Big ideas 

For Little Rock, North Little Rock and Central Arkansas

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Jack Sundell is co-owner of the Root Cafe.

 

LiTRAIL — train transit for Central Arkansas.
By Daniel Lilly

9/11 changed everything.

That awful day found me working as a reservations agent at the now-shuttered Southwest Airlines call center in Little Rock. Soon after the attacks, we would learn that 15 of the 19 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia, a country that supplies 45 percent of the oil that we import, and that we import 65 percent of the oil we use.

Then and there, I vowed not to fund the oil war. I parked my car, sold it for scrap months later and haven't driven in the ensuing eight years.

Inspired by what I experienced in other cities across the world, I began studying the possibility of a light rail system that would link places in Central Arkansas. LiTRAIL was the result.

The LiTRAIL name is a play on the three-letter code for the state's largest airport (LIT), which would be the first destination of the first half of the first phase of a light-rail network. Ultimately, LiTRAIL would reach a third of the state's population, with a system using existing trolley tracks, some new tracking and the medians of existing interstate and U.S. highways — land already publicly owned — on routes linking Conway, Cabot, Benton and Pine Bluff to Little Rock's core. In its first phase, LiTRAIL would offer transportation to the airport from downtown Little Rock, making use of existing trolley tracks and a new route. The rail line would run from downtown west along Interstate 630 to Shackelford Road, where a new transportation center would be built to accommodate commuter cars. Later phases would add routes along interstates to connect to other cities in Central Arkansas.

LiTRAIL is not simply about laying track and running trains. The design calls for developing a uniform set of thousands of pre-cast concrete forms, similar to a huge culvert, with trackbed laid atop the form and space for utility lines below. Their uniformity would substantially reduce construction time and cost while providing a platform for fiber optic cable, natural gas lines, electric lines, high speed imaging lines and telecom, among others. Access charges to those utilities would provide stable, long-term revenue.

Sound like pie in the sky? It's not just my pie. Metroplan's Metro 2030 long-range transportation plan adopted in 2005 calls for an investment of about $1.5 billion in light rail to connect Little Rock to Conway, Benton and Jacksonville.

Is there the political will to make light rail real? We'll see. I'm going to just keep throwing mud against the wall until something sticks.

Daniel Lilly is the former Cpl. K-9 in the Arkansas Times and the first professional full-time dog walker in Little Rock.

 

Dedicate a revenue source for parks
By Jordan Johnson

Contrary to comparable cities, Little Rock has made great strides in the last decade to enhance its public parks, adding new park land and making major improvements to existing facilities. Not only do parks enhance neighborhoods and the areas around them, they also help promote tourism and encourage a healthy lifestyle.

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