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Metroplan Invests in Arkansas Through Regional Greenways Project

LITTLE ROCK, AR — Metroplan embarked on an ambitious endeavor in 2020 when it announced a $55-million investment in a regional pathway network in central Arkansas. The money will help build more than 170 miles of planned multi-use paths connecting Faulkner, Lonoke, Pulaski, and Saline counties.

Metroplan is the planning organization that determines needs and funding priorities for federal transportation investments in Little Rock and surrounding areas. The multi-million dollar commitment at the time represented about half of the agency’s federal Surface Transportation Block Grant funding over 10 years.

Tab Townsell, Executive Director of Metroplan, said a 2019 trip to the Swamp Rabbit Trail in Greenville, South Carolina, was a revelation for the agency he leads. The Metroplan Board of Directors biked the 22-mile trail, toured the area, and met with local leaders. They returned to Arkansas with a vision.

“That trip sealed the idea that we could do this too, but do it regionally, with less stress on local budgets,” Townsell said.

The Plan
Metroplan selected Crafton Tull to lead a 15-month process beginning in May of 2021 to create the master plan for the new regional pathway system. Planners at Crafton Tull and Toole Design identified routes, established design criteria, and prioritized investments based on public input.

The Central Arkansas Regional Greenways Master Plan outlines five greenway corridors connecting the region’s center to its fringes. Three of these extend out to Conway, Ward, and Lonoke. A fourth creates a continuous east-west route through Little Rock. Lastly, the Southwest Trail is a corridor already in development that extends through Benton into Hot Springs National Park.

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The master plan incorporates three desired outcomes that help inform its approach: transportation, quality of life, and economic development.

Transportation
As part of the plan, a survey asked central Arkansas residents how they would use a regional pathway network. About 53 percent said they would use it for everyday trips, including to and from work or school. However, half of all survey respondents said they only feel safe on dedicated trail infrastructure or residential streets, a result consistent with national research findings.

Public input pointed to the need for more dedicated, off-road bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure as a transportation mode, not just for recreational use. The new pathway network gives residents viable alternatives to driving for local trips. The plan incorporates destination-oriented connections that link residential neighborhoods to downtowns, educational facilities, and commercial areas.

Quality of Life
The regional pathway network provides residents and visitors with safe and sustainable opportunities to spend time with family, friends, pets, and neighbors in a way that benefits community health.

A section of the proposed northern pathway would follow the White Oak Bayou along the route connecting the Arkansas River Trail in North Little Rock to existing trails at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway and beyond.

Economic Development
The new connections can boost local restaurants, hotels, coffee shops, breweries, and bike shops. Events including bike rides and foot races draw visitors from across the country, and this pathway network will allow more central Arkansas communities to plan and host their own. The increase in economic activity can strengthen the tax base and potentially transform underdeveloped areas.
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