Saturday, December 15, 2012

TOP STORY >> Computer looks to roads ahead

Leader senior staff writer

Let’s envision a future with ample transportation choices, including walking, biking and transit opportunities. In this version of central Arkansas, people can choose from a variety of options to suit their needs and travel safely.

That’s according to Metro-plan’s computerized assessment of this reporter’s selections on a multiple-choice online survey, which they style as a game. This is a beginning stage in determining the area’s 2040 long-range transportation plan.


You can take the survey and register your preferences online at

Then scroll to the bottom and click on the colorful icon next to the words “Imagine Central Arkansas.”

That will take you to a page where you can click on “Choose Your Future” and then you can take the survey.

In future stages, central Arkansas residents, with the help of Metroplan staff, will determine which roads, highways, mass transit, trails or other projects would support the chosen development. Only projects on the financially constrained 2040 plan will be eligible for federal funds.


Currently, Metroplan and the state Highway and Transportation Department are operating on the updated 2030 long-range plan. The new 2040 plan must be adopted by January 2014, according to Casey Covington, Metroplan’s director of the Central Arkansas Regional Transportation Study.

The projected impacts of this reporter’s choices, according to the survey, would be greater transportation options, protection of the environment, parks and natural areas and convenience of shopping, service, work and recreation.

Metroplan contracted the consulting firm of Gresham, Smith and Partners in Nash-ville to conduct the process of gathering information to be used in decision making.


The deciding factor in hiring Gresham was the amount of technology and social media the firm proposed implementing, according to Richard Magee, deputy director of Metroplan and director of planning. The full Gresham contract is about $500,000, he said.

“We’ve gotten more public involvement to date than we have gotten in the entire project in the past,” Magee said.

He said since it was a 2040 plan, it was important to get young people involved in the process since they would be living in the future that was being designed.

He said there had been concerns that poor and older people might have trouble with the online aspect, but their involvement was high, suggesting they might have easier access to a computer than to transportation to meeting sites.

Metroplan also has a presence on Facebook and on Twitter.

While at this stage a lot of the input is online, Metroplan staff has reached out at events in each of the counties covered by the plan, including Cabot Fest, the Cabot Community Center, Sherwood Fest and the Jacksonville-Cabot Civitan Club. They also had a meeting at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Metroplan is primarily concerned with residents of Pulaski, Lonoke, Faulkner and Saline counties

“We’ve had interaction with Jacksonville and should have outreach there as part of phase two,” Covington said.


The process is now entering that outreach phase in which residents and stakeholders make choices. Metroplan and the consultants will take that input and come up with three distinct scenarios, he said.

In phase three, staff and area residents will delve into the impact of those three scenarios and select one to become the vision for the future of central Arkansas, he said .

“In round four, we’ll start looking at projects to fund to support that vision,” Covington said. Those projects include improvements on arterial streets, for instance, and determining which are already funded and looking for funds for others.

Then Metroplan will go back to the public for comment and to sort of ratify the vision and the projects to support it.

The Metroplan board of directors, made up of mostly mayors and county judges, must then adopt the plan by January 2014.