number of short-term, midterm and long-term action items.

Jay White, authority board chairman, said Grist's presentation was impressive. He recommended setting a due date by which board members can provide feedback on the goals and objectives, with Grist proposing April 19. The board set the same date as the deadline to give input on the mission statement.

Grist said the district will incorporate what the board provides into a final document for it to consider at its next meeting July 12. The board will meet at the Ben Geren Park's safe shelter in Fort Smith.

This all comes after Mat Pitsch left his position as the authority's executive director Jan. 6 to take a job with the Arkansas Secretary of State's Office. Pitsch provided the authority contractual consulting services as part of a contract between the authority and the Planning and Development District, according to Grist. He worked with the authority for about 14 years.

Grist said a replacement for Pitsch hasn't been hired.

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