Northwest Arkansas officials laud bike trails, highway connection

Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie addresses the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council's Transportation Advisory Committee during its meeting Wednesday at the George Washington Carver National Monument. Christie joined Tim Conklin, assistant executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Agency in informing the committee about progress being made in bike trails in Northwest Arkansas and on the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector. Globe | Rayna Karst

DIAMOND, Mo. — An extensive web of mountain biking trails has become an ever-growing tourist attraction for Bella Vista, Arkansas, as well as all of the northwest region of the state.

Members of the Harry S. Truman Coordinating Council have begun to have discussions with communities in McDonald County that include connecting with one such trail in Northwest Arkansas called the Razorback Regional Greenway.

To help them gather more information, Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie addressed members of the council’s Transportation Advisory Committee on Wednesday to answer questions and give advice on building more bicycle trails in Southwest Missouri.

Christie said that the trails have benefited Bella Vista by increasing tourism and economic growth as well as promoting a healthy lifestyle.

“In Bella Vista, we have seen the values of our homes go up,” he said. “The houses that are close to the trails or on the trails are commanding a premium of between 5 and 10 percent.”

Restaurants and other businesses in the area have seen an overall increase in business, he said. New businesses have also begun to pop up, such as a bike shop, and there is an increased use of campgrounds.

“It’s just been overwhelming as to how popular they have been,” Christie said.

Along with more business and tourists, Christie said, Bella Vista has seen younger people coming in, which benefits the older residents.

“We see more and more young families coming in,” he said. “Golf is down, trails are up.”

Officials have shown some interest in creating trails in McDonald County and have held public meetings to discuss the issue with residents. John Bunch, a McDonald County commissioner, said during the Wednesday meeting that though residents have shown support for the trail, many older residents still have concerns about the trail taking away their land and cyclists impeding road traffic.

“I think there is a place to make it work,” he said. “But it’s going to have to be done in a way that others don’t feel put out by it.”

Christie said that one way Bella Vista addressed this issue was to have a discussion with elderly community members about how the trails could benefit them.

“We told them that instead of fighting it, look upon it as a way in which we can guarantee that your property values are going to stay up and that we are going to have money coming into the community,” Christie said.

Christie suggested holding more public meetings to discuss the trails and give their residents information, which is precisely what Bella Vista will do after announcing Tuesday that it will at another 50-mile trail system to the center of the city.

“You cannot go in blind,” he said. “We didn’t just jump into this with both feet.”

Missouri-Arkansas Connector

During the meeting, Tim Conklin, assistant executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Agency, also provided the committee with information on the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, formerly called the Bella Vista Bypass.

The planning agency has applied for a $25 million grant from the Better Utilizing Investment to Leverage Development program to gain funding for a 4.8-mile section of Interstate 49 that extends to the state line, Conklin said. Though the agency will not learn until December if the funding is granted, Conklin pointed out some benefits of finding funding for the section as soon as possible.

Currently I-49 ends north of Bentonville; from there, travelers must take U.S. Highway 71 through Bella Vista. That section of highway has nine intersections with traffic signals, increasing travel time and threat of traffic accidents.

“Every year that it is not open we have increased fatalities, increased serious injuries and increased delay for freight,” he said.

So far, the $135 million project only needs funding for the 4.8-mile section in Missouri to the state line, Conklin said. On July 12, the Missouri Department of Transportation agreed that if the BUILD grant was approved, it would build the segment.

“In Arkansas, this roadway is entirely funded all the way to the state line,” he said. “MoDOT has the funding gap, so anytime you see anybody and you want to mention that we really need to get I-49 done and figure out how to fund it, that would be great. Share your desire and need to complete this.”