The Transportation Alternatives Analysis study was completed and accepted by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission in September 2014. Below you can find the final report and technical memorandums for the study.
Northwest Arkansas Transportation
Prepared by URS Corporation for the
Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning
Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Executive Guide to the Study
Section 1. Purpose and Need 1
1.1 Background 1
1.2 US DOT Guidelines for Alternatives Analysis 2
1.3 Overview of Study Area 4
1.4 Project Status and History 9
1.6 Regional Goals & Objectives 10
1.7 Project Purpose 12
1.8 Need for Proposed Project 13
Section 2. Study Area and Existing Conditions 15
2.1 Study Area Description 15
2.2 Existing Roadway Network 15
2.3 Existing Transit Service 17
2.4 Existing Freight Rail Service 22
2.5 Other Transportation Corridors 24
2.6 Existing Land Use and Zoning 26
2.7 Major Destinations/Traffic Generators 31
2.8 Demographics 33
2.9 Environmental Resources 36
Section 3. Public Outreach 38
Section 4. Conceptual Transportation Alternatives 43
4.1 Planning Considerations 43
4.2 Description of Alternatives 46
4.3 Constraints 59
4.4 Vehicles 64
Section 5. Ridership 72
Section 6. Financial Performance of Alternatives 79
6.1 New Location Alternative 79
6.2 Existing Location CR 90
6.3 Existing Location BRT 80
Section 7. Screening and Locally Preferred Alternative 83
7.1 Screening Results 84
7.2 Criteria Conclusion and LPA 85
7.3 Revisions to New Starts Criteria Process Under MAP 21 90
Section 8. Conclusion: The Path Forward 93
8.1 Findings 93
8.2 Recommendations 96
8.3 Path Forward for Development Policies 99
8.4 Implementation Toolkit 125
Exhibit A-Transit Profiles
Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Executive Guide to the Study
For more than a decade, various groups have promoted interest in a rail transit project that
would serve the north-south corridor in Washington and Benton Counties in Northwest
Arkansas. The advocacy efforts captured the interest of public officials and private individuals
and interests. However, there has been no detailed study of the potential and the feasibility of
the concept that addressed the potential for federal funding assistance for the project, and that
studied the options in a way that satisfies the metropolitan planning requirements of the US
Department of Transportation. The designated agency for such studies, the Northwest Arkansas
Regional Planning Commission (NWARPC), responded to the widespread interest by obtaining
special federal funding to conduct an Alternatives Analysis in the 40-mile north south corridor.
This report documents the results of the Alternatives Analysis study commissioned by NWARPC.
To the greatest extent possible, the study approach followed the planning guidelines of the
Federal Transit Administration (FTA) especially those that apply to New Starts and Major Capital
Investment funding. Section 1.2 of this report explains the changing nature of many of those
regulations due to the expiration of one federal transportation authorization bill and the
passage of a new one, and how the study approach bridged that transition.
Section 1 concludes with the development of the purpose and need for the project. The
articulation of a Purpose and Need Statement is a threshold requirement of the Federal Transit
Administration. The statement covers both the transportation need and the need to support,
encourage and bring about many of the environmental, economic development and quality of
life goals of the NWA Long Range Transportation Plan. The study used the broad purpose and
need components to develop the recommended option, known as the Locally Preferred
Alternative or LPA.
A significant difference between the federal planning guidelines and previous studies is that the
Alternatives Analysis approach requires a location-neutral and mode-neutral examination of the
options within the broad category of fixed-guideway transit. The selection of alternative
locations and the modal (vehicle) technologies are described in Section 4, Conceptual
Transportation Alternatives. Section 4 also addresses a common misconception that light rail
vehicles can operate on freight rail lines. In the current regulatory environment in the US, this is
not permitted. However, the good news is that the vehicle industry is rapidly responding to
consumer demand for more modern, higher performing, and quieter commuter rail vehicles
known as DMU (diesel multiple units).
Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Another significant requirement of this study was that ridership forecasts had to be based on
the current adopted land use and population projections of the 2035 long range transportation
plan. Budget limitations further required that the ridership projections use the existing travel
demand model developed and maintained by NWARPC staff in cooperation with the Arkansas
Highway and Transportation Department. While the model has served the area well for
automobile-based planning of the regional street and highway plan, it is extremely limited in its
ability to estimate demand for alternative transit facilities. The implications and limitations of
this approach are explained in Section 5. While this problem may be rectified by future
development of a model with transit or mode split capabilities, the current FTA requirements
force the transit options to be measured by its output.
The capital and operating costs of three alternatives were estimated and are detailed in Section
6. The cost was estimated for projects covering the entire length of the corridor but obviously
shorter segments, or starter lines, could be developed. The capital costs, in 2014 dollars, are
estimate to be:
New Location: $2.286 Billion
Commuter Rail on Arkansas & Missouri RR ROW: $664.0 Million
Bus Rapid Transit on US71B: $97.8 Million
The essence of the Alternatives Analysis is the comparison of the attributes of each to the
criteria derived from the Goals and Objectives of the metropolitan transportation plan. Section
7 displays the results. Based on this screening, the Locally Preferred Alternative is the
Commuter Rail on the right of way of the A&M Railroad, along with a new location segment
from Bentonville to Bella Vista. A unique factor is that the current management of the A&M is
very open to discussing the project with the NWARPC and its policy leaders. This is not the
typical position of freight railroad operations in the US.
The selection of an LPA does not mean that this project is to be pursued above all other transit
options, or other surface transportation options. It simply means that, of the projects
proposed for this regional corridor, it is the one for which Federal funding assistance would be
requested if NEPA and other funding requirements were met. An LPA can also be revisited and
modified if and when a NEPA process is initiated.
Section 7 also identifies a broad range of transit-supportive actions that would be required to
support a funding request and to help compensate for ridership that is commensurate with its
urbanized area population. These range from zoning and permitting policies to encourage
mixed use development to reducing the growth in free and low cost surface parking. These
actions also may include expansion of the innovative pedestrian and bicycle linkages such as the
Razorback Greenway. It is important for the area to find ways to provide conventional bus
transit service that has more coverage, more frequency, and a longer daily time span.
Additionally, Bus Rapid Transit options should be explored in more detail even though in general
they do not bring about as much economic development as rail-based projects.
Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Technically, this Alternatives Analysis report could conclude with the basic findings listed in the
beginning of Section 8. It is highly unlikely the project could qualify for conventional Federal
transit funding in the current environment. The scope of this study allowed for an alternative
ending. This “path forward” shows how NWARPC, its members, and the larger community can
continue a planning and implementation effort for this project. The Recommendations,
Development Policies, and Implementation Toolkit provide a framework for regional
cooperation to bring about changes that can bring future federal funding into the realm of
Figure E-1: Locally Preferred Alternative
Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 1 – Purpose and Need
For more than a decade, there has been a great deal of public interest in the feasibility
of a light rail project in Northwest Arkansas (NWA). It has been studied or addressed in
no fewer than seven planning studies and reports since 2004. These are:
1. The Potential for a NWA Regional Light Rail System. Beta Rubicon, 2004
2. Interstate 540 Improvement Study. Parsons Transportation Group, 2006
3. NWA Rail: Visioning Rail Transit in Northwest Arkansas. UA Community Design
4. Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway TIGER II Grant Application.
5. Northwest Arkansas Transit Development Plan. Connetics, 2010
6. Northwest Arkansas Western Beltway Feasibility Study. Parsons Brinkerhoff,
7. Northwest Arkansas Regional Development Strategy. Market Street, 2011
The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission (NWARPC) 2035 Long Range
Transportation Plan identified the need for further analysis of public transportation
alternatives in the 40 mile long North South Corridor. The options for further study
included light rail, commuter rail, streetcar, and other fixed guideway options such as
bus rapid transit. This was reinforced by opinions and suggestions received during the
public participation component of the long range plan update. Planning guidelines from
both the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Transit
Administration (FTA) require that funding sources be identified for all projects included
in a region’s long range transportation plan. It has been generally accepted that there is
not enough public or private funding now or in the forecast period to pay for a major
light rail or fixed guideway project. Therefore, the regional transportation planning
process administered by the NWARPC has not been allowed to include a light rail
proposal, and until recently NWARPC has not had funding to study the feasibility of a
light rail or fixed guideway project.
2 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
In order to be responsive to the many public comments and interested parties, the
NWARPC sought special Federal funds which could be used to examine the feasibility of
a fixed guideway system. After several attempts to obtain Federal funding for the study,
NWARPC received an award for a Transit Alternatives Analysis (AA) grant in 2012, and
received a grant from the Federal Transit Administration to conduct an alternatives
analysis (AA) for the corridor. Documents from NWARPC in support of the grant
We would anticipate such a study to analyze our north-south
travel corridor, and determine the feasibility of a major transit
investment to alleviate traffic congestion, promote and support
sustainable urban development, decrease air pollution, and meet
future travel demands in Northwest Arkansas. A transportation
alternatives analysis is included as a work task in the current
Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission Unified
Planning Work Program.
1.2 US DOT Guidelines for Alternatives Analysis Studies
Federal transit (and highway) grants are made pursuant to appropriations enacted by
Congress. These appropriations, in turn, are made within the legal structure of
Authorization Acts. As mentioned, the AA grant was made in 2012, and the
authorization bill at the time was known as SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible,
and Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users). Later in 2012, SAFETEA LU
was replaced with a new authorization bill known as MAP-21 (Moving Ahead for
Progress in the 21st Century). MAP-21 included a shift in the role of Alternatives
Analysis in the metropolitan planning process. Previously, an Alternatives Analysis (AA)
was required to be completed before the project sponsor could apply for New Starts
funding under the FTA Capital Investment Grant program. MAP-21 eliminated the
requirement that an AA be a stand-alone requirement and instead places it in the
systems planning phase of the metropolitan planning process. MAP-21 does not change
requirements of a National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which still require a
detailed alternatives analysis component. The NWARPC staff sought guidance from FTA
on whether the NWA Transit Alternatives Analysis should still be still a stand-alone
3 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
FTA provided the following guidance:
Project sponsors may still conduct a stand-alone AA separate from the NEPA
review if they wish. This may ultimately streamline the environmental review
process because the results of prior planning work evaluating alternatives may
be incorporated into the NEPA review. If a sponsor chooses to do a separate AA
to help inform the NEPA process, FTA’s involvement would be minimal
compared to what it had been under SAFETEA-LU. FTA would not comment on
the adequacy of the AA or the alternatives covered in it, other than identifying
its sufficiency for incorporation into the NEPA process. As general good
planning practice, FTA would suggest sponsors look at a range of alternatives
and consider carefully the evaluation criteria that will be used to choose among
alternatives. FTA is available for technical assistance if requested.
Early scoping is another option. It is an optional early NEPA planning step that
precedes formal NEPA scoping. FTA encourages the use of early scoping as a
way to start the NEPA process when a proposed action (a locally preferred
alternative, for example) has not yet been identified and a large number of
transit mode and alignment alternatives in a broad study area are under
consideration. Early scoping activities can include public meetings, newspaper
advertisements, and meetings with Federal, state and local agencies and non-
government to government tribal outreach that may have an interest in the
outcome of the study. Early scoping can also help streamline the NEPA process.
If early scoping is intended to result in screening of alternatives for future
study, the process would need to comply with the requirements for linking
planning and NEPA if the elimination of alternatives is to be given credit in the
The decision of whether to begin or complete an AA already underway is a local
one. FTA will offer technical advice if requested.
NWARPC made the decision to continue with an AA as a stand-alone step. If a fixed
guideway project is developed in the near future based on the findings and
recommendations of this study, and if Federal funds are contemplated, a NEPA
evaluation will be required. More detailed alternatives analysis will likely be required at
that time, but such AA efforts should, as MAP-21 guidance describes, be accelerated and
4 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
streamlined by building on the public input, environmental screening, and technical
analysis conducted as part of this AA and documented in this report and supplementary
1.3 Overview of Study Area . The study area is within Benton and Washington
Counties located in the northwest corner of Arkansas. It borders Oklahoma and Missouri
and is commonly referred to as Northwest Arkansas or NWA. Local governments (32
cities and two counties) and transportation agencies in Washington and Benton
Counties are active members of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission
and participated in this Alternatives Analysis study. Figure 1-1 shows the proposed
study area which comprises a North-South corridor concentrated along I-49 1 .
NWA has developed in a linear north south corridor due to terrain and other
environmental features. Transportation facilities have had a major historic role in
shaping the area, beginning with the Butterfield Overland Trail and Stagecoach route,
the St Louis-San Francisco railroad in the 1870s, US 71 (now US 71B), and the
Northwest Arkansas has been one of the nation’s fastest growing areas for two decades.
The 2010 Census shows Benton County having 221,339 persons and Washington County
with 203,065 for a total of 424,404, a growth of 36.4% between 2000 and 2010. The
Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers AR-MO Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA,) includes the
following counties: Benton, Madison, Washington in Arkansas and McDonald County in
Missouri (Figure 1-2).
Characteristics of the study area are detailed further in Section 2.
1 In April 2014, I-540 was redesignated as I-49. Where this report refers to a study or document
with the name “I-540”, the original designation is used but the reader should be aware that I-
540 and I-49 now refer to the same route.
5 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 1-1. Study Area
6 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 1-2 Metropolitan Statistical Area
In 2012, the population of NWA was at 482,200 according to a 2013 Census report. The
MSA comprises almost 15% of the population of Arkansas. The NWA Urbanized Area
(UZA) population was 295,083 according to the 2010 Census, which established the
Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission as a Transportation Management
Area (TMA) for the first time.
7 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Table 1-1 Population Trends
NWA Two County Area
1990 2000 2010 2035
Washington 113,409 157,715 203,065 315,135
Benton 97,499 153,406 221,339 376,139
Total 210,908 311,121 424,404 691,274
The economy of NWA is a diverse mix of manufacturing, education, retail, and global
corporate management. It is well known for the world headquarters of Wal-Mart
Corporation, Tysons Foods and JB Hunt. The 25,000-student University of Arkansas is
located on the south part of the corridor, and the 9,000-student Northwest Arkansas
Community College (NWACC) is on the north end. Large employers are arrayed up and
down the corridor, along with thriving historic downtown centers in Fayetteville,
Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville.
I-49 is the main spine of the
transportation system in Northwest
Arkansas. I-49 is now part of I-49 (National
High Priority Corridor #1), and is also a
part of the Strategic Highway Network
(STRAHNET). Due to the rapid of the
region in the past two decades, traffic
volumes in the corridor have grown
significantly to levels that are producing
high traffic congestion. The “Traffic
Congestion in Benton and Washington
County” study prepared by Texas A&M
Transportation Institute in 2012 estimated
that area residents are experiencing travel
delays at a cost of $103 million annually.
As congestion increases throughout the
region, the need to explore alternative regional transportation options is becoming
more evident. This pie chart, published in a FHWA study 2 , shows sources of congestion
2 “ Traffic Congestion and Reliability: Linking Solutions to Problems” FHWA
8 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 1-3 Employment centers of over 500 employees
9 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The area is served by two transit agencies with distinctly different histories and
missions. Razorback Transit is owned and operated by the University of Arkansas. It has
the mission of serving student and employee transportation to the main campus with
fixed route and paratransit service in Fayetteville and surrounding areas within
Washington County. It also serves a significant number of trips by persons not
associated with the University, but the level of service is linked to the academic year.
Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) serves Benton and Washington counties. ORT has a very
large service area compared to its fleet, route structure and limited span of daily service.
Bus service in the area has been the subject of much study and there is a widespread
opinion that neither transit agency has the financial base to serve the general
commuting needs of NWA or to undertake a major capital investment such as a fixed
guideway project at this time.
Pedestrian and biking modes have received a boost in popularity from the planning and
implementation of the Razorback Greenway which will eventually connect almost the
entire length of the North South Corridor. Both transit systems provide bicycle racks on
busses. Transportation plans at the regional and local level have placed a strong
emphasis on pedestrian and bike facilities that are providing more connectivity within
and between neighborhoods.
1.4 Project Status and History
As discussed in 1.1, a fixed guideway transit facility is not yet a part of the fiscally-constrained
regional transportation plan, but its study is a recommendation within the2035 Regional
Transportation Plan. The review of previous studies and documents included two planning
studies which have done the most to generate public interest and support in a fixed guideway
rail project. In 2004, the Beta Rubicon group published The Potential for a NWA Regional Light
Rail Study. It outlined a rail project which used the Arkansas Missouri Railroad (A&M) right of
way for the spine of a passenger rail line. Beta released a study known as NWA Rail: Visioning
Rail Transit in Northwest Arkansas. This study emphasized the potential for a rail project to
reshape development patterns in the corridor to achieve transportation, environmental, energy
and quality of life goals in the region. Public interest in both of these studies led the Northwest
Arkansas Regional Planning Commission Rubicon also proposed a new location rail loop
extending from the northern end of the existing freight line. In 2007, the University of
Arkansas’s Community Design Center to seek funding for a study that would follow the
transportation planning guidelines of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This Alternatives
Analysis study is the direct result of the regional transportation planning process.
