Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The Truth Can Be Hard to Find

So yesterday I mentioned Eighth Street in my last post about the median on J Street.

I thought that this exchange of comments that I received from a couple of nwa bloggers was interesting:

Another advantage to the median rather than a center lane is probably a reduction in accidents. Way too many people around here think those lanes are for passing rather than turning.

They are, however, going to have to do something about 8th, especially where it terminates at the ISD building. The traffic there, with the opening of the EDC, is about to double. - Matt

ISD is getting its own on/off ramps, Matt. Which I wished for every day when I was driving to NWACC. - Rita

The second comment sort of reminded me that I need to start working an a series of posts about 8th Street. There's a lot of stories and rumors going around about what's going to happen with 8th Street. Most of you may remember that in the last Federal Transportation Bill, Congress approved $35 million for the widening and improvement of Eighth Street. Included in the verbage of the actual bill (I HAVE read it), is a sentence saying that the project includes "direct access to I-540.

Whether or not this will actually happen is a matter of total conjecture. There's nothing in the law that says Eighth Street will, by law, HAVE to connect to I-540.

Two snippets from an old story in the Benton County Daily Record are telling:
An interchange could be possible, but not without an exception from the Federal Highway Administration. "I don’t think we can tie in to (Interstate) 540," said Jonathan Barnett, an Arkansas highway commissioner. Barnett was contacted by Wal-Mart for the project’s original cost estimate. "But we do have a flyover (bridge). It goes over 540 off Eighth Street, and also improves the frontage roads along 540 there to tie back in there to Moberly Lane....

...The federal rule of thumb in urban areas requires interchanges to be more than one mile apart, according to Sandra Otto, a division administrator with the Little Rock-based Federal Highway Administration in Arkansas. In rural areas, they must be three miles apart, she said.

Interstates are meant for travel through cities, not simply getting around in each particular community, she said. "In order to help keep the interstate as safe and as much flow through as possible, we limit the amounts of interchanges," she said.

...Barnett believes an interchange could make the traffic situation worse. "I don’t think there’s a mile of separation. What... would need to be looked at is the frontage (roads). I don’t think they’re going to give us permission," he said, referring to the Federal Highway Administration. "It would make it worse to go over the interstate."

I'm going to make a series of posts about Eighth Street here in the future after I can collect all the information that I have and put it together. But for now, I will say these few things.

• Wal-Mart and Boozman did NOT talk to the city of Bentonville about this beforehand. The City found out about the $35 million dollars when the rest us did. Wal-Mart spoke to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (who did a study for them), and Congressman John Boozman, who made sure that the 35 million got included in the bill.

• Absolutely nothing is certain about the design of this roadway right now. The study was done by the State Highway Department and included frontage roads and five lanes. Since it was done by the AHTD, you can be damn sure that there was no pretty, tree-lined median or sidewalks separated from the roadway like the city builds. So don't buy into anything you hear people saying at the water cooler.

• The 35 million pays for "the study and construction of 8th Street in Bentonville, Ar., from interstate 540 to SW Elm Tree Road." That's it. No specifics on lanes, sidewalks, medians, intersections, interstate connectivity, or anything else. They could just study connecting to 540 and that's it.

• You'll notice that it's planned to go all the way to Elm Tree Road, where there is no existing roadway.

• The City of Bentonville is responsible for the planning and design of the Eighth Street project, which is definitely for the best. You don't want the AHTD designing a road that is going to go through the middle of your city. You'll end up with sidewalks smashed right next to the road that NO ONE will use, super-wide turning radii at corners; allowing traffic to speed through turns endangering pedestrians, and five lanes of nothing but concrete from curb to curb. And downtown Bentonville will be cut in half.

The AHTD's mission is to do one thing: to facilitate the express flow of AUTOMOTIVE traffic. Period. Pedestrians, Bikers, or joggers are completely irrelevant to their design standards. They are NOT irrelevant to the Bentonville Planning Department. I'd trust the AHTD to design 8th street like I'd trust our State Troopers to shoot the right guy.


There's no doubt that Eighth Street needs to be improved and widened. But it's crucial that it gets done right. Another AHTD-style Walton Boulevard is not what we need, and will be a huge step in the wrong direction for what Bentonville is trying to do in their downtown core.

I'll be interested to see what happens at 540. I have my own ideas on what they should do, but I'll wait and share those later.

It's imperative that this gets done right. We won't get a "do-over" if we screw it up.

read more: i-540, bentonville, roads, Eighth Street, transportation, Wal-Mart, connectivity