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Fix the Streets and Sidewalks

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August 12, 2013 by wcobserver

By Steve Winkler

I share Susan Cooney’s frustration expressed on the Planning Commission facebook page about the condition of the streets and sidewalks in our town. Unlike neighboring communities West Fork seems to not have realized the importance of being pedestrian friendly, both in safety terms and in keeping up with changing lifestyles. The most cited reason for the lack of attention to streets and sidewalks given by the Street Department is that these roads are controlled by the state and we’re helpless.

My experience as a citizen, newspaper editor and community activist suggests otherwise. A couple of years ago the three bridges between West Fork and Winslow were rebuilt. I interviewed highway department officials about that project and found them accessible and helpful.

Along that stretch of “scenic bypass,”  a mile south of West Fork was a large, unsightly, unsanitary mobile home graveyard. We helped bring attention to it and questioned the county official’s explanation that nothing could be done because it was on a state roadway. Over several months of conversations with Washington County Environmental Office, Boston

Trailer junkyard one mile south of West Fork on Scenic Highway 71.

Mountain Solid Waste, Arkansas Highway. and Transportation Department in Little Rock and Harrison and the county attorney it was determined that, yes; in fact, the county could enforce junkyard laws in that case. Progress has been made on cleaning up the eyesore and more will be done according to county officials.

Having learned my way around the state highway bureaucracy, I turned to other matters. What about a pedestrian bridge over the West Fork of White River? The city would have to invest half million dollars in a study. Not realistic. What about Safe Routes for school children; realistic and doable.

My initial inquiry was to arkansashighwys.com. From there one is directed to the appropriate person. After a few dead ends, I reached the right person and had an informative, helpful interview regarding the Safe Route Grant Application. Money ($200,000 at that time) was available and relatively simple to get. The application was to be made in cooperation with the school. Springdale and Fayetteville were receiving money but what about small towns? Yes, I was told of several small towns that had participated in the program.

Most of my discussions were via phone but here is copy of an email.

——– Original Message ——–
Subject: State Aid City Street Program
From: “Mayo, David, Jr.” <David.Mayo@arkansashighways.com>
Date: Wed, November 21, 2012 9:04 am
To: <steve@wcobserver.com>
Cc: “Meredith, Carlos A.” Carlos.Meredith@arkansashighways.com

Steve Winkler:

I would be glad to try and answer some of your questions regarding the State Aid City Street program which was recently created by the Constitutional Amendment passed November 6.  We are in the preliminary stages of creating the policies of the program.

One of the goals of the program is to assist cities like West Fork with road projects.

Please call me or e-mail me with your questions.

Sincerely, David Mayo, Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department

State Aid Engineer, 501-569-2346

West Fork has a highly paid person tasked with overseeing the street department. Unfortunately that person’s reservoir of energy for the job seems to be depleted and he also lacks the necessary skills needed to use the internet.

Sidewalk at the Library.

I am not aware of any long term plan for our town’s streets, sidewalks or nonexistent trails. Sidewalks seem to be built randomly, sometimes leading nowhere and without regard to pedestrian traffic flow.

Sidewalk on McKnight Street

The solution is political, not technical or administrative. To begin with, the Head of the Street Department should be a city employee accountable to the mayor and council not paid by and accountable to the autonomous Water Commission. That person should be an academically educated engineer or public administrator and most of all, energetic and resourceful.

My crap detector alarm is blaring. I, for one, don’t buy the excuse given by our street department head that the current condition and future of West Fork’s across town thoroughfare is at the mercy of nameless bureaucrats in Little Rock.  BS.

When I walk across the bridge at Riverside Park, I sometimes wonder, “Will this be the day I die?”

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2 comments »

  1. […] Rossetti, show us some facts and evidence for why you think things will “continue” to improve. [click to see WCO article about streets] The city and rural fire departments have budgeted two positions for full time firemen for West […]

  2. Susan Cooney says:

    Thanks for the information Steve. I know a safe route through our town can be done. I also know I don’t have the time, money, or skill set to gather the right people together and orchestrate all the maneuvers but I know there are already elected officials and volunteers for our City who could make this a reality. Even the bridge, because I’ve seen bridges in Washington County that have had their sidewalks widened and flexible caution markers.
    Thanks again Steve for caring. Maybe if enough of us of all ages band together and walk the 170, we could get some attention?

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