10 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
1.5 Regional Goals & Objectives
A Purpose and Need Statement for the NWA Fixed Guideway Transit option was
developed by reviewing the regional transportation goals as published in the 2035 Long
Range Transportation Plan and applying goals which would be advanced by a significant
investment in a fixed guideway transit project. The regional goals are summarized as
Goal 1: Increase transportation mobility and accessibility thus promoting the economic
vitality in the region by supporting an integrated system with efficient connections
between transportation modes.
1. Minimize travel time.
2. Increase accessibility to employment for all persons in the region.
3. Increase accessibility to other major commercial, industrial, educational,
medical, and recreation centers.
Goal 2: Increase transportation safety for all modes of travel by providing for safer travel
for all modes of transportation, including walking, bicycling, transit and auto.
Goal 3: Provide a transportation system that protects and enhances the environment,
promotes energy conservation and improves the quality of life. Use appropriate
planning and design criteria to avoid or minimize negative impacts on residential
1. Provide for a transportation system that both serves and complements
desired community development standards and land use patterns as included in
local master plans.
2. Promote a transportation system that improves connections between
3. Protect community and neighborhood integrity and social cohesiveness by
minimizing residential and business re‐locations.
Goal 4: Minimize use of fossil fuels and vehicular operating costs while identifying
improvements to the environment.
1. Minimize energy consumption on a system‐wide basis by reducing congestion.
2. Minimize air, water, noise and visual pollution.
3. Minimize disturbances of the region’s natural aesthetics and wildlife habitat.
4. Provide for needed highway and transit system enhancements.
11 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Goal 5: Encourage land development patterns that promote transportation efficiency.
1. Support in‐fill development and the concentration of new commercial and
office space activity that enhance the selection of alternative forms of
2. Identify transit corridors that allow higher density mixed‐use areas to be
served by public transit.
3. Encourage major facilities to locate along planned public transit lines and
implement “transit friendly” strategies.
4. Encourage transit stops/stations within convenient walking distance of major
concentrations of employment.
Goal 6: Acquire and preserve right‐of‐way at the least possible cost.
1. Identify and protect corridors needed for future highway, transit, freight, or
other transportation system requirements.
2Support the adoption of local right‐of‐way corridors.
3. Identify future corridors for advance right‐of‐way acquisition for highways,
local roads, transit, bicycle and pedestrian use.
4. Promote shared right‐of‐way/easements for multiple purposes and utilities.
Goal 7: Promote system performance standards to ensure optimum use and efficiency.
1. Promote policies that maximize the use of existing transportation system (i.e.
new technologies, access management, and travel demand management) and
explore opportunities connectivity.
2. Maintain and preserve existing highway, transit and other facilities in good
3. Encourage local governments and private entities to implement transportation
demand management techniques in order to reduce demand and provide
The results of comparing the 2035 NWARPC long range plan goals with the attributes
and impacts of a fixed guideway project in the I-49 Corridor are summarized in the
12 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Fixed Guideway Support of
1.Mobility & Accessibility High
2. Safety High
3. Environment, Energy, Quality of Life High
4. Minimize Fossil Fuel Use High
5. Land Development Pattern Change High
6. ROW Preservation Med
7. Performance Standards Low
1.6 Project Purpose
As determined in consultation with the public, stakeholders, the steering committee,
staff and other interested parties, the proposed purpose for a fixed-guideway transit
project in the North South Corridor is to:
• Respond to the historical and forecast rapid population and travel growth in a
• Reduce the area’s heavy reliance on the single occupant automobile
• Provide additional capacity in a corridor in which additional highway capacity is
limited by topography and environmental issues
• Reduce the projected use of fossil fuels and reduce the projected increase in
harmful emissions of greenhouse gases
• Enhance NWA’s livability and the use of supportive modes such as bicycling and
• Promote mixed-use land developments around stations to further enhance
livability and sustainability
• Provide mobility to those without access to automobiles, including those too
young to drive, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, low income families, and
those who do not choose to own automobiles.
13 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
1.7 Need for Proposed Project
The Transportation Need for the project is to reduce the current and forecast vehicular
traffic on I-49, US 71 B, and connecting routes.
Decades of rapid growth, combined with the linear development patterns shaped by
physical constraints, have led to increased highway congestion and delays, concerns
about air quality, lack of alternatives to the private automobile, a decrease in perceived
quality of life, traffic safety concerns, and a concern about being able to sustain high
quality economic development and employment trends the area has enjoyed up until
The 2035 plan projects a 62% increase in population for a two county total of 691,700.
The travel demand associated with this amount of growth cannot be served by
highways, streets or existing levels of public transportation. The 2035 plan shows a
shortfall of $4.4 billion in funds needed provide capacity if travel demand is met solely
by streets and highways. The plan also assumes that historic development patterns of
separate residential, commercial, and retail land uses will continue. The proposed Fixed
Guideway Project is a transportation project but it embodies a vision of change in land
use, radiating outward from station areas. These changes are part of a growing trend in
the US to target specific areas for higher density mixed use developments that are more
amenable to walking, bicycles, and public transportation (local bus, streetcar and other
fixed guideway transit). This “Transit Orient Development (TOD)” is often referred to as
sustainable development, livable communities, and other similar terms.
The 2006 I-540 [I-49] Improvement Strategy prepared by The Parsons Group for the
Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) found that even with lane
additions and interchange reconfigurations, the level of service in many areas of I-49 will
improve only minimally from a level of service “F” (gridlock) to level of service “E”
(approaching gridlock), with the best segments reaching only a level of service “C”.
Average daily counts recorded by Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department
(AHTD) project an average increase of 232% in two locations along the I-49 corridor (one
in Johnson and the second in Rogers). The Northwest Arkansas Travel Demand Model
shows traffic forecasts for these two locations around 91,000 ADT for the location in
Johnson and 100,356 ADT for the one in Rogers for the forecast year 2030. These two
numbers raise the percent change from 1991 to 2030 to an average of 400%. These are
not uncommon percent change numbers for the forecast years of the travel demand
model. According to the model results, I-49 will reach capacity around year 2015 and
will be well over capacity in 2030 if solutions are not found. Solutions are needed not
14 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
just to widen highway but to provide alternative, viable transportation solutions for
Other north-south corridor problem areas other include Highway 112 to the west of I-
49, a two lane mostly rural state highway, US 71B, a mixed use urban highway that was
used to carry most of the traffic north-south before I-49 was built, and Highway 265,
also east of I-49, a four/two lane state highway that carries a lot of north-south traffic
on the east side of the urban corridor. All of these highways are presently at or near
capacity, and travel demand forecasts indicate traffic will exceed capacity by the year
Additional highway capacity beyond what is programmed will become increasingly
difficult to finance. The feasibility and cost of acquiring additional ROW in the main
north-south corridors will become costlier and more difficult. The 2035 LRP cites a
shortfall from now until the forecast year of $2.7 billion in just the North South Highway
Further, capacity improvements to highway segments do not always result in additional
capacity in a corridor or network. NWARPC, in response to MAP-21 and to the regional
situation, has started a Congestion Management System (CMS) planning process and
has already identified 160 miles (centerline) of local arterials and freeways which will be
the focus of CMS techniques and projects in the coming years.
Continued reliance on the single or low-occupancy automobile will become more and
more difficult to sustain for all the above reasons, so the Northwest Arkansas region
must also consider CMS and a range of other options beyond additional lane miles of
roads and highways. This study of the feasibility of high capacity transit alternatives fits
into the overall transportation responsibilities of the NWARPC.
The Purpose & Need can be summarized as providing capacity for increased travel
demand while fostering economic development and sustainable urban redevelopment
that radiates from station areas.
15 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 2 – Study Area and Existing Conditions
2.1 Study Area Description
The project is located within Benton and Washington Counties in the northwest corner
of the State of Arkansas. This region of the state has seen a substantial increase in
population over the past twenty years, particularly in Benton County, as the seat of
several large corporate headquarters. Since 1990, Washington County has seen a
population increase of over 65% and Benton County has seen an increase of over 100%
in the same time period. Figure 2.1 shows the location of the two counties in the state
as well as the major communities that make up the study area. Washington County is
home to the University of Arkansas as well as Tyson Foods Corporate headquarters in
Springdale. Benton County is home to the corporate headquarters of Wal-Mart in
Bentonville, Daisy Outdoor Products in Rogers, and JB Hunt Transport Services in Lowell.
The counties are located in the Boston Mountains and Springfield plateau sub regions of
the Ozark Mountains. Outside of the urban development along the I-49 and US 71
corridors from Fayetteville in the south to Bentonville in the north; the region is fairly
rural in nature composed mainly of large agricultural areas and undeveloped lands. As
the population continues to grow there are numerous large subdivision developments
that have been and continue to be built in the area, particularly in the smaller
communities between Fayetteville and Bentonville and to the west of I-49.
2.2 Existing Roadway Network
As explained earlier, the study area is strongly north-south linear, with two major routes
connecting the developed areas and providing through traffic service. These are the
parallel routes of I-49 and US 71B. The major east-west roads include US 62 at the north
end in Rogers, US 412 in Springdale, and US 62 in the south near Fayetteville. There are
numerous other state routes that traverse the study area connecting to smaller local
and county roads. The existing roadway network is displayed in Figure 2-1.
16 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-1. Existing Road Network
17 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2.3 Existing Transit Service
Public transportation in the study area is provided by Ozark Regional Transit (ORT) and
Razorback Transit. There are significant differences in the mission and market of ORT
ORT serves four (4) counties comprising more than 3200 square miles. Razorback
Transit concentrates its service in Fayetteville and Johnson, an area of 18 square miles.
Both systems receive FTA capital and operating assistance on an annual basis. ORT has
eighteen fixed bus routes in the four county area. Service in the study area consists of
11 routes connecting the communities of Bentonville, Rogers, Lowell, Springdale,
Johnson, and Fayetteville as shown in Figure 2-3. The ORT service has grown in
coverage as recent budget increases have allowed for an expansion of operations. Two
new routes in Springdale and Rogers are being implemented in 2014. ORT plans
revisions to existing routes in an effort to provide more transit service to its service area,
especially to unserved or underserved communities.
Of particular interest is a relatively new Route 490 which connects the University of
Arkansas on a frequency of approximately one trip per hour. The two buses dedicated
to Route 490 use I-49 for the majority of the route.
The ORT is also planning to implement a new express route that will connect to the
communities of Farmington, Greenland, and Prairie Grove in the southwest part of the
The University of Arkansas operates Razorback Transit, a fare-free bus system, to on-
campus locations and major off-campus living and shopping areas at the University of
Arkansas in Fayetteville. The bus system operates on ten fixed routes, shown on Figure
2-4, from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and 7:00 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., on
Saturday during the fall and Spring Semesters. Service is reduced in summer months
and during scholastic term breaks.
A planning study was completed for ORT in 2010 and both the University of Arkansas
and the City of Fayetteville are analyzing the Razorback Transit service in two general
planning studies in progress as of mid-2014.
18 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-3. Ozark Regional Transit Routes
19 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-4. Razorback Transit Routes
20 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The following two charts further highlight the different service and usage characteristics
of the two transit systems. Although Razorback Transit serves a much smaller area, it is
compact and services a specific market, students and employees of the University of
Arkansas. Its convenience, coupled with limited unrestricted parking supply, makes for
effective use. ORT serves large areas of sparsely populated areas with lifeline service to
from those areas to the jobs and services within the study area. These two realities are
shown in the Annual Unlinked Trip 3 as reported by the agencies to the FTA National
Transit Database (NTB). Unlinked trips on transit routes are comparable to average daily
traffic counts on the roadway system.
3 Note: An Unlinked Transit Passenger Trip is a trip on one transit vehicle regardless of the type
of fare paid or transfer presented. A person riding only one vehicle from origin to destination
takes ONE unlinked passenger trip; a person who transfers to a second vehicle takes TWO
unlinked passenger trips; a person who transfers to a third vehicle takes THREE unlinked
passenger trips. APTA estimates that the number of people riding transit on an average weekday
is 45% of the number of unlinked transit passenger trips.
21 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Although it has fewer passengers , the average trip length of a passenger using ORT is much
higher than the average trip length for Razorback Transit. (FTA changed its reporting rules in
2011 to make optional the reporting of Passenger Miles 4 for small systems. ORT still reports its
annual passenger miles. Exhibit A includes National Transit Database reports for both transit
systems from 2007 to 2012.
4 Note: Passenger Miles is the cumulative sum of the distances ridden by each passenger.
Source: 2007-2012 National Transit Database
22 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2.4 Existing Freight Rail Service
A&M operates a Class III railroad on 150 miles of track from Monett, Missouri to Fort
Smith, Arkansas. A large section of this route runs roughly parallel to US 71B through
the study area, see Figure 2-5. The A&M provides freight services along its route and
interchanges traffic with three Class I railroads including Burlington Northern Santa Fe,
Kansas City Southern, and Union Pacific.
Along with freight service, the A&M also operates a passenger excursion train. This
train takes passengers on one of three scenic tours between Springdale, Van Buren, and
Fort Smith on a regular basis.
A&M has more than 30 industrial customers within the study area and additional
customers and depots outside the study area.
23 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-5. Existing Freight Railroad Lines
24 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2.5 Other Transportation Corridors
The Razorback Regional Greenway when complete will consist of a 36-mile, primarily
off-road, bike and pedestrian trail that extends from the Bella Vista Trail in north
Bentonville south to the Frisco Trail in south Fayetteville. Figure 2-6 shows the entire
anticipated corridor as well as those sections which have been constructed. As of the
date of this report, 14.2 miles of the planned route have been constructed and are in
use with the remaining 21.8 miles either in the planning or design phase.
25 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-6. Razorback Greenway Project
26 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2.6 Existing Land Use and Zoning
Land use throughout the study area was compiled by the Northwest Arkansas Regional
Planning Commission staff and is shown on Figure 2-7. The majority of the commercial
and industrial development is concentrated along I-49 and US 71B. In the Rogers and
Springdale areas, the US 62 and US 412 corridors are also concentrated with commercial
and industrial land use. The remaining areas between and adjacent to I-49 and US 71B
corridors are mostly residential development which becomes more scattered and rural
the further west and east from the main roadway corridors.
Zoning laws are maintained and amended from time to time by each of the communities
within the study area. Extraterritorial jurisdiction is exercised in certain instances by the
27 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-7. Existing Land Use
28 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The next two figures are an attempt to show the physical manifestation of the growth of
population, employment, and associated urban development as they relate to land use
in the study area. Figure 2-8 shows the distribution of housing units in the study area.
The concentration of residential units has implications for all the alternatives, but
especially any new location options. It shows where the potential riders are, and it
shows how challenging it would be to develop a new location alternative in the central
part of the corridor. Figure 2-9 shows more of the built environment by revealing the
cumulative building footprints in the study area.
29 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Fig 2-8. Housing Unit Locations
30 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
31 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2.7 Major Destinations / Traffic Generators
Figure 2-10 shows the major destinations within the study area. These destinations also
represent the major traffic generators due to their status as major employers, retailers,
or service/entertainment providers. As with commercial development discussed in the
previous section, the majority of the destinations/traffic generators are located along
the I-49 and US 71B corridors. Most major generators are on or adjacent to US71B but
there has been some shifting to the west adjacent to I 49 interchanges and frontage
roads. This is particularly true of commercial land uses such as shopping centers.
32 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-10. Major Destinations
33 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
While population in the State of Arkansas has grown at a fairly steady rate, Washington
and Benton Counties, Springdale, Rogers, and Bentonville have seen dramatic
population growth in the past 10 years alone. Current populations for the state and
counties, as well as the communities within the study area, are displayed in Table 2-1.
This increased growth in population and economic development has been most notable
in Rogers and Bentonville, with a 94 and 78 percent increase in population, respectively,
in just the past ten years. Almost all of this population growth has occurred within the I-
49 and US 71B corridor, with the areas west of the interstate still fairly rural in nature.
The majority of the growth within the study area has stemmed from an influx of workers
who commute to nearby Fayetteville and Springdale and Bentonville, all of which have
seen significant economic growth in the past decade.
Figure 2-11 shows the income levels by Traffic Analysis Zone (TAZ). Northwest Arkansas
in general has some of the highest income levels in the state, but the figure shows low
income areas in Fayetteville and Springdale.
Northwest Arkansas has experienced an in-migration of Latino or Hispanic population. Between
the year 2000 and 2010 the two-county regions’ total population grew by 36.4 percent while the
Hispanic population grew from 26,401 to 65,741 or by 149.0 percent. From this it can be seen
that the Hispanic population continues to increase at a faster rate than the general population.
The Census 2010 Hispanic population figure of 65,741 makes up 15.5 percent of the 424,404
two-county total population. This Hispanic total population ratio is higher in the cities of
Northwest Arkansas with an 18.4 percent and 26.7 percent ratio for Washington and Benton
County Cities respectively (Source: May 2013 Title VI Plan, NWARPC).
34 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Population Statistics and Trends
Population Total Growth Minority
2000 2010 2000-2010
Bentonville 19,730 35,301 15,571
Rogers 38,829 55,964 17,135
Lowell 5,013 7,327 2,314
Johnson 2,319 3,354 1,035
Springdale 45,798 69,797 23,999
Fayetteville 58,047 73,580 15,533
153,406 221,339 67,933
157,715 203,065 45,350
2,673,400 2,915,918 242,518
742,449 (25%) 545,276
Source: US Census Bureau compiled from 2000 and 2010 census data.
