Survey and preliminary engineering activities continue on the Southwest Trail, with efforts boosted by recent Metroplan grant awards supporting trail construction.
Preliminary engineering activities continue for the trail segment between the Pulaski County line and Hilaro Springs Road. With the recent grant award of $3 million from Metroplan, coupled with two previous grants, funding is now in place to build this 4-mile segment. Federal permitting for this segment will be submitted soon. The design team has been meeting with ArDOT and local jurisdictions to discuss plan review processes in anticipation of plan submittals for this first segment. The recent grant funding also includes trail construction between Hilaro Springs Road and Baseline, however design for that segment will commence at a later date after the field survey has been completed.
Saline County has received grant funding from Metroplan to construct a 2.5-mile segment of trail from the Pulaski County line to Germania Road. Field survey in this segment has been completed and preliminary engineering will begin soon, followed by right-of-way plan preparation and discussions with landowners. Paired with the adjacent funded segment of Pulaski County trail, a usable 6.5-mile segment will be available for the community upon completion.
The City of Benton received Metroplan grant funding to build a 1.6-mile segment of trail between the site of Saline River Bridge and Market Street within former rail right-of-way. Garver survey crews will move to this area to begin data collection for preliminary engineering soon.
Topographic survey is nearing completion in Saline County between the Pulaski County line to Sardis Road, which will allow preliminary engineering of the trail to begin in this area. Survey will continue across the county in other areas where trail funding has not been secured yet so that preliminary engineering can proceed as segments of survey becomes available. Saline County has funding to acquire rights-of-way for trail construction, so preliminary engineering is necessary to begin the right-of-way acquisition process.
In Garland County, Garver has met with Judge Mahoney to review the trail alignment and explore funding opportunities for the trail in the county. The team has also met with the City of Hot Springs to review the trail alignment through the city and make modifications to improve rider experience.
The design team will submit an amended Environmental Assessment (EA) to ArDOT and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) this fall to address modifications to the trail alignment since the original route study. Trail modifications have been recommended in certain location by jurisdictions due to local changes in the preferred route, development activity, and other unforeseen circumstances. More information will be forthcoming about the EA review process once available.
Garver will set up follow-up meetings with the Corps of Engineers to discuss the Nationwide Permit for the overall project and continue to provide updates to the agency on behalf of local jurisdictions.
County Moves Closer to Southwest Trail Construction
After the Environmental Assessment was approved for the Southwest Trail in November 2020, the design team at Garver USA initiated a corridor topographic and right-of-way survey, along with preliminary engineering.
Surveying is now complete, and the preliminary design for the trail is well underway for the 4.25-miles of Pulaski County-owned right-of-way, beginning at Hilaro Springs Road and ending at the Saline County line. Within this stretch of the trail, three pedestrian bridges will be constructed to accommodate the trail. Pulaski County has received FLAP grant funding to build all three pedestrian bridges.
The survey teams are almost finished collecting data for the first 7-miles of trail in Saline County, starting from the Pulaski County line. Preliminary engineering for that segment will commence later this summer.
In July, Pulaski and Saline Counties worked together to submit a RAISE Grant application to the U.S. Department of Transportation for $25 million. If awarded, the grant covers most of the trail construction costs between Little Rock Central High School and the western edge of Saline County.
Pulaski County, Saline County and the City of Benton submitted separate grant requests to Metroplan on July 30 for construction funds. If successful, those funds allow construction of a continuous 7-mile segment from southern Pulaski County into northern Saline County and a 1.6-mile segment in southern Benton.
The Southwest Trail is one step closer to reality! On November 19, 2020, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) issued the Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), completing the project’s Environmental Assessment phase.
What It Means
For more than a year, the Garver Team conducted an Environmental Assessment (EA), which analyzed options for the trail route across Pulaski, Saline and Garland counties, reviewing each for impacts to the public and the environment. Through input gathered at in-person and virtual public meetings, options were narrowed to a preferred alignment presented last summer in a 45-day virtual public hearing. Upon compilation of and response to public comments, a final EA was submitted to ARDOT and FHWA for review, comment, and approval. The November 2020 receipt of the FONSI is important because it cleared the full 60-mile trail project for engineering design.
The project team is conducting design kickoff meetings with local jurisdictions, including recent meetings with Little Rock and Benton, to discuss alignment, schedules, and funding. Other meetings have been held with Union Pacific Railroad and the Little Rock District Corps of Engineers, two key stakeholders, to discuss the project and prepare for future coordination as design detail is developed. Additional meetings with other communities and stakeholders are forthcoming, including Benton and Hot Springs, and the National Park Service.
Garver survey teams have begun topographical survey and right-of-way data collection in southern Pulaski County and will soon move into Saline County. This field-collected data will be the foundation for the project’s engineering design. These efforts also include identification of right-of-way and easements to be obtained within Saline County, which is part of a $3 million Metroplan grant received in fall 2020 for acquisition of trail rights-of-way across the county. That grant funding is part of Metroplan’s recently announced long-term commitment to bike and pedestrian projects in the area.
Engineering design work is underway on three new trail bridges within 4.7 miles of Pulaski County-owned right-of-way, between Heinke Road and Hilaro Springs Road. These bridges will be funded with a Federal Lands Access Program (FLAP) grant received in early 2020 by Pulaski County. Design of the trail in this segment is also underway with Recreation Trails Program (RTP) funds in place to construct a portion of the segment. Pulaski County Public Works assisted the design team last summer and fall by clearing that segment of future trail, allowing survey and geotechnical teams to mobilize and begin their field work.
In Saline County, bids have been received for the refurbishment and reassembly of the Saline River Bridge, southwest of Benton. An important anchor for the trail, the bridge work will take almost a year, with final funding coming from a FLAP grant received by Saline County.