Fayetteville, Fort Smith mayors announce plans for an expanded regional transportation system

Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders, left, speaks alongside Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan Wednesday afternoon inside Fayetteville City Hall. The two mayors held joint news conferences in both Fort Smith and Fayetteville to announce plans to work together on regional transportation issues.

Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Fayetteville Mayor Lioneld Jordan and Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders announced a plan Wednesday to strengthen the connection between the second and third largest cities in Arkansas.

The two said they plan to hold a series of four joint meetings this year – two in Fayetteville and two in Fort Smith – to explore ways to work together on transportation issues that could benefit the two cities and the region.

“Our cities have been joined by commercial transportation for more than 150 years,” said Jordan at a news conference inside Fayetteville City Hall. “The first stagecoach left Fayetteville on Sept. 18, 1858 and arrived in Fort Smith at 2 a.m. the next morning.”

With rail service beginning 20 years later, the paving of U.S. Highway 71 in the 1930s, and the completion of I-540 in 1999, the mayors said it’s time to renew the historic connection between the two cities.

“We each have strengths that can benefit and support the other,” said Sanders. “A closer working relationship has the potential to be the catalyst for creating more vibrant growth and development.”

First on the mayors’ list is advocating for the completion of Interstate 49, a planned federal roadway that would run through Northwest Arkansas to eventually help connect the Gulf Coast to the Canadian border.

“I-49 will have a tremendous economic benefit for our two cities,” said Sanders. “We will be at the center of an east-west interstate corridor in the center of the country and job growth will be substantial.”

Other projects mentioned include expanding rail and air service between the two cities, and the deepening of the McClellan-Kerr Arkansas River Navigation System, which would help expand regional river barge transportation.

If successful, the projects would create a regional intermodal freight transportation system. Intermodal operations cut down on cargo handling which improves security, reduces damage and loss, and allows freight to be transported faster and cheaper.

“As I’ve said before, the I-540 tunnel is a connector, not a divider,” said Sanders. “Our new partnership brings our two cities together in ways that will strengthen our economies and help our citizens and businesses thrive.”

No dates have been set for the joint meetings, but city officials said they will be publicized and open to the public.

Ten largest Arkansas cities by population

1. Little Rock – 193,524
2. Fort Smith – 86,209
3. Fayetteville – 73,580
4. Springdale – 69,797
5. Jonesboro – 67,263
6. North Little Rock – 62,304
7. Conway – 58,908
8. Rogers – 55,964
9. Pine Bluff – 49,083