35 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-11. Income Levels by TAZ
36 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2.9 Environmental Resources
The study area immediately adjacent to the I-49 and US 71B corridors is fairly urban in
nature with dense commercial and residential development and very few remaining
natural areas. As the population of the area continues to grow, the perimeter of the
study area is changing from rural pasture land and larger homesteads to traditional
suburban single-family residential subdivisions, apartments and large
commercial/retail complex. The study area once consisted of mainly upland terrain with
oak-hickory and oak-hickory-pine forests. Savannas and tall grass prairies were also
present; however, most of this has been replaced by agriculture or expanding
development. There are several pockets of undeveloped land surrounding the study
area that have been protected as national forest, state parks, and natural areas. While
none are immediately adjacent to the project, they do represent an important
environmental resource to the area. These include Hobbs State Park, Ozark National
Forest, Logan Cave National Wildlife Refuge, and the Cave Springs Cave and Searles
Prairie Natural Areas.
Figure 2-12 shows the environmental resources at a broad level of detail. The geology
and natural setting of northwest Arkansas are unique due in large part to the Karst
topography, layers of limestone that are easily erodible by water and which over time
form a unique system of underground caves, springs, and sinkholes. This unique
topography also provides habitat to many rare species of plants and animals. As is
shown on the environmental resources figure, there are large pockets of Karst
topography recharge areas in the study area, particularly in the Lowell and Rogers
Potential wetland areas within the study area are associated with the streams and other
waterways that traverse the counties. While there are large pockets of hydric soils
throughout the area, particularly in the middle and western portions of Benton County,
the elevations and topography of the region would restrict most wetland habitat to the
channel bottoms and adjacent floodplains of the larger streams and creeks.
There are several species that are listed as threatened or endangered under the
Endangered Species Act (ESA) for both Benton and Washington counties.
37 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 2-12. Environmental Resources
38 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 3 – Public Outreach
Public outreach and notification for this study adhered to the Public Participation Plan prepared
and adopted by the NWARPC in 2007. To that end, the study team advertised and staffed
three open houses, two stakeholder meetings, and promoted and managed a website and a
Facebook page. Bilingual notices were provided in legal ads and other notices. The public was
invited to provide spoken and written comments, and to respond to a survey which continued
for most of the study schedule. There was a significant amount of print and electronic media
coverage of the meetings and the study itself.
The Open Houses were offered at locations on the south, middle and north part of the study
area, as follows
April 11, 2013 at the NWARPC offices in Springdale
September 12, 2013 at the Bentonville Public Library in Bentonville
November 21 , 2013 at the City Administration Building in Fayetteville
An inclusive list of stakeholders was developed at the beginning of the study and is included in
the Appendices. Members were drawn from government agencies, non-profit advocacy groups,
business groups and representatives, and elected officials. Two meetings were held:
Jan 30, 2013 at the Jones Center in Springdale
Jun 13, 2013 at the Northwest Arkansas Community College
39 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Throughout the study, NWARPC staff solicited opinions through survey instruments that
were distributed at the Open Houses. The survey was also available online.
As the charts below indicate, only a small fraction of those responding to the survey are
frequent public transit users. That is understandable given the small coverage of the
two fixed route systems. A high percentage of survey respondents said they would use
any and all types of higher capacity, higher speed fixed guideway transit.
The attitudes and general comments were consistent with an earlier public survey
conducted during the NWARPC update of the Long Range Transportation Plan. Almost
75% of respondents reported they would be in favor of a light rail transit alternative in
the study area.
A graphical summary of survey results follows:
40 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Do you currently use public transportation to commute?
Do you use public transportation for other trip
41 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Why are you not using public transit?
What type of public transportation would you like to see in Northwest Arkansas?
No routes near my home or
Service is not frequent enough I don’t know enough about how
Light Rail Commuter
42 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
NWARPC developed a website, “http://www.nwafgs.org”, which was used to disseminate
information, meeting notices, and to collect survey responses.
The consulting team developed a Facebook page, “NWA Transit Alternatives Analysis”.
It was used to publicize the study, meetings, and to provide general background on
topical subjects related to fixed guideway development in the US. Statistics on number
of views and followers were maintained by Facebook. The study did not pay to promote
the Facebook page.
There was turnout of 75-150 persons at each of the open houses. The format for each
session was a self-guided tour of boards and other displays which were designed to
educate the public on the scope, purpose and techniques of the study, to provide
definition and examples of fixed guideway modes and vehicles, and to provide
performance and applicability information for current vehicle technologies. Staff and
members of the consulting team were available to take questions and comments.
There was general support and interest in improved transit in general, including the
existing fixed route services of Razorback Transit and Ozark Regional Transit.
To conclude the public outreach for the AA, the final version of the AA Study will be
made available with links from the website and Facebook, and its availability will also be
publicized with media releases, with dissemination to the TAC, the Planning Commission
board, and stakeholders.
43 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 4 – Conceptual Transportation Alternatives
4.1 Planning Considerations
The impetus for this study arose from a decade of widespread interest in a fixed
guideway transit line in the study area and in particular along the Arkansas & Missouri
Railroad corridor. As discussed in the Purpose and Need section, this study was
performed in a time of transition in the rules governing how projects are evaluated once
they qualify to enter the New Starts or Small Starts funding process. The expiration of
the previous authorization legislation (SAFETEA-LU) and the new authorization
legislation (MAP-21) creates the need to state the basis for generating and evaluating
alternatives for this study.
Horizon Timeline: FTA published Final Policy Guidance for the New and Small
Starts Evaluation and Rating Process in August 2013, approximately midway in
the study period. This guidance provided the option of using a 10 year or 20 year
horizon, and NWARPC elected to use a 20 year horizon. The primary reason for
this was a realistic assessment of how long it would take to develop the plans,
financing, and design of the NWA region’s first major fixed route facility.
No Build Alternative: By selecting the 20 year horizon, the No Build alternative
becomes the existing transportation network plus all projects identified in the
Metropolitan Planning Organization’s fiscally constrained long range plan.
Therefore, the NARTS 2035 Long Range Transportation Plan serves as the point
of comparison for the Build Alternatives.
Build Alternatives were developed by considering the previous studies and advocacy
plans and documents along with the transportation and quality of life/sustainability
goals and objectives described in the Purpose and Need section. These, in turn, were
derived from a review of the Goals and Objectives of the NARTS 2035 plan. The general
description of the alternatives were developed in work sessions and were presented in
various public outreach efforts including stakeholder briefings, open house meetings,
websites, social media, and local news media coverage. The alternatives used the
common corridor/study area as defined in the NWARPC RFQ for this study. As
described earlier, the study area encompasses a north-south corridor that is
concentrated along the I-49 and US 71B routes and contains incorporated city
boundaries in both Benton and Washington Counties. This corridor runs about 36 miles
from the cities of Bella Vista and Bentonville on the north end and Greenland on the
south end and about 10 miles east-west from Highway 112 to Highway 265.
44 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The initial alignment alternatives for the study were defined to be:
New Location Fixed Guideway Light Rail (LR). The general alignment is parallel to
I-49 from Greenland to Bella Vista. The same alignment is also reviewed for the
costs and benefits of a Bus Rapid Transit fixed guideway (separate right of way)
Existing Location Fixed Guideway Rail. The general alignment is, to the
maximum extent possible, within the existing ROW of the A&M freight and
passenger excursion line. The southern terminus is in Greenland, but the freight
line departs from the corridor at a point south of Bentonville. New Location, bus
connector and/or street-running mode would have to be considered from
Bentonville to Bella Vista in order to serve the entire corridor.
Existing Location Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This alignment is the existing US 71B,
formerly US 71, from Greenland to Bella Vista. Due to land use constraints,
available ROW, and other factors to be discussed, this BRT option does not
include exclusive fixed guideway elements but instead relies on corridor-level
priority treatment at selected intersections, and enhanced passenger amenities
The length, capital cost, operating cost, economic development potential and other
benefits and costs of each alternative were analyzed and are described in comparative
detail in future sections. Figure 4-1 shows the Build Alternatives that were evaluated
and were the subject of public review and comment.
45 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4-1 Build Alternatives
46 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
4.2 Description of Alternatives
BRT on Existing Location Alternative
This alternative was developed to examine the feasibility and efficiency of Bus Rapid
Transit on US 71B. The current (2010) Level of Service 5 (LOS) on US 71B ranges from B
to F, with the most congested sections being located in the northern portion of the
route inside Fayetteville city limits. By 2035, it is anticipated that about two-thirds of the
US71 B in the study area will experience LOS F. There are more than 65 signalized
intersections on US 71B, so the main component of the BRT alternative is a coordinated
signal pre-emption system for public transit buses. To remain consistent for
comparative purposes, eight (8) major BRT stations were assumed, which is a station
about every 5 miles. In practice, a closer spacing of stations could be allowed which has
the off-setting effect of slowing operational speeds but increasing the access to
employment centers along the route. The eight station locations assumed for BRT are:
1. Greenland: SW corner of RR Tracks & Frisco Street
2. Fayetteville: College Ave. (US 71B) north of Dickson St. Intersection
3. Johnson: US 71B north of Joyce Ave. Intersection
4. Springdale: US 71B at Emma Ave.
5. Lowell: US 71B at W. Monroe
6. Rogers: US 71B at W. Walnut
7. Bentonville: US 62 at Northwest Arkansas Community College (NWACC)
8. Bella Vista: US71 at Dartmoor Rd.
Figure 4-2 shows the BRT Alternative and potential station locations.
The main components of Existing Location BRT Alternative will consist of signal
preemption and center-lane sections reserved for BRT in peak periods. There are
approximately 70 signalized intersections from Greenland to Bella Vista. Not all signal
locations will require priority treatment. This is detailed in the cost estimate (Section 6).
Existing location BRT can benefit from selected use of existing center left turn lanes
during peak periods, combined with signal pre-emption. Use of the center turn lanes for
5 Level of Service is a term with letter designations A through F to denote “free flow” , or A,
down to “breakdown” or F. More detail can be found in the Highway Capacity Manual.
47 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4-2 BRT on Existing Location
48 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
BRT would be recommended where the roadway width could be widened with minimal
ROW costs and impacts. The level of detail in this Alternatives Analysis does not allow
for a definitive feasibility determination for using center lanes for BRT, but based on
windshield surveys, the sections of US 71B from North Street to Millsap Road in
Fayetteville and from Lakeview Road to Emma Street in Springdale, each about 3 miles,
could be candidate sections for BRT. Similar sections have been built for the Healthline
BRT in Cleveland, Ohio and the BRT line in Vancouver.
Healthline Median Platform, Cleveland OH
Passenger stations and boarding platforms would generally be located on the sides of
the highway, but in some locations where safety issues could be fully addressed, center
platforms could be used.
BRT Platform Elements (Valley Metro, Phoenix)
49 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
New Location Alternative
As mentioned, this alternative runs parallel to the I-49 facility to augment capacity on
the facility with the highest VMT (vehicle miles of travel) and projected congestion.
Much of I-49 is projected to have Level of Service D, E or F in the horizon year of 2035 6 .
Another objective in locating close to I-49 was to increase the potential for mixed use
development around the stations. A third factor in locating the New Location
Alternative near I 49 rather than just west of the A&M ROW, or in general to the east of
I 49, is the high certainty of negative Social, Environmental, and Economic impacts that
would occur if it were located closer to the A&M. Providing a separate grade-separated
facility would require the acquisition of numerous dwelling units, commercial properties
and other facilities. It would also be necessary to sever numerous east-west collector
streets and possibly arterial streets for safety and to allow the light rail to operate at
optimal speeds. Noise and vibration impacts would be more likely to arise in a corridor
which is currently not in proximity to freeway or freight rail noise and vibration impacts.
In general, there is more intensive zoning already in place along the interstate. Locating
further to the west would tend to increase urban sprawl and would introduce more
conflicts between a new transportation facility and residential areas, open space, and
environmentally sensitive areas. Locating it further to the east would be problematic
due to the existing land uses, density of the street network which would be disrupted by
the need to restrict at grade crossings, and other social, cultural and institutional areas
and land uses which would be adversely affected.
General and representative station locations were chosen for each alternative, both for
the purposes of building the network for estimating ridership, and to facilitate the
assessment of the economic development potential for each alternative. These
locations were not the subject of a detailed siting study, and they should be considered
to be within a ½ mile radius of potential station locations. Stations would have park-ride
surface parking to the extent practical, bus stop connections to the future bus network
provided by Ozark Regional Transit (ORT), Razorback Transit, or other local and regional
transit connections, and connections to any existing or programmed pedestrian and
bicycle facilities. Station locations for the New Location alternative are as follows:
1. Greenland: SW corner of RR Tracks & Frisco St.
6 Northwest Arkansas Western Beltway Feasibility Study, 2011. Parsons Brinkerhoff; Northwest
Arkansas Regional Planning Commission.
50 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
2. Fayetteville: W. Persimmon/N. Salem
3. Johnson: New Hope Road at Johnson Mill Blvd.
4. Springdale: South of W. Sunset, approx. ¼ mile West of I-49
5. Lowell: W. Monroe at Oakwood
6. Rogers: SE Medical Parkway at NW Medical Center
7. Bentonville: SE 14 th at Phyllis
8. Bella Vista: US71 at Dartmoor Rd.
Figure 4-3 shows the New Location Alternative and potential station locations.
Typical cross sections for ballasted double track are shown in Figure 4-4.
51 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4-3 New Location Light Rail
52 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4.4 Typical Ballasted Section
53 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Existing Location Commuter Rail Alternative
Many of the previous studies, plans and recommendations called for utilization of the
right of way of the Arkansas & Missouri Railroad (A&M), which connects Monett,
Missouri with Ft. Smith, Arkansas, a distance of about 140 miles. Its headquarters is in
Springdale. Within the study area, it traverses the town centers of Rogers, Lowell,
Springdale, Johnson, Fayetteville and Greenland. It is an active freight short line with
more than 30 customers within the study area. It interchanges with three Class I
railroads: Burlington Northern Santa Fe, Kansas City Southern, and Union Pacific.
The previous studies have tended to use the term “Light Rail” for the passenger service
that would be provided within the A&M right of way. Light Rail, as described in detail
later in this section, is not compatible with freight track in the United States for
various regulatory and physical reasons. By their nature, light rail vehicles do not meet
the crashworthiness standards set by FRA for vehicles operating on the same track or
system of tracks as freight service (49 U.S.C. 20102.).
In specific circumstances, waivers can be issued by FRA that allows an exception to the
rule. Currently there are 15 locations operating with FRA waivers. These are usually
confined to situations where a light rail line must cross a freight track. This usually
requires a sophisticated and expensive fail-safe system of signals, lockouts, emergency
derailers and other methods to prevent a potential collision between a freight train and
light rail vehicles. There are also a few cases where light rail has a waiver to run on
shared track, but these situations have a “temporal separation” of service, meaning that
the hours of freight service are restricted and cannot overlap the hours of passenger rail
There is obviously a great deal of interest across the US in using the general railroad
system for light rail purposes, and there is specific interest in Northwest Arkansas as
evidenced by the previous studies, plans, and policy documents. And while
“tracksharing” is a very common practice in Germany, France and a few other European
locations, it is extremely rare and difficult to accomplish in the US. There are many
54 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
research documents covering this topic. Here is an excerpt from one, “Safe Transit in
Shared Use”: 7
With the resurgence of public transit systems, interest has emerged in the use
of corridors that are part of the general railroad system. Many of these
corridors are located in areas where LRT is the preferred transit mode, due, in
part, to the adaptability of LRT and the fact that it is physically capable of
operating on the general railroad system in most respects. The most
prominent exception is non-compliance with FRA vehicle safety requirements.
The FRA regulation receiving most of the attention regarding shared use
operations is the required buff strength of 800 kips. Light rail vehicles in use in
the United States do not meet this standard, although vehicles recently put in
service have structural characteristics that are near compliant. Other FRA
vehicle requirements, including window glazing, horn, bells, and headlight
patterns, must also be addressed for shared use operations.
Where freight operations can be limited to times when LRT would not
operate, such as late night, FRA has granted waivers to their rules. Temporal
separation reflects the original method of management of train movements
based on timetable authority. In temporal separation of FRA-compliant and
non-compliant modes, trains are kept absolutely separate by assignment of
specific blocks of time to each mode. The duration of the blocks, or the time
scale for compliant and non-compliant temporal separation, has traditionally
been in 8- to 12-hour blocks, with one non-compliant (traditionally LRT) block
and one compliant (i.e., freight) block per 24-hour cycle. This type of temporal
separation of LRT and freight operations has been applied by several rail
systems, beginning with the introduction of LRT in San Diego in 1981. In some
locations, this type of shared use of track by compliant and non-compliant
trains is not satisfactory for the concerned service providers, as the frequency
and flexibility of operations is constrained, curtailing the quality and service
for each mode.
Unlike most freight lines in the US, the A&M operates its own regular passenger
excursion service with stops in Springdale, Van Buren and Ft. Smith. Passengers ride in
refurbished passenger and parlor cars of varying types and ages, with propulsion
7 Federal Transit Administration, 2011.
55 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
provided by diesel electric locomotives. Passenger excursions vary in time of day and
frequency throughout the year, but are concentrated on Fridays, Saturdays and
Sundays. Special excursions and charters can occur in both mid-day and evening time
periods, and on any weekday and weekends.
