Aldermen discuss Van Asche-Shiloh street connection in north Fayetteville

Red signs mark the end of the roadway at North Shiloh Drive near Red Lobster and Discount Tire in north Fayetteville.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Is it still worth connecting Van Asche to Shiloh Drive in north Fayetteville?

That’s the question City Council members face when considering an amendment that would remove the project from the city’s Master Street Plan.

Members of the council’s Transportation Committee on Tuesday recommended keeping the proposed connection on the books, but not without discussing the pros and cons.

Connecting the east end of Van Asche Drive to the south end of Shiloh Drive is a project that’s been added, removed, and then placed back onto the plan as the area around the Northwest Arkansas Mall has evolved.

When looking at a map, the connection seems like a no-brainer, but planning staff say the work is more complicated than simply pouring pavement.

For starters, city engineer Chris Brown said the project is very expensive. It would include building a bridge over Mud Creek and possibly realigning Mud Creek Trail, and would cost the city at least $2 million.

Other concerns include the environmental impact the bridge would have on the creek, and whether the connection would be all that beneficial.

Committee member and Ward 4 Alderman Alan Long said regardless of the concerns, alleviating any congestion on nearby Mall Avenue should be a top priority.

“This is one of the most dangerous places to exit into traffic in Northwest Arkansas,” said Long. “I think taking connectivity out of that area is not a good idea.”

Staff said Mall Avenue congestion is a topic well worth addressing, but sending vehicles east on Van Asche towards Shiloh Drive might not be the answer, considering drivers would only have two options: turning right onto College Avenue into the southbound lane, or waiting for an opportunity to turn east onto Joyce Boulevard. Since Shiloh is so close to the intersection at Joyce, traveling north or west simply isn’t an option.

“From a planning standpoint (the connection) makes perfect sense,” Brown said. “But when you start looking at implementation, and the environmental aspects of crossing the wetland, crossing the trail, and the overall cost, we’re just not sure that’s the best way to spend the city’s money.”

Long asked if the connection could be moved further east away from the more sensitive wetland area. City Planning Director Andrew Garner said several options have been discussed through the years, but added that it may be worth continuing to evaluate alternate routes if the City Council wants to keep the project.

Garner said if the plan goes unchanged, the city would likely only require developers of the remaining empty lots on Van Asche to dedicate the necessary right-of-way for the future roadway. Normally those developers would also be asked to help pay for the street connection, but such a requirement would obligate the city to use that money within five years. With the cost of the project being so high, Garner said the city couldn’t possibly come up with the remaining funds needed to complete the work before the five-year deadline.

Committee chair and Ward 2 Alderman Matthew Petty said he was torn on the issue.

“I don’t like keeping things on the books if we’re just chasing unicorns,” Petty said. “But I also don’t like giving up assets (like right-of way) when we don’t really have to.”

Petty said focusing on Mall Avenue might be a better idea, but with no funding available for either option, he said he’d prefer to stick to the original plan which would at least guarantee some right-of-way for possible future use.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend leaving the connection in the master plan, with Ward 1 Alderwoman Adella Gray casting the third vote in support. Ward 3 Alderman Justin Tennant, who serves as the committee’s fourth member, was not present at the meeting.

It’s now up to the full City Council to make the final decision sometime next month.