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Caught in traffic 

The news that Alltel is merging its conventional telephone business with another company and spinning off a new corporation means it’s time to talk about rush-hour traffic congestion in Riverdale, where Alltel is headquartered.

One topic already under private discussion: extending Rebsamen Park Road to Interstate 430 by bridging Jimerson Creek. That would create a western outlet for Alltel traffic.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, soon to be chaired by Alltel executive Randy Wilbourn, has been quietly pushing for a traffic solution. Paschall and Associates, the political strategy firm, has been hired to work on the issue.

The politics are tricky. Little Rock voters in 1992 approved a referred ordinance to prohibit an auto bridge over Jimerson Creek. It would take eight votes on the 11-member City Board to override the referendum.

Suddenly, the issue is more critical. Alltel executives have pointedly said they have not decided whether to headquarter the new company in Little Rock or elsewhere in Central Arkansas. Alltel CEO Scott Ford, quoted in the Democrat-Gazette, said, “We said Central Arkansas because it’s very difficult to find office space in Little Rock you can get cars in and out of.”

There’s plenty of vacant space in Riverdale, not to mention Alltel’s old Systematics campus at I-430 and Cantrell. But the company apparently believes either location requires speedier access to Riverdale.

The city has talked to UALR and Metroplan about convening a discussion on traffic alternatives. That’s far better than the traditional privately brokered deal, rubber-stamped by the city board hours after the peons are notified. Nobody thinks that will work this time. An active bicycling community, anxious to protect the Murray Park recreational corridor, had several people on hand for the Chamber’s recent annual meeting, just in case Wilbourn had something to say about Rebsamen Park Road. He didn’t.

Bicyclists will stay quiet until specifics emerge. That’s prudent. A Jimerson Creek bridge will be a hard sell, but innovative road construction that guaranteed slower traffic on Rebsamen – combined with a safer, separate bike lane, might be worth considering.

A new connector between Interstate 630 and Cantrell on one of several routes through the ravine and hills west of the Capitol is another idea to ease the Riverdale bottleneck. But, depending on the route, this idea could damage residential neighborhoods around Stifft Station or Knoop Park. Given their way, city traffic planners might like to blast a road through Allsopp Park, across Kavanaugh Boulevard, with new traffic lights aplenty, to link I-630 and Riverdale. That would devastate both Kavanaugh, one of the city’s best-functioning thoroughfares, and vibrant Hillcrest.

Whatever plan emerges will be sold as crucial to creating jobs and seems likely to be put to a vote. We hope to be fully informed before then of the precise nature of this economic engine. For example, we don’t want to spend millions on roads just to move people more quickly to and from homes in Saline and Faulkner County. Swapping those counties shoppers, property taxes and school children for a big road bill wouldn’t be a bargain. We differ, too, with any who’d justify this “deal” by saying that Little Rock schools don’t match up to suburban alternatives.

Let’s not get defensive just yet. Let’s study and talk. A successful process will come from the bottom up, not from the top of the Alltel tower down. But first, let’s get it out in the open.


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