Within the corridor, all existing A&M track is Continuously Welded Rail (CWR). There is
a maximum speed limit of 49 mph, although it is less in congested areas. Dispatching is
done from Springdale and Ft Smith. Most traffic is scheduled freight, with some shuttles
from Union Pacific.
The ROW owned by A&M is variable, but is generally 100’ with the track centerline
being the same as the center of the ROW. There are some stretches of 200’ ROW, and
the ROW narrows to 50’ in most of the downtown areas and other sections with
topographic constraints. The majority of the A&M line is single track, with only limited
passing track. There are spurs and storage track at most of the industrial customers. A
detailed set of ROW maps and track charts are is provided in a separate document. 8
The A&M no longer serves the central portion of Bentonville and its status at and
beyond the campus of Northwest Arkansas Community College is now subject to a
contract to purchase the ROW where it traverses the campus. It is not yet known if
NWACC will preserve the ROW for future transportation use. While some rail modes
can be built as street-running modes. For example, the Austin MetroRail commuter
railroad line (Red Line) operates on downtown streets (5 th and 4 th ) for about 1 mile to
reach the downtown convention center stop. However, it can become more difficult to
meld this type of rail operation into an existing urban fabric, especially an older town
center with narrow streets and typical grid turning radii of 50-60’. The northern
segment of Existing Location alternative assumes a bus connection might be necessary if
the ultimate northern termini in Bella Vista are to be connected.
The Existing Location alternative would provide double track capacity throughout the
corridor, along with passenger platforms and amenities at 8 locations, as follows:
1. Greenland: SW corner of RR Tracks & Frisco St.
2. Fayetteville: Dickson St. at RR
3. Johnson: N. Gregg at Van Asche
8 Placeholder footnote for track charts and ROW maps
56 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
4. Springdale: Emma Ave. at RR
5. Lowell: McClure at RR
6. Rogers: Elm Street at RR
7. Bentonville: W. Tower Road at RR (NWACC)
8. Bella Vista: US71 at Dartmoor Rd.
Figure 4-5 shows the Commuter Rail Alternative and potential station locations. Figure
4-5A shows typical double track cross section for Commuter Rail, which is virtually
identical to LRT cross section requirements.
57 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4-5. Commuter Rail Alternative
58 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4-5A- CR Typical Cross Section for Single and Double Track
59 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The purpose of preparing environmental constraints mapping at this time is to assist in
fatal flaw analysis, identify environmental areas of concern and use this to try to avoid
or minimize impacts during the preliminary alternatives development.
The primary areas of more detailed environmental analysis would examine ways to
minimize impacts at stream crossings to maintain water quality and protect floodplain
storage capacity and wetlands. Another environmental design and location goal would
be to avoid and minimize impacts to Karst topography in order to protect the recharge
zones and minimize potential harmful effects to cave habitats and associated
threatened and endangered species. Finally, in a NEPA AA process, alternatives will need
to integrate alignments to complement and not harm historic resources. Some
alternatives would be subject to noise and vibration analysis.
At this point there does not appear to be any fatal environmental flaws or impacts
which cannot be mitigated.
Social, Economic, Environmental (SEE) Constraints. This review is at the regional and
corridor level. Detailed assessments of impacts are made once a NEPA process has been
initiated, indicating there is a Federal role in a project. The Locally Preferred Alternative
(LPA) will be more detailed and defined by Conceptual or Preliminary Engineering so
that more exact location of the facility is known in relation to sensitive receptors,
environmentally sensitive areas, minority and low income residential areas, and cultural
resources. A listing of local SEE issues during the AA or planning process can inform
and shorten the environmental assessment process later on.
Figure 4-6 shows the general location of the build alternatives with a an overlay of
environmental constraints, including areas of Karst topography, floodplains, National
Register Historic Places, hydric soils/wetlands, parks, National Forests and other
locations of environmental, cultural and social significance. At this scale, and with the
alternatives still being broadly defined, detail impacts cannot be identified. However,
in the context of an Alternatives Analysis, the following issues have been identified and
would need to be studied in more detail if certain alternatives advance into a project
Karst Topography. As has been discussed, Northwest Arkansas has undergone
tremendous population growth in the last two decades, and as a result there has been
60 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
extensive expansion of the surface transportation infrastructure to meet the travel
demands. This has brought several environmental issues and concerns to the forefront.
Northwest Arkansas is part of the Ozark Highlands Ecoregion, a region of Karst
topography which has eroded to form steep hills, valleys, and bluffs. Karst is a distinctive
topography in which the landscape is the result of the dissolving action of water on
limestone and other formations such as marble. This has resulted in a complicated
region of surface and subsurface features that includes sinkholes, vertical shafts, surface
and underground streams and springs which form and support complex underground
drainage systems and caves. Surface waters, including runoff from urban infrastructure
such as highways, streets, parking lots and buildings tend to make their way into the
groundwater of Northwest Arkansas. If the surface water is polluted, it can be assumed
the groundwater will also be polluted.
Extensive underground habitats in the region are home to many sensitive and
endangered species, including especially Ozark cavefish and several bat species. Local,
state, regional and federal agencies and organizations have worked to develop
guidelines and practices to minimize, if not eliminate altogether, the potentially harmful
effects of continued urban development, including transportation projects. 9
The New Location alternative would traverse sensitive Karst areas including the Cave
Springs Recharge Area. While this is not a fatal flaw if proper protections and mitigation
can be provided, the project design would have to consider its potential for adverse
effects on the recharge area. In addition to the project itself, the environmental effects
of proposed and/or likely station area development would have to be considered.
NWARPC in cooperation with State and Federal agencies has commissioned a new and
comprehensive study of the Karst areas. When complete, this study will provide a
detailed guide for project planning.
Other aspects of the physical environment which will be of concern to a NEPA-level
analysis of proposed facilities include but are not limited to:
9 Example: “Community Growth Best Management Practices for Conservation of the Cave
Springs Recharge Area”. USFWS , 2005
61 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Streams and waterways;
Hazardous Toxic or Radioactive Waste (HTRW) areas; and
Threatened or endangered species in addition to those mentioned above.
Typical of most southern and southwestern growth regions, most of NWA land use is
relatively low density single family residential, commercial, and industrial along with the
open space and other public land uses to support the population. Acquisition of rights
of way will unavoidably affect existing residential areas, stores, employment centers,
medical facilities, schools, and open space. In particular, a light rail or BRT fixed
guideway facility will require access control that can separate areas and disrupt the local
During the NEPA process for a proposed project, the identification of low income and
minority areas would be part of a review of Environmental Justice (EJ). EPA defines EJ as
“…the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color,
national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and
enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”
A proposed project will need to be evaluated with respect to proximity and impact on
cultural resources, Historic Places, churches, schools, museums etc. Noise and vibration
impacts, as well as visual impacts and changes to access, would need to be stud for most
Northwest Arkansas has a wealth of parks and recreation facilities, and a detailed NEPA
environmental analysis will take them all into account. Of particular importance is the
newly developed, 36-mile Northwest Arkansas Razorback Regional Greenway.
Community leaders from across northwest Arkansas have been working for several
years on a regional trail plan to connect the cities in Washington and Benton counties.
The objectives of the Greenway are to create a safe place for recreation, alternative
transportation, and healthy lifestyles.
Many miles of trail are already completed. By the end of 2014, the entire trail will form a
36-mile primarily off-road shared-use concrete and asphalt trail that extends from
62 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Bentonville to Fayetteville. Much of the route is near the A&M corridor. It also crosses
the I-49 ROW.
63 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 4-6. Environmental Constraints
64 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The transit alternatives in the Northwest Arkansas Transit Alternatives Analysis Study
are a combination of alignments and vehicle technology. Some alternative locations
could support more than one applicable or feasible technology. For example, a new
location guideway could accommodate light rail vehicles, low-floor articulated buses in
Bus Rapid Transit mode, monorail, or even Maglev (magnetic levitation) if the horizontal
and vertical geometry of the guideway were compatible with the requirements of the
The Alternatives Analysis compared the benefits and costs of the various choices on as
level a playing field as possible. To this end, only existing proven technologies were
considered. There are more vehicle and propulsion technology choices today than there
were two decades ago, and there will no doubt be additional choices in the next ten or
twenty years. But for now, the AA must be guided by the Purpose and Need to
determine which available technologies should be considered.
While there are generally accepted descriptions and definitions of fixed guideway
modes, there is no “official” classification in the US, especially among the modes of
heavy rail, light rail, and urban rail (streetcars with fewer stations and faster operating
speeds). With the advent of more modern commuter rail vehicles, even the line
between commuter rail and light rail is becoming blurred. This chapter will provide the
descriptions and definitions used in the alternatives analysis and in the various
presentations and other material provided to the public, stakeholders, and advisory
When defining a mode, one must consider not just the vehicle and its technology, but
the nature of the right of way in which it operates. Although this study focuses on fixed
guideway facilities, most modes will have some of the ROW in an exclusive, fully grade
separated section, and some sections that have less than full separation. Various cities’
versions of light rail and Streetcars in particular can have wide differences in the quality
of the ROW. With this in mind, the fixed guideway modes considered in the AA are as
Bus Rapid Transit
65 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Technologies not considered because they are not appropriate for a 40 mile corridor or
because the technology is still in development include Monorail, Personal Rapid Transit,
and Magnetic Levitation (Mag Lev). Streetcars were also not considered because of
their slower speed. Streetcars may be appropriate in some areas as a feeder/circulator
service linking a fixed guideway station with mixed use neighborhoods and downtowns
in a 1 to 4 mile radius. Similarly, HOV (high occupancy vehicles) and HOT (high
occupancy and toll) facilities were not studied because they were not considered
supportive of the Purpose and Need and goals for the project.
The following is a brief description of the modes that were considered in this AA, along
with US examples of each.
First, the terms Heavy Rail and Light Rail are misnomers. The terms have nothing to do
with the weight of the rail or the vehicles. They just evolved in the lexicon of transit
planners. Heavy Rail mode consists of high capacity cars running in fully separate rights
of way for 100% of the system. High voltage electric power is supplied from a ground
level third rail. Stations are several miles apart. Speeds exceed 60 mph. Tracks can be
elevated, at grade but with no at grade intersections with streets, or below grade
(subways). All of these modes can exist on one line. An example is the Washington
Metro connection to Reagan National Airport. It begins at the airport as above grade,
but has several at-grade and subway sections.
APTA (American Public Transportation Association) provides this additional definition:
Heavy rail (metro, subway, rapid transit, or rapid rail) is an electric
railway with the capacity for a heavy volume of traffic. It is characterized
by high speed and rapid acceleration passenger rail cars operating singly
or in multi-car trains on fixed rails; separate rights-of-way from which all
other vehicular and foot traffic are excluded; sophisticated signaling, and
high platform loading.
Examples include BART in San Francisco, Washington METRO , MARTA in Atlanta and the
NYC subway system.
66 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
BART – San Francisco MARTA – Atlanta
Light Rail is a mode of transit service operating passenger rail cars in single car consists or in
short two-car or three-car consists on fixed rails in right-of-way that is often separated from
other traffic for part or much of the way. Light rail vehicles are typically driven electrically with
power being drawn from an overhead electric line via pantograph; driven by an operator on
board the vehicle; and may have either high platform loading or low level boarding using steps.
Light Rail systems in the US vary widely in the percentage of the route system which is in a
guideway or trackbed fully separated from vehicular traffic and other rail lines. Some systems
have signalized intersections, some have fully automated rail barrier arms or gates, and some
operate in very short downtown sections on city streets, usually in a lane divided by some sort
of physical delineation. Trackbeds for light rail can be ballasted (generally the cheapest to
build), direct fixation on top of paved surfaces and structures, or embedded track for locations
where the light rail operates on city streets, usually in a dedicated lane or lanes. Light Rail cars
and systems operate with a sophisticated signaling and communication network. Speeds can
range from 15 mph on mixed traffic sections to 80 mph or greater in separate ROW sections.
Examples in the US include DART in the Dallas, TX metropolitan area, the TIDE in Norfolk-
Hampton Roads, VA, Houston, TX, St. Louis, MO, Denver, CO, Sacramento, CA and Phoenix, AZ.
67 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
DART Light Rail St. Louis Metro Rail
Commuter Rail is a mode of transit service (also called metropolitan rail, regional rail, or
suburban rail) characterized by diesel railway for urban passenger train service consisting of
local short distance travel operating between a central city and adjacent suburbs . A few
commuter rail operations use vehicles powered by overhead electric wires, mostly in the
Nashville Music Star Rail Runner New Mexico
Service is operated on a regular, but generally peak-hour, basis by or under contract with a
transit operator for transporting passengers within urbanized areas, or between urbanized
areas and outlying areas. Commuter rail service can use either locomotive push-pull or self-
propelled railroad passenger cars known as DMUs. It is generally characterized by multi-trip
68 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
tickets, specific station to station fares, railroad employment practices and usually only one or
two stations in a central business district. Most service is provided on routes of current or
former freight railroads.
Examples in the US include Nashville’s Music Star,Austin’s Capital Metro Red Line, the Trinity
Railway Express (TRE) connecting Ft. Worth and Dallas, Caltrans in California, the Front Runner
in Salt Lake City, and the Rail Runner in New Mexico.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)
BRT is the name given to express service bus systems that operate in combinations of
separate fixed guideways, in their own lanes on city streets, and in mixed traffic. There
is an extremely broad definition of what constitutes BRT. The more sophisticated
systems use bus stations instead of bus stops, a design feature that allows passengers to
pay before boarding the bus. This allows for faster, more orderly boardings, similar to
those of heavy or light rail systems. Stations may also have elevated boarding platforms
level with the bus floors so passengers don’t need to climb steps, or use wheelchair lifts,
to get on the bus. Passenger information systems are often provided which mimic the
station arrival and departure information systems of rail transit and train stations. US
examples include San Antonio, Eugene, OR, Seattle, WA, Boston, MA, the Euclid Avenue
project in Cleveland, OH, Kansas City, MO and NYC 34 th Street, and Ft. Worth, TX. A
new project is underway in El Paso, TX.
Eugene OR Seattle
69 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Boston Silver Line
Modes Not Considered in the Northwest Arkansas Alternatives Analysis:
Often considered to be at the low-speed end of light
rail mode, streetcars, also known as Trolleys or Trams,
is steel-wheel-on-rail transit mode. It operates on-
street, sharing the pavement with other vehicles (mixed
traffic mode), with little or no priority signaling at
intersections. Streetcars operate in general like local
buses, with stop spacing at about 4 blocks, average
speeds of 10-20 mph. Streetcar track is usually
embedded but can be built on ballasted sections in its own ROW, or on track that is
directly fixed (with epoxy or fasteners) to existing paved surfaces. Streetcar vehicles
can be modern low floor vehicles, or restored or replica vehicles. Typical propulsion is
overhead electric, but advances are being made in battery and hybrid power for all or
portions of streetcar lines.
Streetcars were not considered as a corridor alternative due to low speed and system
passenger capacity. Streetcar lines can be very effective in promoting TOD in specific
zones or short corridors (2-10 miles). They can also be effectively linked to higher
capacity fixed guideway projects, such as in Portland and in the Washington, DC H Street
Trolley (under construction).
70 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Personal Rapid Transit (PRT)
PRT is also known as the Automatic Transit
Network or ATN.
The Advanced Transit Association (ATRA)
has provided this definition of Personal
Direct origin-to-destination service with no need to transfer or stop at
Small vehicles available for the exclusive use of an individual or small group
traveling together by choice.
Service available on demand by the user rather than on fixed schedules.
Fully automated vehicles (no human drivers) which can be available for use 24
hours a day, 7 days a week.
Vehicles captive to a guideway that is reserved for their exclusive use.
Small (narrow and light) guideways are usually elevated but also can be at or
near ground level or underground.
Vehicles able to use all guideways and stations on a fully connected PRT
PRT was not considered due to its low capacity. It is more suited for airport or campus
transportation venues. Due to dispersed stations, PRT does not serve as a catalyst for
mixed use developments.
Monorails are an electric railway of guided
transit vehicles operating singly or in multi- car
71 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The vehicles are suspended from or straddle a guideway formed by a single beam, rail,
or tube. Stations or platforms are also at car level, above city sidewalks and first floor
businesses, etc. They can be automated or operated by a human in the cab. Monorails
in the US have been built only in theme park or major entertainment venues and have
limited application. They are limited in their ability to generate economic development
at platforms due to the elevated nature. Most monorails operate at speeds of 40 mph
72 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 5 – Ridership
The most challenging part of the Alternatives Analysis was the development and
interpretation of ridership forecasts for the build alternatives for the forecast year of
2035. Scant attention was given to ridership forecasts or goals in the previous
Northwest Arkansas light rail studies. There are always multiple reasons and
justifications for investing in a major transportation project, but the usage, whether it is
measured in riders on a transit line or cars on a highway, is always at or near the top of
the list. Ridership estimates are very important to the Federal Transit Administration
when they review proposals from across the country competing for scarce Federal
funds. In the 80s and 90s, several major rail projects were built with major Federal
funding, and for various reasons they fell far short of the ridership forecasts, at least
initially. Congress eventually required that applicants use an approved ridership
forecasting methodology in the FTA evaluation process, and this has become part of the
New Starts Criteria. While different models and approaches are allowable, the
forecasting process must be reviewed and approved by FTA prior to receiving approval
to enter into project development. While it is normal for advocates to portray the most
optimistic scenario for future ridership on a new project, if the applicant or grantee
wants to use FTA funds, an approved process must be followed.
