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A tiny bit of river trail in Little Rock 

Mile-long path stops at Dillard's.

click to enlarge THE NEW SEGMENT: The 14-foot-wide trail ends at the Dillard's property.
  • THE NEW SEGMENT: The 14-foot-wide trail ends at the Dillard's property.

Construction is nearly complete on a paved and lit stretch of the Arkansas River Trail between the Cantrell Road viaduct and the property line of Dillard's headquarters, where the city once envisioned that it would continue along the Arkansas River bluff line behind the Dillard's campus. Dillard's nixed that plan, and there's no money to build a scenic but costly trail that would hug the bluff line past Dillard's property, so for now, the trail stops at Dillard's and a narrow, temporary path comes off it at a right angle to connect to Cantrell Road.

Bike enthusiasts, however, hope to work something out with the company that would allow the trail to continue not along Cantrell but higher up the hill in front of the building.

The 14-foot-wide trail, fenced off for now, cost $763,500 to build, said Mike Hood, manager of the civil engineering division of the Little Rock Public Works Department. A city resolution approved an expenditure of $958,287 to take care of contingencies. The trail was expensive, Hood said, because of work to stabilize the riverbank it's built on. Funding came from a $590,000 Transportation Alternatives Program grant from Metroplan, which requires a 20 percent local match. The city's contribution came from designated funds and state tax turn-back dollars to the street fund.

The trail is another tiny step to make the Little Rock portion of the 16-mile loop between Little Rock and North Little Rock more or less seamless and safer. Unlike the North Little Rock portion of the trail, which is located mostly on parkland, Little Rock's trail passes through developed property between city-owned land on the east (Riverfront Park) and on the west (Murray Park and the Big Dam Bridge).

The Dillard's property and the Episcopal College School directly across Cantrell have been major roadblocks on that segment of the River Trail. River Trail cyclists now have to ride in Cantrell Road traffic or along a narrow sidewalk in front of Episcopal Collegiate School. (A sidewalk in front of Dillard's is narrow, and blocked in one place by utility pole guy-wires.) Dillard's owners and the private school have expressed security concerns in refusing to allow the trail to cross their land.

Mason Ellis, president of Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas, said his group expects to meet in mid-September with Dillard's Vice President of Real Estate Chris Johnson to present plans for various ways the trail could cross in front of the headquarters, which has parking on three sides and two two-lane access roads to Cantrell. BACA's meeting will be the second with Johnson; after receiving letters from 40 companies, including Dassault Falcon Jet and CHI St. Vincent Infirmary, advocating for a trail in February, Johnson asked to meet with BACA members, Ellis said. At the meeting, Johnson told the BACA members that Dillard's did not believe that building the trail in back of its headquarters atop the bluff was "the best use of taxpayer money." BACA members and Johnson walked the property in front and talked about how to mitigate the "conflict areas" where the trail would intersect with car traffic from Dillard's thousands of employees. BACA members support a bridge of some kind. Ellis, an architect with Witsell Evans Rasco, said BACA is drafting its ideas for Johnson and will release them after Dillard's takes a look.

East of Dillard's, the trail will use a 900-foot pedestrian overpass to cross the Union Pacific railroad tracks. Little Rock has completed the engineering and has a $1 million state grant to build the pedestrian overpass, which will be between the Lincoln Avenue arch and the river. The approach to the overpass, as of now, would be in front of Dillard's data center, the windowless building east of the headquarters. Mayor Mark Stodola thinks that's unsafe and wants Dillard's owners to allow the trail to use a road in back of the data center, but the company is resistant to the idea.

East of the overpass, the trail would continue to North Street, which runs parallel to the river, north of LaHarpe Boulevard. (The master plan for the trail calls for it to descend to follow the old railroad tracks along the river.) Plans to connect to Riverfront Park's Medical Mile must wait until the new Broadway Bridge construction is complete.

The city has received another Transportation Alternatives Program grant from Metroplan, for $325,000, to make improvements to a segment along Riverfront Drive. In April, Metroplan's TAP awarded Pulaski County $400,000 to improve the western extension of the River Trail on Pinnacle Valley Road from County Farm Road to Hidden Valley Road.

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