January 18, 2020

Aldermen discuss streets, sidewalks

The Russellville City Council’s Finance Committee discussed funding three items from the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) during its Tuesday meeting — paving streets, the Reasoner Lane extension and fixing some sidewalks, particularly on North Phoenix Avenue.

The committee has earmarked $500,000 for overlay of city streets, but Mayor Bill Eaton said it may be awhile before any overlay is done. That’s because there’s so much overlay and renovations being done through the Arkansas River Valley on Interstate 40 by the primary company who does overlay — Blackstone Construction Co.

Eaton told the council representatives from Arkansas Tech University have encouraged the city to move forward with a design for Reasoner Lane’s proposed extension to State Highway 124. This drew some questions and criticism from Aldermen Richard Harris and Martin Irwin. Harris said he was struggling with the idea of building a street on private property.

“Can we get an idea of what Arkansas Tech is going to do with the property?” he asked.

Mark Tripp said he understood the aldermen’s concerns, but the extension of Reasoner Lane boils down to another positive partnership with Arkansas Tech University. Fire Station No. 3 was built on land leased from ATU and after years of discussion, the extension of Phoenix Avenue became a reality.

“ATU and the city need each other,” Tripp explained. “What is good for Arkansas Tech is good for the city, and what is good for the city is good for Arkansas Tech.”

Irwin said if ATU’s purpose is to develop student housing south of the street, then that would change his opinion. If the purpose was to develop between north of the street and Interstate 40, then that would make his view a little different.

“I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Tripp. I think that Russellville, Arkansas and Arkansas Tech ought to be synonymous with one another. It matters to me what the intent for development is. I’d just like to know what their intentions are.”

Kurt Jones — who attended his first meeting as new director of Public Works — pointed out that the project was included in the city’s CIP plan because it would relieve congestion from other downtown roadways.

“ATU officials have asked the city to configure the new road in such a way that it will allow for development, whether the land is conveyed through a lease or right-of-way,” he said. “We all know at this point that they have some plans to develop it, whether it’s divide the lots and sell them off or actually build apartments or whatever.

“There are other locations — Russell Road is a perfect example; it went through land that was undeveloped. The bottom line from the city’s standpoint is that there needs to be some kind of connection running along that interstate back to 124 to relieve some of the congestion at Harrell Drive.”

Harris said he would meet with Jones before next Thursday’s Finance Committee meeting, where the Reasoner Lane extension will be discussed further.

Eaton said the issue has been discussed since the 1990s, and is not about the present but the future.

“This is not something that was dreamed up in the last year or so,” the mayor said. “I just know this will be another option that we don’t have right now for connectivity that we can provide. It may not happen next year. Look what happened down here on Parkway. People said that was dumbest thing they had seen in their life. They couldn’t imagine anybody driving on Parkway.

“But what’s the second-most used street in town? Parkway. What’s happened on Parkway? Development. What happens with that development? It puts taxes in the city coffers so we can build other streets and hopefully connect things for the next generation — not you and me. Down the road, it will be a tremendous benefit.”

Another issue the city must tackle has to do with fixing downtown sidewalks to improve their connectivity for the growing number of people who use regular and motorized wheelchairs in the city. The mayor pointed out that is their only form of transportation and they are not getting served by the city.

“We’ve got people that cannot go from an area west of El Paso to the east side of Arkansas Avenue,” Eaton explained. “People have called me and said the only access is to go through Arkansas Tech, across Arkansas Avenue, and there is not a wheelchair-accessible point. They can’t do their business, unless they go back through Arkansas Tech. If we don’t get some sidewalks and stuff that way, we’re really missing the boat.”

The committee also agreed that work on refurbishing Cedar Street — which will lead to The Landing convention center site north of I-40 — could be done by city employees.

Look for more from Tuesday’s meeting in a future edition of The Courier.

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Aldermen discuss streets, sidewalks