One of the key requirements is that the future land use forecast, which serves as the
basis for calculating overall travel demand, must be the same land use forecast used in
the area’s regional long range transportation plan. There is substantial research and
evidence demonstrating that fixed guideway transit systems has the capability to create
more intensive land use around stations and along corridors. Station area land use is
not just more intense, it is typically mixed-used development, or urban villages, or
Transit Oriented Development (TOD). It goes by many names but the introduction of
well-planned rail stations can be transformative. Examples are many but include
Washington DC, San Diego, Portland, San Francisco, Toronto, Montreal, Calgary and
Unless such intensified mixed use development is already an integral part of the long
range land use forecasts, the ridership forecasts used in an Alternatives Analysis cannot
assume anything except status quo land uses. Sometimes FTA will consider “transit-
supportive policies” of local governments if there is a sufficient demonstration of the
enforceability or “teeth” of those policies, which can include zoning, incentives and
waivers, public policy on the amount of public parking that is required in certain areas or
73 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
as part of developments, limitations or phasing out of free public parking, incentives to
use bus transit and other feeder modes such as walking and bicycling.
In addition to the limits on land use assumptions, the transit ridership forecasts must be
linked to and consistent with the regional travel demand model. In large urban areas
(over 1,000,000 population), the regional travel demand model will have a separate but
integrated transit forecast model or a mode choice model. Such a mode choice model
does not exist in the Northwest Arkansas region. It was noted at the beginning of the
study that the available funding for the Alternatives Analysis was not as much as
NWARPC originally requested from FTA. The actual funding was not at a level to allow
development of a mode-choice travel demand model. The agreed-upon approach was
to use the Northwest Arkansas Travel Demand Model, or TDM, as the basis for ridership
forecasts for the transit alternatives.
The Northwest Arkansas TDM has been focused on estimating the demand for street
and highway improvements. Although the trip generation step estimated transit trip
generation, the availability of transit service was not included as a factor in assigning
trips to the existing and future transportation networks. Due to the rapid growth in
vehicular travel in Northwest Arkansas, the TDM has been built to test different highway
scenarios 10 such as:
Change in number of lanes
Adding new roads
Adding new major businesses or residential areas
Future year scenarios
To make up for the lack of transit mode choice, an overlay model for the Northwest
Arkansas TDM was created to produce a transit trip table reflective of the availability of
existing public transportation. The overlay model estimates or replicates current transit
ridership on Razorback Transit and Ozark Regional Transit bus routes. It was then
possible to generate ridership estimates for the build alternatives. This approach is a
reasonable methodology given the resources available to NWARPC and the consultant
team, but it does have several limiting factors:
1010 “Northwest Arkansas Travel Demand Model Results and Scenarios”. C. Scarlat and J.
McClarty. NWARPC . Presentation to Arkansas GIS Users Symposium, 2009.
74 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The TDM, like most urban models, starts with a calculation of Trip Productions (usually
the home) and Trip Attractions (the destination of the original trip of the individual, such
as place of work or shopping center or school). In the Northwest Arkansas TDM, trip
attractions were created for highway trips only, so a methodology to estimate transit
attractions was developed and this was based on highway mode attraction rates.
Because the existing NWA TDM does not assume any transit service other than
traditional bus service with an average speed of 20 mph, the mode choice does not take
into potential travel time savings from faster modes. The consultant team used “mode
propensity” factors to produce transit trip attractions.
The numbers of transit trips produced by the TDM are higher than the observed or
actual trips on the existing transit routes. Overall, there were more than 23,000 transit
trips produced by the model for 2010 whereas the actual ridership reported by
Razorback Transit and Ozark Regional Transit totaled 11,925. The implications of this
difference will be discussed later in this section.
A detailed discussion of the modeling process, results and comparative analysis is
contained in a technical memorandum prepared by the consulting firm which developed
the ridership forecasts for the AA. 11 A few of the key technical issues and findings are
The trip generation model produced both highway and non-highway trips. The highway
trips were distributed using a traditional gravity model. The non-highway trips were not
included in the original distribution model. Alliance determined that the non-highway
trips should be distributed based on highway travel time skim using a gravity model for
each trip purpose. Two main factors were important for that determination: 1) about
half of the non-highway trips actually used highways and 2) many of the transit eligible
production-attraction pairs did not have viable transit paths between the location of the
production and the location of the attraction. Therefore the use of transit skims for the
distribution of transit eligible (non-highway) trips was not an option. For the trip
distribution model used to distribute transit eligible trips, the consulting team adopted
the original NWA TDM distribution model parameters used for highway trips as there
1111 Technical Memorandum: Modeling Methodology, Ridership Forecasting and Special Market
Ridership Assessment. Alliance Transportation Group. February 2014.
75 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
was no other source of information readily available. The highway network skims for
2010 and 2035 were used for distributing 2010 and 2035 transit trips, respectively.
The Mode Choice step in travel demand modeling is simply a way to estimate the
probability of a trip being made by auto or public transportation or another mode. The
purpose of the NWA mode choice model was two-fold: 1) to allocate the transit eligible
(non-highway) trips generated in the logit 12 -based generation step to a correct category
of transit and highway trips and 2) to help compare potential ridership for several
transit alternatives (i.e. bus rapid transit [BRT], light rail transit [LRT], and commuter rail
transit [CRT]). With this purpose in mind, Alliance adopted a straight forward
multinomial logit model structure to split non-highway trips and test the transit
alternatives. The trips are split among highway, existing local bus and a potential transit
alternative. The potential transit alternatives include Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), (LRT), and
Commuter Rail Transit (CRT). With this model structure, the consulting team used the
same set of mode choice coefficients for each transit alternative. This implies that the
mode choice model will differentiate the transit alternatives based on the level of
service (LOS) characteristics developed for each alternative by the consulting team, i.e.
headways and average speed and span of service.
The aforementioned limitations of the modeling process resulted in low ridership
estimates for each of the build alternatives. The NWARPC may want to seek funding for
the development of a new travel demand model that includes a robust Mode Choice
model. This will be discussed later in the report in the “The Path Forward” section.
The forecast ridership used in this AA study should not be taken as a firm indicator of
whether the area should pursue the development of a fixed guideway rail project.
However, the ridership numbers may be a serious hurdle to seeking federal funding
assistance for further project funding under the present rules (New Starts Criteria) for
funding proposals or until other changes take place that would allow a higher number of
transit trips to be forecast by the regional travel demand mode.
12 Logit models are one type of mode choice model and is based on probability and economic
76 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
The results of the Alternatives Analysis ridership forecasts were used in the second level
screening of the build alternatives along with other factors. The results of the ridership
forecast for each of the three build alternatives are discussed below.
Figure 5-1 shows the results for forecasts for the Light Rail Transit mode. The Light Rail
Transit Alternative would operate at higher average speed than other alternatives, and
would therefore have offered the fastest travel time among the transit alternatives
considered. However, as it was built on a new alignment parallel to I 49, its stations are
located in suburban areas with low density residential areas and with commercial areas
characterized by large parking lots, lack of sidewalks for pedestrian access, lack of bike
access, and limited bus transit connectivity.
The figure below shows the daily ridership by route for the Light Rail Transit Alternative.
For the base year, 276 daily LRT riders were estimated, whereas 356 daily LRT riders
were forecast for the year 2035.
Figure 5-1 Light Rail Transit Ridership
The directional imbalance of the forecast ridership is the result of the standard practice
of the industry to assign transit trips in production-attraction (PA) format. The
imbalance is especially noticeable for trips of very directional nature, such as HBW trips.
This is due to the fact that the typical commuting pattern of one trip toward downtown
in the morning peak period and one trip away from town in town in the afternoon peak
period is assigned as two inbound trips in PA format. This convention allows transit
planners and the models that forecast ridership to connect the household
characteristics (median income, household size, vehicle availability, area type) of transit
77 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
riders based on the zone the transit rider starts their trip. This convention also ensures
the outbound work trips return to the same zones as the inbound trips. In reality, on a
daily basis, the Inbound and outbound ridership will be equal to half of the total
ridership of the two directions.
The same apparent imbalance shows up in the forecasts for the Commuter Rail Transit
(CRT) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) modes. The results of the ridership forecasts for
those are shown in Figures 5-2 and 5-3, respectively.
Figure 5-2 Commuter Rail Transit Ridership (A&M Corridor)
Figure 5-3 Bus Rapid Transit Ridership (US 71B)
78 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Keeping in mind the limitations of the modeling process used in the Alternative Analysis,
the highest potential ridership occurs on the Commuter Rail Transit alternative. Even
though CRT has a lower trip frequency (longer headways) and fewer total trips due to
the need to share the ROW with the freight operations, the CRT has the advantage of
having stations located in downtowns and other areas where there is a higher-than-
average density of trip attractions. As mentioned, the forecast land use employed by
this modeling process does not assume redevelopment potential beyond existing
trends; the station areas have the highest potential for transformation into TOD, Transit
Oriented Development, as discussed in “The Path Forward” section.
79 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 6 – Financial Performance of Alternatives
This section provides a planning-level estimate of the capital, operating and
maintenance costs of the Build Alternatives. Capital costs developed during the
Alternatives Analysis study are preliminary and contain allocated and unallocated
contingencies to allow for potential unknowns that are likely to occur in any major
capital project. These can arise from higher than expected ROW acquisition and
relocation costs, unforeseen conditions, utility adjustments, fluctuations in the price of
materials in excess of inflation forecasts, and mitigation measures required by
The contingency set aside for the cost estimates for the Northwest Arkansas
Alternatives Analysis study is set at 35% of construction and design costs, not including
vehicle costs. As the design of a project advances from planning to preliminary
engineering and final design, the percentage reserved for contingencies is lowered
progressively as successive cost estimates are developed based on more input such as
soils reports, property surveys, environmental mitigation agreements, utility discovery
Capital cost estimates for the Build Alternatives are produced from unit costs, lump sum
amounts, and allowances which are in turn developed from recent projects which have
been competitively bid. While no project’s costs can be directly transferred to another
situation, adjustments and assumptions are made to reflect local conditions as much as
Few of the previous studies and plans for fixed guideways contained a capital or
operating cost estimate. The 2004 Beta-Rubicon study provided a range of $550 M to
$1.24 B for a 41.2 mile project on the A&M right of way, including 10 stations and 10 to
22 cars. Applying the general CPI to adjust for inflation since 2004, the range would be
$693 M to $1.56 B in 2014 dollars.
6.1 New Location Alternative (Light Rail)
Capital costs for the new location alternative assume that approximately 80% of the
Light Rail track could be track-on-ballast. This is cheaper than a paved trackbed with
embedded track and cheaper than a paved busway for BRT as well. It is assumed that
20% would consist of structures and/or paved trackbed with embedded track. A per
mile cost of construction of trackbed and the overhead power supply, or overhead
80 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
catenary system (OCS) was developed largely from the bid on the latest section of the
DART (Dallas) green line to open in 2013. Right of Way (including relocations) allowance
is 8% of the construction cost.
Operating costs for the Light Rail on New Location are based on using six (6), 2-car train
sets in the peak hours (1 spare train set), and using 4 cars in the off peak. This amounts
to approximately 20,600 revenue vehicle-hours per year. The operating and
maintenance cost range, supported by the National Transit Database (NTD) for 2012 is
$300.00 per hour.
6.2 Existing Location CR (Commuter Rail)
The capital cost assumptions for this alternative assume that the majority of the A&M
line between Greenland and the northern part of Rogers has sufficient ROW to add a
parallel track to facilitate the movement of passenger cars and freight locomotives
without having to request a temporal waiver from the FRA. There will be several
exceptions to the double track including Fayetteville in the vicinity of Dixon Street and
to the north of Dixon where there is insufficient ROW. A detailed operating plan may
identify other locations where single track would be sufficient but still allow for safe
Operating costs for service on the A&M would be slightly higher than for an
independent Light Rail on new location. Some of the costs of dispatching and PTC
(Positive Train Control) procedures would have to be allocated to a passenger service.
Diesel fuel costs are likely to exceed the energy cost of electric power on Light Rail for
the foreseeable future. An average of $350 per hour of vehicle revenue service was
used for the operating and maintenance costs for Commuter Rail DMU service.
Commuter rail operating hours and frequency of service are less than can be provided
by New Location LRT. 6 cars in the peak period, with 2 cars in off-peak, will provide
10,600 revenue vehicle-hours of service.
6.3 Existing Location BRT
The capital cost assumptions for BRT assume an average of $20,000 per signalized
intersection to establish signal preemption for BRT in selected sections of the corridor.
For the sections of US 71B that can be widened to accommodate exclusive median lanes
for BRT, a per-mile urban arterial widening cost was used that assumed no structures or
business relocations were involved.
81 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
BRT service, according to FTA guidelines, must be branded as a different service and it is
recommended (but not required) that a new generation of buses designed for BRT
applications be deployed. The current cost for a non-articulated BRT vehicle with diesel
power is approximately $500,000 per bus. The number of peak period vehicles for this
service is 18, with 8-10 buses operated on the line in the off peak. This amounts to
38,000 vehicle hours per year. This high number is somewhat offset by the lower
operating cost of bus service. Based on the experience of Ozark and Razorback transit
operations, an average cost of $65 per vehicle hour was applied for operations and
Table 6-1 Capital Costs for Build Alternatives
Major Cost Categories (FTA
New Location Light Rail Existing Location Existing Location
Light Rail Commuter Rail Bus Rapid Transit
Guideway/transit way and
$ 1,054,878,000 $ 255,288,768 $ 38,000,000
Stops & stations $ 6,000,000 $ 6,000,000 $ 800,000
Systems, signals, & communications $ 35,720,000 $ 48,594,450 $ 1,380,000
Utilities $ 24,440,000 $ 1,965,000 $ 3,500,000
Vehicles $ 29,400,000 $ 45,000,000 $ 10,000,000
ROW $ 96,024,000 $ 6,000,000 $ 3,040,000
Maintenance & Storage Facilities $ 22,000,000 $ 22,600,000 $ 6,000,000
Special Conditions $ 72,018,000 $ 25,558,356 $ 3,040,000
Professional and Administrative
$ 318,196,200 $ 91,051,643 $ 11,000,000
Contingencies (allocated and
$ 627,636,870 $ 162,332,876 $ 21,000,000
TOTAL $ 2,286,313,070 $ 664,391,093 $ 97,760,000
Length (Miles) 37.6 39.3 39.9
Cost Per Mile $ 60,806,199 $ 16,905,626 $ 2,450,125
82 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Table 6-2 Operating & Maintenance Costs for Build Alternatives
Cost Per Hour $300.00 $350.00 $65.00
Annual Hours 20,600 10,600 38,000
Annual O and M Cost $6,180,000 $3,710,000 $2,519,000
83 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 7 – Level 2 Screening and Locally Preferred
The following criteria are based on the Purpose and Need statement that was
developed by the study team. The criteria are also derived from a review of the NARTS
goals and objectives for the long range transportation plan which were discussed in
Section 1 of this report.
1. Connecting Key Destinations
a. Connects higher education campuses, i.e., University of Arkansas-
Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas Community College
b. Connects civic and cultural Centers
c. Connects major employment centers
d. Connects neighborhood sub-regions
2. Integrates with Existing Transportation Network
a. Freight rail compatibility
b. Historic stations and transit centers
c. Bicycle and pedestrian routes
d. Minimize impacts to existing auto traffic
3. Economic Development
a. Revitalize neighborhoods
b. Develop underutilized property
c. Enhance values of existing property
d. Facilitate new opportunities in existing neighborhoods
e. Promote Green mixed use development
4. Optimize System Performance and Potential for Expansion
a. Compatibility with staged implementation
b. Maximize transit ridership
c. Leverage Federal/state/private funding
5. Technical Considerations
a. Environmental impacts
b. Environmental benefits
c. Capital cost
d. Annual operating costs
84 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
7.1 Screening Results
Table 7-1 illustrates the results of the Level 2 screening process. All criteria were given
equal weight in this Alternatives Analysis. Some criteria have an intrinsic higher weight,
and these are different for each region and corridor. A discussion of this, along with a
review of the latest FTA New Starts process criteria, follows the table.
Table 7-1 Level 2 Screening Results
Connect Key Destinations:
Campuses 3 4 4
Civic and Cultural Centers 2 3 3
Major Employment Centers 2 4 4
Neighborhood Sub-regions 2 3 3
Integrates with Existing Transportation Network:
Freight Rail 4 2 4
Historic stations & transit centers 0 5 2
Bicycle & Pedestrian Routes 1 4 3
Auto Traffic 3 4 4
Revitalize Residential Districts 2 4 2
Develop Underutilized Property 2 5 2
Enhance values of adjacent property 3 5 2
Facilitate New Opportunities in Existing
2 4 3
Promote Green Mixed Use Development 3 5 3
Optimize System Operation & Potential for
Staged Implementation 4 4 5
Maximizing transit ridership 2 4 3
Leverage Federal/state/private funds 1 3 4
Environmental impacts 1 5 5
Environmental Benefits 2 4 3
Capital Cost 1 3 4
Annual operating costs 4 3 2
TOTAL LEVEL 2 SCREENING POINTS 44 78 66
85 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
7.2 Criteria Conclusion and LPA
It is obvious from the totals in the table above that the Existing Location Commuter Rail
option (in the existing A&M corridor) ranked higher in the Level 2 screening than other
alternatives. As mentioned in Section 4 Alternatives Development, the alternatives are
comprised of locations and specific modal technology. Modal technology, in turn,
consists of vehicles and an assumed service scenario. The criteria rankings for Northwest
Arkansas arise in part from the location of the alternative in relation to the various land
uses in the study area, and in part from the mode technology and service.
The criteria rankings are further reinforced by examining the population within a one
mile bandwidth of each alternative. Over half of the urbanized area population is
within a one mile bandwidth of the A&M railroad corridor. In ascending order, the
populations within one mile are as follows:
New Location: 89,554 , or 30% of the UZA
BRT on US71B: 147,052 or 49% of the UZA
Commuter Rail on A&M ROW: 152,781 or 52% of the UZA
Figures 7-1, 2 and 3 show the one mile bandwidth in relation to each alternative.
86 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 7-1 Bandwidth for New Location
87 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 7-2 Bandwidth BRT on US71B
88 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Figure 7-3 Bandwidth for Commuter Rail
89 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
As described in the Financial Performance section, building the entire 39-mile
Commuter Rail option is expensive. And it is unlikely it will qualify for Federal funding
assistance in the near term. A staged implementation is very feasible and would provide
the area with a “starter kit” to demonstrate the attractiveness of fixed guideway
passenger service. A key to future expansion will be to select the first stage carefully so
that it can bring about mixed use development, also known as Transit Oriented
Development. The selection of the starter line must be done in close cooperation with
the A&M ownership, discussed further in Section 8. Creating the proper public and
private incentives and framework will be just as important as buying passenger rail cars
and laying new parallel track.
An example of a starter line would be downtown Fayetteville to downtown Springdale
on the A&M line. Double tracking, 3 stations, 4 modern DMU cars and other
requirements would cost about $229M in 2014 dollars.
The criteria rankings of the New Location LRT alternative were lower in many cases
simply because the new location is in an area of typical suburban low-density
development. Over time, a new location light rail would undoubtedly influence the
development and bring about higher densities, but as was discussed in the Ridership
section, FTA policy guidance and regulations require that the forecast be based on the
existing regional land use forecasts used in the financially constrained transportation
plan. FTA and the new MAP 21 legislation provide some opportunity for a change in the
land use assumptions, discussed later in this section.
Similarly, the criteria rankings of the Existing Location CRT option were positively
influenced more by its location than the modal technology (commuter rail mode).
Commuter rail, by its very nature, is on tracks and ROW which have the primary purpose
of serving local and through freight traffic. Commuter rail service scenarios are
comprised of service during the commuting or peak hours, with limited mid-day,
evening, and weekend service. This is in contrast to a dedicated passenger facility which
has frequent service for 12 to 16 hours a day. There is no doubt that the Northwest
Arkansas Region would be well served by a light rail service scenario in this corridor, but
it is not feasible due to the volume and frequency of the freight service provided by
The Existing Location CRT option benefits from its historic location as the main
transportation spine of Northwest Arkansas dating back to the 1800s. The town centers
grew from the station locations, and although the area has grown along many east-west
90 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
axes, the town centers still have strong activity and strong potential for higher levels of
development and occupancy.
The BRT alternative suffers from the previously discussed fact that developers and
investors prefer facilities with fixed guideways, i.e., rails or separate fixed busways, over
bus transit facilities with little or no infrastructure associated with them. However, that
does not mean that a staged BRT project in the US71 B corridor should not be pursued.
This is detailed further in The Path Forward section of this report.
A true fixed-guideway project has the potential to generate more station area
development simply because of the perceived permanence of the transit service. Fixed
guideway transit usually supports a higher transit ridership than traditional bus service,
so a higher population level can be served which in turn means a larger market for the
retail and commercial establishments that might locate in the vicinity of a station.
7.3 Revisions to New Starts Criteria Process under MAP-21
As mentioned several times in this report, the New Starts criteria that govern the rating
of proposed fixed guideways and major BRT projects are in a transition period due to
changes in the authorizing legislation (MAP-21). A new Final Rule for major capital
investments, including New Starts, became effective in April 2013 13 . As is the custom
with FTA, it issued further Policy Guidance to define and implement the regulatory and
statutory provisions of the new rule. 14
The new rules still stress ridership and ridership-related values and benefits, but will
provide some flexibility in allowing a project sponsor to demonstrate and place a dollar
value on “enrichments”. Enrichments can consist of economic development that will be
induced or generated by the investment in a major transit project. This is a departure
from previous New Starts criteria. The project sponsor must provide ample proof or
local policy commitment in support of enrichment claims. The Policy Guidance provides
this definition of economic benefit enrichments”
13 Federal Transit Administration 49 CFR Part 611 [Docket No. FTA–2010–0009] Major Capital
Investment Projects , April 2013.
14 Federal Transit Administration New and Small Starts Evaluation and Rating Process: Final
Policy Guidance, August 2013
91 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
“The extent to which the proposed project would produce changes in development
patterns around the transit investment and the resulting magnitude of changes in
population and employment, considering: the economic conditions in the project
corridor; the mechanisms by which the project would improve those conditions; the
availability of land in station areas for development and redevelopment and a pro forma
assessment of the feasibility of specific development scenarios.”
It is very important to note that FTA will require substantial evidence of strongly pro-
transit land use and transportation polices for the above to be considered. Here is a
listing of the potential sources a project sponsor may have to document in order to
show that the potential for economic benefits has a high probability of occurring as a
result of the transit investment.
Sources of Information to Justify Benefits of Enrichments
Transit Supportive Plans and Policies:
o Growth Management
o Transit Supportive Corridor Policies;
o Supportive Zoning Regulations Near Transit Stations; and
o Tools to Implement Land Use Policies
Performance and Impacts of Policies:
o Performance of Land Use Policies; and
o Potential Impact of Transit Project on Regional Land Use.
Tools to maintain or increase the share of affordable housing in the project
o Evaluation of Corridor-Specific Affordable Housing Needs and Supply
o Plans and Policies to Preserve and Increase Affordable Housing such as:
o Inclusionary zoning and/or density bonuses for affordable housing
o Employer assisted housing policies
o Voluntary or mandatory inclusionary housing policies
o Rent controls or condominium conversion controls
o Zoning to promote housing diversity
o Affordability covenants
Adopted Financing Tools and Strategies to Preserve and Increase Affordable
Housing such as:
o Target property acquisition, rehabilitation, and development funding for
low income housing within the corridor, including:
92 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
o Low Income Housing Tax Credits
o Ongoing affordable housing operating subsidies
o Weatherization and utilities support program
o Local tax abatements for low income or senior housing
o Local of State programs that provide mortgage or other home
o ownership assistance for lower income and senior households
o Established land banking programs or transfer tax programs
o Local or regional affordable housing trust funds
o Targeted tax increment financing or other value capture strategies for
low income housing
o Developer Activity to Preserve and Increase Affordable Housing
Section 8 of this AA report, The Path Forward, will discuss the above FTA policy and the
options for the Northwest Arkansas region relative to Federal funding and the financial
feasibility of implementing fixed guideway transit in the region.
93 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis
Section 8-Conclusion: The Path Forward
The Northwest Regional Planning Commission contracted for this Alternatives Analysis
because it correctly perceived there was widespread interested in a rail project that
would connect the region and sustain and enhance the high quality of life by reducing
congestion and spurring a return to traditional urban densities and mixed use land
development. The public outreach effort during this study added to the evidence of the
interest. Open houses were well-attended by lay citizens, elected officials, and
representatives of special interest groups. Local and statewide news media provided full
coverage of meetings, and the stakeholder committee and TAC advisory committee
were fully engaged. There is no doubt there is strong interest in providing a stronger
All the interested parties have different expectations, and this study’s goal is to provide
a common ground and a baseline of information for continued efforts to bring about a
fixed-guideway transit project in Northwest Arkansas.
The common ground should start with the three parts of this section: Findings,
Recommendations, and Path Forward for Development Policies.
The LPA, along with the other alternatives that were considered, is not currently
eligible for New Starts (Major Capital Investment) Funding. Due to high capital
cost and the inability of current model to show a high degree of ridership, it is
unlikely the project can advance to project funding status in the FTA Major
Capital Investments process (New Starts) as conditions exist now. Changes in the
law will now allow FTA will consider factors other than ridership, but the
ridership thresholds are currently set as follows:
RATING MOBILITY IMPROVEMENT*
High >29.9 Million
Medium High 15-29.9 Million
Medium 5-14.9 Million
Medium Low 2.5 -4.9 Million
Low <2.5 Million *Mobility Improvement =Estimated Annual Trips by Non Transit Dependent Persons plus 2 times Number of Annual Trips by Transit Dependent Persons 94 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis The Federal Funding Guidelines above are important, but only for Federal funding eligibility. There have been many new commuter rail lines built using only non-Federal funds in the past decade. Federal funding was either denied or not requested becausep project ridership and user benefits, as calculated according to FTA requirements, did not meet Federal requirements. The following shows 2013 ridership levels for several of these Non-Federally Funded commuter rail lines. Commuter Line Annual Ridership Daily Ridership Corridor Length (miles) Cap Metro Red Line (Austin) 817,000 2400 32 A Train (Denton) 522,000 2000 21 Music Star (Nashville) 246,000 900 32 Rail Runner (New Mexico) 1,082,000 3500 97 By comparison, the 2035 ridership from the model for the Commuter Rail alternative would be 355,000 riders per year. As discussed elsewhere in this report, the ridership forecasts are very conservative due to the limitations of the modeling procedures. There are two Federal funding factors for NWARPC to work on as it considers further pursuit of Federal funding sources. FTA rules will now allow project sponsors to consider economic and other benefits of fixed guideway proposals, not just ridership. This is discussed later in this section. Second, NWARPC should weigh the costs and benefits of developing a TDM with mode choice capability. The NWARPC staff is currently upgrading and enhancing the TDM and that may provide enough mode choice capability. Without Federal Funding or other funding source, a Fixed Guideway proposal is not eligible for inclusion in a financially constrained long range plan. The cost of the New Location Alternative is on a scale with the total funding for all other projects in the 2035 LRP. The Existing Location Commuter Rail alternative also does not have adequate funding sources that can be determined presently. Highway Widening will not achieve all the goals. Although there are funds and projects in development to add needed highway capacity in the I 49 corridor, no region can ever “widen its way” out of congestion. As capacity increases, more 95 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis automobile traffic will find its way to the improved facilities. A fixed guideway transit project should remain a goal. There are advantages to a non-Federally funded project. This is not to say that Federal funds should not be sought. But there are many recent major rail projects in the US that were built without Federal funds. Nashville and Denton County Commuter Rail projects are two nearby examples. Some of the advantages of having no Federal funds have to do with project delivery. A project can advance from concept to opening day years faster. Although any responsible project development process will follow good environmental practices, no NEPA process should be necessary. It will be simpler to use expedited project delivery methods such as Design-Build (DB), Design-Build- Operate-Maintain (DBOM), or other project delivery methods. The Design-Bid- Build traditional project delivery process generally takes much longer and requires much more supervision and administration by the project sponsor. With FTA funding, Congress requires a Project Management Oversight Consultant (PMOC) which adds time and costs to the project delivery. Any of the expedited project delivery methods could include a negotiated or competitively procured arrangement with the A&M, which might greatly accelerate the implementation and integration with its freight operations. It should be noted that even without Federal funding, the Federal Railroad Administration retains jurisdiction over any light rail or commuter rail projects that interact or are in proximity to freight lines and freight traffic. The FRA “crashworthiness” regulations apply to all services regardless of funding source. A&M Ownership is experienced in Passenger Service. This is one of the biggest pluses for the project. There are very few Class I, II or III railroads in the US that voluntarily operate passenger service. Even though it is excursion, charter and special event service, the A&M has a mindset that it can serve passengers as well as freight. It is a very successful freight line but it is also a successful passenger enterprise. Most railroads will not even “come to the table” to discuss passenger service. While A&M has not endorsed this study’s findings, it is safe to say the ownership and management are more than willing to meet with area leaders on how to begin implementing this project in workable stages, or “minimal operable segments”. 96 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis 8.2 Recommendations Northwest Arkansas communities should work with NWARPC to improve its existing public transit service and to get “Transit Ready”. Whether Federal funding is sought or not, a successful fixed guideway project must be developed side by side with a sound bus service expansion plan and an economic redevelopment plan that begins at the station locations and radiates outward into the broader community. As presented at the end of Section 7, transit supportive development policies may go a long way toward making a project eligible for Federal funding for New Starts projects. Even if Federal funds are not received or not sought, the affected municipalities in NWA should work to enhance and develop a comprehensive set of zoning and public finance policies to promote walkable, sustainable neighborhoods in the A&M /Razorback Greenway corridor. The Northwest Arkansas Region should create and adopt an integrated land use and transportation plan that is based on promotion of mixed use development patterns. Most regions that have built regional commuter transit systems have started with a multijurisdictional vision and plan for future transportation and land use in the region. MPO’s such as NWARPC usually play a central role in facilitating the plan and providing the technical expertise needed to complete it. Local elected leaders, however, are instrumental in generating the political and public support for local adoption of the regional plan, and for aligning local comprehensive plans and zoning with the regional transportation and land use plan. For the most part, transportation and land use plans are based on trends of the past 2 or 3 decades. To get a different result, a different strategy must be employed. That involves forecasting change. Communities in NWA can become “transit ready” ahead of a system being built. The principles of TOD planning and real estate development are directly transferrable to downtown, commercial corridor revitalization efforts, and moving to a more compact development pattern to reduce suburban sprawl. 97 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Cities can determine, as some already have, where higher density or concentrated development is appropriate. Cities can also identify infrastructure needs, establish funding sources, and implement zoning and other land use regulations to attract development compatible with future transit. A nearby example can be found in the Kansas City region have completed several planning studies for future transit corridors, well in advance of BRT and possibly light rail transit service. (Kansas City is also undertaking a streetcar project in the downtown area, primarily for economic development reasons.) Keep the Development Focused in the Corridor. The NWA corridor has strong anchors on the north and south, although employment is dispersed on the north. Bentonville and Fayetteville have the largest concentrations of employment in the region, making them logical anchors for either end of a linear transit corridor. The University of Arkansas has approximately 25,000 students and 4,000 faculty and staff, and U of A sporting events have a national draw. Several large employers are located in Bentonville including Wal-Mart, Wal-Mart suppliers, and two major hospitals. However, in Bentonville and elsewhere along the corridor that employment is dispersed in suburban office parks, which are difficult to serve efficiently with transit. 98 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Look for ways to add energy and developer interest in the communities and downtowns between Fayetteville and Bentonville. TOD has been attractive to local governments, property owners, and real estate developers because of its potential to re-energize communities and neighborhoods. Mixed use development has also been misapplied in places. There is a body of academic and consultant research and real world examples of successful TOD throughout the U.S. Property value increases of 10 to 25 percent and higher have been observed in successful TODs. While many are in larger metro areas such as Washington D.C., Charlotte, N.C. (South End), Dallas, TX, and Denver, CO, smaller metros can attract TOD under the right conditions as described herein In addition to the rail LPA along the A&M, begin a stage development of high quality Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along US 71B. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) can have many of the same benefits as commuter and light rail, but with less real estate development impact. However, it is emerging as a lower cost alternative to commuter rail. Built in a dedicated guideway, or with dedicated lanes, “gold” and “silver” standard BRT can provide levels of service, reliability, and comfort similar to light rail. While the real estate and economic impacts is typically less than light or heavy rail, BRT can have positive land use and economic impacts when there is permanence in the system, such as connecting major employers, institutions, activity, and population centers, and having a dedicated or partially dedicated guideway. 99 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis 8.3 Path Forward for Development Policies This study produced a technical paper “Northwest Arkansas Commuter Corridors Alternatives Analysis: Transit Oriented Development Scenarios” by URS’s subconsultant, Economic and Planning Systems, Inc. of Denver, Colorado. If the area is to someday qualify for Federal funding for a fixed guideway transit project, a unified development strategy must emerge. Key strategies from the report comprise the remainder of The Path Forward, and these should be the focus of coordination efforts by the NWARPC policy board. TOD has been discussed throughout this report. To recap the most important characteristics relevant to Northwest Arkansas, transit oriented development (TOD) can be defined as mixed use residential or commercial development within walking distance of a transit station designed to maximize access to transit and incorporating features designed to encourage transit ridership. A TOD often resembles other activity centers with a greater mix of uses and higher densities than the surrounding market area. TODs typically have the following features: Mix of Uses – Land uses can be mixed either vertically or horizontally. TOD is most often primarily residential at suburban locations but can have employment and other commercial and retail uses at activity center and downtown locations. Compact Development – TODs are built at higher densities than the surrounding market area, creating a focal point around a transit station. The density and amount of development are market driven; higher land values support higher development densities and more urban locations support greater amounts of development. Pedestrian Oriented – The development pattern at TODs is designed to facilitate pedestrian access to and from the station with ample sidewalks, interconnected blocks and streets, and buildings oriented toward the street, and parking located in secondary locations. TOD Typology – Stations can be classified according to their transit function and there approximate place in the continuum of urban and suburban development. This continuum ranges from Downtown and Regional Activity or Employment Centers areas on the larger and most intense end of the development spectrum to Neighborhood Centers on the smaller end. There are also more specialized single use centers such as hospitals or major sports complexes. The mix of uses varies by 100 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis type and location; however, the larger, more intense urban centers tend to be higher density and contain more employment uses while smaller centers tend to contain lower densities and a greater proportion of housing. The presence of transit at a station can have a positive effect on development potential in the immediate area because transit improves the regional accessibility of properties, which has a positive impact on property values. These higher land values can support higher development densities and in some cases a different mix of land uses in much the same way as property adjacent to a highway interchange is different from development farther away. However, the presence of transit alone does not translate to greater development potentials. There are other key economic requirements impacting TOD, including: A Positive Market – TOD cannot overcome other negative local or national real estate market conditions, including negative household or employment growth, declining building and land values, or the lack of conventional development financing. Supportive Public Policy – In order for a TOD activity center to be built, the local jurisdiction needs to provide a planning framework and zoning that allows for the type, mix, and density of development supportable by the market and desired by the community. Realistic Expectations – TOD can alter the location, density, and form of development within a market area. It can have a positive impact on the development capture of a city or sub region. However, it cannot by itself create measurable demand for net new development within the larger region. TOD also requires a commitment to a long-term development plan. Historically, TOD does not occur until the transit investment is in place and providing a high level of accessibility that is generating high levels of ridership. In all but the most robust real estate markets, a TOD plan may take 10, 20, or more years to be fully implemented as a significant activity center. As discussed herein, however, Northwest Arkansas can justify being “transit-ready”. Kansas City, Denver, and Dallas regions have planned for transit service and TOD well in advance of the investment in fixed guideway transit service. A station area plan is key as it provides direction for the preferred land uses to be developed within a station influence area over a long-term time horizon of 20 to 25 years. The typical area of influence is approximately a half-mile radius modified by logical roadway and geographic features. In addition to the land use element, the plan 101 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis should be grounded by a market study that identifies the potentials for TOD land uses. It should also contain an infrastructure inventory and needs analysis, redevelopment strategies, and recommendations for changes and incentives to encourage TOD. The TOD plan allows the planners to address the individual characteristics and market opportunities and constraints of individual station locations and settings. Transit Ready An earlier recommendation in this section was for the NWA region to become Transit Ready. Planning for transit and TOD is compatible with multiple revitalization and redevelopment goals such as attracting mixed use development, increasing development density and diversity, creating walkable neighborhoods and business districts, and redeveloping or re-purposing obsolete industrial property adjacent to rail corridors. Many of the principles of TOD—higher densities, walkability, and a mix of uses—are the same principles that apply to any urban, suburban, or downtown revitalization planning effort. Since land use change can take several years, it is important to begin planning and implementing higher density development and revitalization plans now to position the region for future transit service. Transit Oriented Development Benefits Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is being pursued by communities for several reasons including local economic development benefits, increased access to jobs (by residents) and labor force (by employers), and for the environmental and social benefits of compact development. The private sector, land owners, investors, and developers are interested in TOD because of its potential to support higher property values. TOD also increases ridership on transit systems, and to the transit operator is a lower cost way of adding riders compared to expanding the transit system. An overview of the motivations for developing TOD and its benefits follows. Demand for Transit Accessible Real Estate Demographers, economists, and the national homebuilding industry expect housing and commercial real estate demand to shift dramatically in the coming years; some areas of the U.S. are already experiencing these predicted shifts. Over the past decade there have been at least four national studies of housing preferences and national demographic trends that indicate increasing demand for more compact and transit accessible housing, workplace, and retail locations. Conversely, the demand for large homes and large lot suburban and exurban development is expected to decrease. Some highlights of this research are summarized below: 102 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Approximately 38 percent of Americans would like the option to live in attached housing (apartments, condos, townhomes), and 35 to 40 percent would prefer single family homes on small lots (less than 7,000 square feet). Attached housing comprises only 30 percent of the housing supply and small lot housing comprises only another 30 percent of the housing supply, creating a gap between housing preferences and what the market is providing. One quarter of Americans would like to be able to walk or cycle to work, yet only 4 percent actually do. However, when work, shopping, and services are located less than one mile from home, roughly 40 percent of the population will walk or cycle to these locations. From 1990 to 2010 approximately 80 percent of housing demand was from growing families (children of baby boomers having their own children). Over the next 20 years, this market segment is projected to be one quarter of the housing market. The housing market will be dominated by empty nesters (baby boomers), smaller households as households size continues to fall, and the young labor force Generation Y and Millennials show stronger preferences for more urban style housing in both central city and suburban locations, and have lower rates of car ownership. They also prefer workplaces in more mixed use urban style environments rather than the single use suburban business parks popular from the 1970s through the 2000s. As the U.S. labor force shrinks with the retirement of the baby boomers, attracting this young labor force will be important to businesses and cities. Real Estate Impacts There is a growing body of evidence in both academic research and the experience of real estate developers (and local governments) engaged in TOD that TOD locations support higher property values than non-TOD locations. The access and convenience that good transit service provides makes these locations attractive to residents and businesses, resulting in higher property values. There have been numerous academic and consultant studies that estimated the premiums in real estate values associated with being located close (generally within one-quarter- to one/half-mile of high frequency transit), as summarized below. Rent and value premiums range from as little as seven percent in Boston to as much as 40 percent in the San Francisco Bay Area (Table 8-1). 103 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Average rents in the Bay Area for a one-bedroom apartment were priced 10 percent above comparable projects and 16 percent higher for two-bedroom units. 15 On average, rents at the East Bay TOD (e.g. Oakland and Berkeley) were 10 to 15 percent higher than non-TOD units. A similar study conducted in Dallas found that a sample of properties located around DART rail stations saw increases in property values and rents of about 25 percent greater than overall county levels and comparable non-TOD properties. 16 Specifically, an analysis at Dallas’ Mockingbird Station found a rent premium of 23 percent above comparable non TOD units. In addition, between 1997 and 2001 median values of residential properties increased 32.1 percent near DART light rail stations compared to 19.5 percent in control group areas. 15 Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experience, Challenges, and Prospects. TCRP Report 102. Transportation Research Board. 2004. 16 The Initial Economic Impacts of the DART LRT System. Center for Economic Development and Research. 1999. 104 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Table 8-1 Transit Oriented Development Residential Property Premiums A study completed by EPS in the Denver, Colorado region found that apartment rents in TOD locations were 15 percent higher than comparable properties in non- TOD locations (Figure 8-1). 105 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8-1 Denver Region TOD Apartment Rent Premiums Much of the evidence suggests that TOD projects served by intensive transit service produce the healthiest real estate results. However, while good quality transit is important, it is not the only factor in determining financial performance. Higher densities, pedestrian amenities, and retail services all contribute to the level of premium. According to the TRB, it is the synergy of proximity, density, mix of uses, and pedestrian friendliness that truly translates into property values and enhanced real estate performance. 17 Equity Transportation and fuel costs are rising nation and worldwide. For those who cannot afford to own a car or choose not to, good public transit can provide a viable means to access better job opportunities that may not be close to home. Transit can connect people of all income ranges to opportunities for job training, education, and career advancement. 17 Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experience, Challenges, and Prospects. TCRP Report 102. Transportation Research Board ( TRB) 106 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Rail and Bus Rapid Transit TOD The conventional wisdom has been that bus transit does not support TOD. The fixed investment that a rail line represents conveys a sense of permanence to property owners, investors, and developers—rail lines rarely move, while bus routes can be easily changed. However, modern bus rapid transit (BRT) is beginning to emerge as a viable and lower cost alternative to rail, and is supporting TOD or at least development oriented to transportation corridors. The highest levels of BRT, gold and silver rated, have dedicated or partial guideways and service that approach the schedule reliability and safety levels of rail transit. Examples detailed in the separate report cover Fixed Guideway BRTs including Mason Corridor, Fort Collins, Colorado MAX Line, Kansas City, MO, Health Line, Cleveland, OH. According to a study published by the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, the Health Line has generated approximately $115 in economic development for every dollar spent on the bus system. Since the health line began, there has been more than $4.3 billion in proposed, new, or finished development projects along the corridor. LPA Station Concepts The consultant team prepared conceptual development scenarios for the approximate station locations identified for the LPA commuter rail alternative in the AA. This is part of the Path Forward and is intended to generate ideas and help set in motion the planning for TOD to help the region be more “transit ready.” Shifting the overall development pattern of the region to a more nodal and transportation corridor-oriented pattern should be a focus of future land use and infrastructure planning. This is important for functional reasons but will also be an essential step to make the project eligible for FTA capital funding assistance. This portion starts with descriptions of the proposed station areas for the LPA. Next, each station area is classified within a station area typology framework that characterizes the types of development that are compatible with the transit function and the geographic and market context. It concludes by identifying potential development and redevelopment sites and estimate the mix of land uses and amount of development these sites could support at some point in the future. This analysis is not intended to imply any local government action on specific properties. Market conditions and property owners will determine when development or redevelopment is appropriate. 107 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Proposed Station Areas EPS examined six proposed station areas for this analysis: Downtown Fayetteville, Johnson, Downtown Springdale, Lowell, Downtown Rogers, and Bentonville. Actual station locations for eventual construction have not yet been identified. The locations chosen in this analysis represent logical locations based on roadway access and existing development patterns, particularly for the Downtown stations. Downtown Fayetteville A logical location for the Fayetteville Station would be south of intersection of the rail with West Dickson Street. This is near the heart of Downtown Fayetteville, approximately one-quarter- to one-half of a mile to the center of the University of Arkansas (U of A) campus just to the west. Dickson Street and Downtown Fayetteville is a densely developed mixed use district containing ground floor retail, restaurant, and office businesses, homes, and student apartments. Fayetteville has the largest and strongest downtown in the Region due to the presence of 24,595 students and 4,000 staff at U of A. The station would serve U of A staff and faculty, U of A events, and northbound commuters. In fact, much of the downtown development pattern can be considered TOD as it is already dense for the NW Arkansas region and contains a mix of land uses. Johnson The Johnson station would be located at approximately Main Drive and the rail alignment. This area also has approximately 250 acres of undeveloped agricultural land surrounding the station area, largely on the west side of the rail alignment. The small residential community of Johnson is located to the east. I-49 at Gregg St. Although not identified in the AA, Fayetteville Junction could be considered as a station location for either rail or BRT. The Washington Regional Medical Center, a large employment center and major destination, is located here, and there are several hundred acres of undeveloped land surrounding this junction. The undeveloped land provides an opportunity to create a new development that is transit ready. 108 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Downtown Springdale Downtown Springdale has been identified as a logical location for Springdale's station at roughly Emma Avenue and the rail alignment. Springdale envisions that a commuter rail station could be a catalyst for downtown and an additional amenity to support business and street activity. The station could integrate well with the Razorback Greenway, which is the first of many projects aimed at revitalizing downtown, including daylighting Spring Creek. Downtown Springdale's compact street grid and comparably higher density development is support of transit, although property values are low and vacancies are high at this time. The City's offices are the dominant occupant of downtown office space. The Springdale Housing Authority owns income restricted apartments within one-quarter of a mile of downtown. Rogers Rogers station could be located near the center of their downtown in the vicinity of the intersection of Walnut Street (E-W) and 1st Street (N-S). Downtown Rogers is an 1800’s main street oriented around the historic rail depot area along 1st Street. The A&M has some maintenance facilities here, including a station for its excursion passenger service. The City of Rogers has made substantial investments in the streetscape environment in Downtown, including brick paving, planters, curb bulb outs, and cross walks. The downtown is visually appealing with an attractive building stock. Although there are still some vacancies in street level storefronts, these investments are helping to attract new businesses, including at least two new restaurants. Lowell The approximately station location for Lowell would be in the vicinity of Hwy. 264 (West Monroe Ave.) at US 71B. Land use in this area is a mix of agricultural and ag-industrial buildings, active agricultural fields, and new residential subdivisions on former agricultural properties. In addition, there are several recently constructed single family residential subdivisions in this vicinity indicating demand for housing in this area. Homes are generally in the entry level first time buyer and first move-up market segments. Bentonville Bentonville is the home of Wal-Mart, whose headquarter is located at the northeast corner of 8th Street and South Walton Boulevard. A possible commuter rail station location is in the vicinity of Southeast 8th and Southeast J Streets. The City’s Southeast 109 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Downtown Plan proposes creating a Market District and an Arts District in this area. The Market District is proposed in area between SE 5th, SE 8th, SE J, SE E Court. The Market District block has a vacant Tyson chicken plant, an active Kraft Foods manufacturing facility, and a number of homes. Integrating the station at the western edge of this plan area should be evaluated further. The Arts District is planned for roughly three square block area between SW B and SW A west to east, respectively, and approximately Southeast 4th on the north and Southeast 8th on the south. This area is developed with a mix of aging industrial and commercial buildings. Southeast 6th Street would be a key connection between the two Districts. Surrounding land use ranges from residential at Moberly Lane to large distribution warehouses between Moberly and Southeast J Streets. Downtown (The Square) is approximately one-half of a mile to the northwest. The rail right of way appears to end in this 5th to 8th block; extending the rail into downtown may not be practical as it would require substantial property acquisition in established neighborhoods. The rail ROW situation has also been complicated by the recent sale of A&M ROW to the Northwest Arkansas Community College. The Wal-Mart headquarters is located approximately 1.5 miles to the west and is not walkable from this station location. Wal-Mart campus buildings are a mixture of one to two story buildings that have been gradually converted to office from warehouse and distribution uses. The Square is the core of Downtown Bentonville, a four- to six-block commercial district with two- to three-story mixed use buildings dating from the 1800s. The buildings are in good condition and occupied with a variety of restaurants and specialty retail businesses. The original Walton’s Five and Dime is located here, and the area is busy with shoppers, diners, and tourists. A high frequency circulator service would be needed to connect the station area with the Wal-Mart headquarters and The Square. It would not be practical to attempt to extend the rail beyond the 5th to 8th block area due to the impacts to existing homes and other properties. Station Typologies The consultant team created station typologies for each station area after evaluating the existing land use conditions surrounding them, the type of station (e.g. neighborhood walk up vs. park-n-ride) , its economic function along the corridor, roadway connections and other access, available land, and each jurisdiction’s planning 110 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis objectives for the station areas. A station area typology is an aspirational characterization of future development that also reflects the economic and geographic characteristics of the area, as described above. The typologies contain a range of development intensities (amounts) and densities based on these site characteristics. A benefit of creating station typologies is that it helps establish unique market positions for each station so that they are not all competing for the same types of development. The study area corridor is linear and connects two major employment and entertainment destinations. It differs from the suburb to central city corridors in which the central city station is often surrounded by the largest amount of and highest density development. The NWA corridor can be thought of as having two anchors on the north and south ends, with unique nodes in between. The proposed station typologies described below are scaled for the NWA commuter rail corridor and listed generally in order of development intensity. First, we apply the station typologies to each station area to create future development scenarios. Next, we estimate the potential land use mix and densities for each prototype and assign these development types to vacant sites and potential redevelopment sites at each station. Downtown - Fayetteville A Downtown station typology has the full range of land uses including a variety of residential, retail and restaurant, major employers, and institutional developments. Downtown Fayetteville has the highest land use densities in the region. While development around a new commuter rail station will be limited to site specific redevelopment and infill projects, Fayetteville can be expected to be the most densely developed TOD initially. Downtown Fayetteville’s station will serve a broad transit rider market, including inbound and outbound commuters as well as special events at U of A. Urban Center – Fayetteville Junction An Urban Center is an area of focused development with densities that are higher than the surrounding area. Urban Centers are urban in the sense of development density and the diversity of land uses present, but are generally located in suburban settings. Urban Centers have good regional access from highways and arterials, absent transit. Transit service enhances the access to markets and labor already present at an Urban Center location. Because of their location and access characteristics, Urban Centers are able to support significant amounts of office employment, retail development, and institutional uses including hospitals, government centers, and education facilities. 111 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis I-49/Gregg is envisioned as an Urban Center station. There are two highway interchanges serving this area, at Fulbright Expressway just east of North Gregg Avenue, and at I-49 and Highway 112, providing excellent regional access by car. A major medical center has already located here, proving the location’s attractiveness for large employers. The addition of rail transit or BRT will further enhance this site’s access. Commuter Town Center – Johnson and Lowell Commuter Town Centers are suburban stations that function both as park-n-rides for the transit system and as an organizing feature and anchor for a residential community. Commuter town centers are mostly residential, with a limited amount of neighborhood or community-serving commercial depending on the size of the site’s retail trade area. Homes can be built at higher than typical densities (smaller lot sizes) and clustered around the station, connected by a compact street grid with low automobile speeds, and with sidewalks, trails, and bicycle facilities. The principles of Traditional Neighborhood Design (TND) can be applied in this setting as an alternative to larger lot suburban development designed around the car. The South Pass development planned in Fayetteville, while not a TOD, is an example of the style of suburban residential development that can be integrated with transit. Johnson and Lowell stations have large parcels of undeveloped land in the vicinity of the stations that could be developed with a large number of homes. At Lowell, the rail corridor has numerous industrial and ag-industrial buildings that may be candidates for redevelopment, depending on the ultimate station location. The market will determine when and if these buildings will be redeveloped, and any subarea planning should assume some phasing of development so as not to unduly disrupt businesses. Main Street – Springdale and Rogers Springdale and Rogers both have traditional Main Streets with good access to their surrounding residential populations. These areas already have a compact walkable street grid, a mix of businesses and residents, and an interesting building stock which sets the stage for TOD. Springdale and Rogers are working to re-energize their Main Streets, and transit stations have proven to be excellent catalysts for Main Street and Downtown revitalization as they create a daily flow of traffic and people. Businesses and services can locate near stations to capitalize on the increased customer traffic. The Main Street stations will have a finer grain of development that complements the existing buildings, and potentially less parking than other stations due to land constraints. Springdale and Rogers will need to continue their revitalization efforts to 112 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis fully leverage the impact of a future transit station. The Springdale station also presents an opportunity to connect affordable housing and low to moderate income families with more job opportunities in the region. The Springdale Housing Authority owns an affordable housing development within a quarter-mile of the station and there are other free-market but modestly priced homes in the area Cultural and Market District - Bentonville The City of Bentonville’s SE Downtown Plan identifies the potential station area as a Market and Arts District, as noted above. The Market District is planned for a large semi enclosed or enclosed Public Market, a Public Art Center, and high density residential development. The Arts District is planned to include several civic buildings including a library, theater, farmer’s co-op, a park, and a parking structure. Private development could include a hotel and medium to high density housing. For this analysis, the consultant team has assumed that the station will be in this area to complement the City’s redevelopment and economic development plans. This station will be different than others, as it will need to serve this activity district as well as The Square and the Wal-Mart headquarters. A high quality circulator service (e.g. bus or streetcar) will be essential to making this station work from a transit perspective. Table 8-2 recaps the typologies of the selected stations. 113 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Cities Current Land Use Future Station Typology Residential Commercial Development Scale Parking and function Fayetteville Downtown Downtown and Special Events Urban multifamily and townhome Retail, restaurant, entertainment emphasis Office and institutional 2-5+ Stories Parking structure Walk up Circulator bus or streetcar Special events I-49/Gregg Agricultural, Hospital, Hwy. Interchange Major Urban Center Multifamily and townhome Employment emphasis Significant retail possible <4 stories Both commuter park-n-ride and employment/ services destination Johnson Agricultural, Residential Commuter Town Center Small lot single family Some apartments and townhomes Neighborhood retail and restaurants 2 stories or less Commuter park-n-ride Springdale Main Street Main Street Multifamily and townhome Main street style retail/restaurant and office < 4 stories Small park-n- ride Walk-up Feeder bus routes Lowell Agricultural, industrial, residential Commuter Town Center Small lot single family Some apartments and townhomes Neighborhood retail and restaurants < 4-5 stories Commuter park-n-ride Rogers Main Street Main Street Multifamily and townhome Main street style retail/restaurant and office < 4 stories Small park-n- ride Walk-up Feeder bus routes Bentonville Industrial Activity District Multifamily and townhome Cultural and entertainment Retail, restaurant Some office < 4 stories Parking structure Walk up Circulator bus or streetcar Special events Table 8-2 NWA Commuter Rail Station Typologies 114 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Station Planning Considerations This section provides guidance and suggestions on land use and infrastructure planning around future commuter rail stations. Many of the same principles could be applied to BRT stations in similar locations. The considerations offered here are based on a windshield inspection tour of each station area, interviews with local jurisdiction planners, and professional experience in TOD planning at other similar stations and on similar corridors. Downtown Fayetteville As noted earlier, Downtown Fayetteville already has many of the elements that contribute to successful TOD: relatively high development densities, a compact street grid, policies that prioritize bicycle and pedestrian street improvements, and mixed use zoning. The potential commuter rail station area is largely developed. The remaining sites are generally small surface parking lots and other small vacant parcels. Any additional development in Downtown Fayetteville would likely be a continuation of the current land use pattern. There may be market pressure to increase densities, however, due to the limited land supply and generally strong market conditions in Fayetteville (Figure 8-2). If and when a commuter rail or BRT station location is identified, the City’s focus will likely need to be on integrating parking with the station in a pedestrian supportive manner. Structured parking will likely be needed due to the land constraints. The City should also continue its focus on bicycle and pedestrian needs and access to the station, and bike and pedestrian routes to the station. Johnson The proposed station typology for Johnson is for a commuter town center, which implies largely residential development. There are large undeveloped agricultural parcels to the east of the rail along Main Drive, which could be planned for Traditional Neighborhood Design-style (TND) residential neighborhood (Figure 8-3). TND neighborhoods typically have smaller lots than conventional residential developments; however, they also have neighborhood parks, trails, sidewalks, bicycle lanes, and other features to compensate for the smaller lots. There is a collection of older railroad depot and commercial buildings that could be converted to small scale neighborhood serving 115 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis commercial uses while maintaining the agricultural and railroad heritage of the neighborhood. Some improvements to Main Drive may be needed to facilitate bicycle and pedestrian access to the station from the existing neighborhoods and new development. Station parking should be located in a way that respects the surrounding context, and does not create a perceived walking barrier or “sea of parking” between development and the station. 116 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8- 2 Downtown Fayetteville Station Context 117 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8-3 Johnson Station Context 118 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Springdale Downtown Springdale has a compact street grid and a mixture of building types built in a traditional Main Street style along Emma Avenue, as well as eclectic rail road depot and small industrial/commercial buildings. While this provides a good physical context for TOD, market demand for infill development will need to be catalyzed. The City should continue its downtown revitalization efforts including additional streetscape investments, sidewalks, bike lanes, small parks, and other investments. Some façade improvements or renovations to City and private buildings would also help to improve Downtown Springdale’s image. The station location in this analysis is shown at approximately Emma Avenue and the rail. The area within a quarter- to half-mile radius here is largely developed (Figure 8- 4). Expanding employment and population around the station will require infill development and redevelopment. The City could begin creating a phased plan that identifies key redevelopment or adaptive re-use properties, and any infrastructure needs that need to be addressed to facilitate the market. There are several neighborhoods surrounding the quarter-mile radius that would benefit from regional transit service. Additional focus should be on creating safe and attractive pedestrian and bicycle connections to the station. There are some areas of low to moderate income households, to the southeast of the station area near the Airport, which will need a better connection to the station. A circulator or feeder bus route may also be needed, potentially along Emma and West Meadow Avenue. Lowell A potential location for Lowell station is shown near the intersection of East Monroe Avenue and the rail alignment. Monroe Avenue as well as US-71B provides access to a large catchment area for the station. The area is developed with a mixture of strip and freestanding commercial buildings along the US-71B frontage, agricultural, and industrial buildings. Newer single family neighborhoods have been built east of the rail, and west of US-71B. As a commuter town center station, future development is proposed to be largely residential. A mixture of medium density housing, such as apartments and possibly townhomes, could be located between the station and the US-71B frontage (Figure 8-5). The US-71B frontage and corners at East Monroe Avenue could be anchored by new commercial and mixed use development, creating a gateway into the station and 119 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis surrounding development. A mixture of small-lot single family homes, townhomes, and apartments could be built as infill or as redevelopment over time north and south of the Monroe Avenue axis. Monroe Avenue is a high capacity arterial roadway and would be the primary east-west access to the station. To encourage bicycle and pedestrian access to the station, sidewalks and bicycle lanes, with some separation from traffic, should be considered. The area also has a large suburban block pattern that inhibits bicycle and pedestrian movements. The feasibility of creating additional mid-block connections to the station from surrounding developments should be explored. 120 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8-4 Downtown Springdale Station Context 121 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8-5 Lowell Station Context 122 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Rogers A logical location for a station in Rogers is in or near the center of their downtown, which is near the intersection of Walnut Street (E-W) and 1 st Street (N-S). Downtown Rogers is an 1800’s main street oriented around the historic rail depot area along 1 st Street. The Arkansas & Missouri Railroad has some maintenance facilities here, including a station for its excursion passenger service. The collection of 1800s 2-story buildings on Main Street and Walnut Street, combined with the railroad depot style buildings along the rail corridor provide a unique and attractive context for infill and redevelopment. Similar to Springdale and Fayetteville, Downtown Rogers is largely built out (Figure 8-6). There are a few undeveloped parcels and surface parking lots that could potentially be developed. There are also numerous small industrial/commercial properties that could be redevelopment or re-use candidates. A station area or downtown plan in Rogers should begin identifying areas with building stock that contributes to the desired development vision, and areas where redevelopment may be acceptable. Downtown Rogers could target expanding retail and restaurant activity, small professional office, and multifamily development in and around Downtown. Station parking should be located in a way that is convenient to Downtown Businesses and the station, potentially along 1 st Street or Arkansas Street. The block pattern in Downtown Rogers is small and generally well connected, which facilitates walking from the nearby neighborhoods. Bicycle lanes could be considered on Elm and Chestnut parallel to the busier Walnut Street. Bentonville The City of Bentonville’s SE Downtown Plan was described in the previous Chapter and is shown below (Figure 8- 7). This redevelopment could be a regional and potentially national draw as a synergy with the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. The City’s plan does not show a transit station location. Consultant team suggest that a location on the eastern edge of the property be identified, possibly along SE J Street, and that it be integrated with the plan as it is executed and developed. This station will need to serve the Market and Arts Districts as well as The Square and the Wal-Mart headquarters. A high quality circulator service (e.g. bus or streetcar) will be essential to making this station work from a transit perspective. A circulator would also benefit these proposed districts, the Square businesses, Wal-Mart, and other major employers. 123 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8-6 Rogers Station Context 124 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Figure 8-7 Bentonville Station Context 125 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis 8.4 Implementation Toolkit This section provides general information on the tools the local and regional government organizations can use to plan for high capacity transit service and complementary TOD. Regional and Comprehensive Plans, Zoning, Parking, and Station Area Funding and Development Incentives are covered. Regional and Comprehensive Plans One of the first steps in planning for high capacity regional transit is to integrate a strategic land use into the Regional Transportation Plan, and for local governments to integrate their Comprehensive Plans with the Regional Plan so that they are built on a similar set of transportation and land use policy assumptions. Through collaboration across the various local jurisdictions, the Regional Transportation Plan would reflect the common transportation and land use goals for the region. The local plans then align local land use policies, development priorities, and even zoning with the Regional Plan. Good examples of this planning framework includes the Kansas City metro area’s Smart Moves plan prepared by the Mid America Regional Council (MARC), and the Denver region’s Metro Vision 2030 prepared by the Denver Regional Council of Governments. In general, these plans establish the planning framework for focusing growth around existing and planned transportation corridors, and on moving towards a more nodal and corridor oriented development pattern that can be served with regional transit. Zoning While zoning regulations alone cannot catalyze markets, they can shape where markets exist and are an important ingredient to creating transit supportive design. Transit- supportive zoning can accommodate complex projects and remove some of the uncertainty and costs otherwise borne by developers in areas where entitlements are not already in place. Typical TOD features such as zoning for a mix of land uses, higher densities and building heights, careful placement of parking, and a strong street wall can provide assurance to potential developers as to each city’s vision for the future of the station area. Specifically, new TOD and Mixed Use zoning standards should: 126 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Encourage higher-intensity mixed land uses. A mix of land uses—higher density residential, employment, basic goods and services, restaurants and retail—as well as careful attention to the public realm and the siting of buildings is essential to fostering a distinctive destination. A diverse use mix helps ensure activity beyond traditional business hours. Utilize build-to lines, rather than setbacks. Specifying build-to lines rather than minimum setbacks will assure consistent street walls throughout station areas. New and redeveloped buildings should generally be placed at the sidewalk to give streets and blocks a comfortable sense of enclosure. Assure compact blocks. Blocks within TOD areas should be no more than a five- minute walk around their perimeters (about 1,320 feet or one quarter-mile). This helps to promote a compact, walkable neighborhood with good interconnectedness and variety. Carefully manage parking. Parking should be on-street and/or at the center of blocks, using liner buildings to mask the lots or structures. When impossible to mask surface lot parking, lots should be behind or to the side of buildings to minimize disruption of the street wall. Provide flexibility. Each municipality’s regulatory framework should be flexible enough to allow and encourage diverse and detailed architectural facades, preserve key views, allow engaging signage and sidewalk commerce, and provide attractive furnishings, colorful plantings, public art, and other points of detail. Parking Management Station area parking can be an issue in passenger rail station areas and TODs. Neighbors may be concerned about on-street and overflow parking impacts. Planners and developers are sometimes concerned about parking demands and potential or perceived conflicts with the station or development. The development of parking plans to serve the needs of both the transit station and the surrounding development should be handled in a carefully phased and coordinated manner. Extensive research exists related to parking management practices in general and parking policies around TOD projects in particular. One of the most comprehensive summaries of parking management around TOD is contained in The New Transit Town: Best Practices in Transit- Oriented Development (Hank Dittmar & Gloria Ohland, Island Press 2004). That publication lists several suggested strategies for managing parking around TOD, including: 127 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Configure parking so it does not dominate the site by orienting parking away from pedestrian paths, behind buildings, or in structures or underground, which frees up developable land that might otherwise have been required for parking. Charge for parking where appropriate to encourage use of other modes and provide a revenue source. In urban markets, off-street parking can be reduced by up to 30 percent in TOD projects, but changes in parking requirements should be based on the specific needs of the local development. Protect neighborhoods by developing parking plans for those areas most affected by transit or TOD parking through the use of residential parking permits and time restrictions and development of overflow parking contingency plans during peak periods or special events. Utilize on-street parking to reduce off-street parking needs, provide short-term access local businesses, and provide traffic calming effects. Create parking districts in larger areas around TODs with municipal parking facilities funded by in-lieu fees and annual maintenance fees. Another strategy not specifically mentioned in this publication but in many others is the use of shared parking with a transit facility. Many transit agencies work with local developers or municipalities to build a joint-use facility where a certain portion is devoted to free or paid transit parking and the remainder is available for commercial or residential purposes. In addition, these facilities can be focused on the specific temporal needs of each use; for example, in Broomfield, Colorado, the Regional Transportation District (RTD) built a shared-use parking facility next to a new events center that provides parking for transit patrons during weekdays but is available for paid parking for events center attendees at nights and on weekends. Rail Project and Station Area Funding and Development Incentives The Arkansas Legislature has enabled several financing tools that can be used by local governments to pay for infrastructure and revitalize downtowns and redevelopment districts. Many of these tools can be used for transit station area improvements and to incentivize or attract TOD and other new development or redevelopment, or to pay for portions of the transit project itself. 128 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis Redevelopment Districts and Tax Increment Financing The Arkansas Constitution enables local governments to issue bonds or notes to finance improvements in a redevelopment district. The bonds will be paid back from the increased tax revenue generated as a result of the improvements. A redevelopment district must be in an area that is considered blighted, deteriorated, or underdeveloped. Tax increment financing or “TIF” captures the growth in assessed value and property tax revenue and uses this revenue to incentivize development or pay for amenities and other improvements such as streetscaping, utilities, road and circulation improvements, station area parking, and bicycle and pedestrian facilities. TIF is a widely used tool in TOD to pay for improvements needed to help establish a market and attract investment and development. Improvement Districts Arkansas Law also allows several types of improvement districts, which are real estate or land based funding and financing tools that use property tax levies to pay for a specific set of improvements. The property tax revenue can be used to pay the debt service on bonds, which allows improvements to be constructed earlier than with a pay- as-you-go approach. The districts that are most applicable to downtown, deteriorating commercial corridors, and TOD are summarized below. Municipal Improvement District – MIDs are authorized to levy property taxes to construct and maintain a wide range of public improvements and facilities including utilities, off-street parking facilities, sidewalks, benches, and recreational areas. Forming a MID requires a signed petition from a majority of property representing the majority of the assessed value in the proposed district. Suburban Improvement District – SIDs largely apply to unincorporated areas, although they can include a portion of a municipality. The types of improvements a SID is authorized to construct are more limited than a MID. SIDs are designed to fund and construct utilities, waterworks, streets, sidewalks, and similar 129 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis improvements, rather than broader public realm improvements such as recreation areas and parking facilities. A SID also requires a signed petition from a majority of property representing the majority of the assessed value in the proposed district. Property Owner’s Improvement District – Property owners can on their own form a district with a petition of 100 percent of the property owners in the district. Like a MID, POIDs are authorized to fund and construct a broad range of facilities including utilities, roads, sidewalks, recreation facilities, stadiums, clubhouses, auditoriums, parks, green belt areas, and “any other facilities to provide for the recreation and cultural needs of the owners of the lands within the district”. This type of district could be used early in a development project to pay for neighborhood or community amenities, and would likely be established by the land development before land or buildings were sold to residents or commercial property owners, since it requires approval of 100 percent of property owners. 130 Northwest Arkansas Transportation Alternatives Analysis NOTICE This document is disseminated under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Transportation in the interest of information exchange. The United States Government assumes no liability for its contents or use thereof. The United States Government does not endorse products or manufacturers. Trade or manufacturers’ names appear herein solely because they are considered essential to the objective of this report. Exhibit A National Transit Database Summary Tables Razorback Transit Ozark Regional Transit