I have some important updates on our Make the Ask Campaign for 2023. Make the Ask is an attempt to get more citizens to go to our elected officials especially local elected officials and ask them to fund/support/lead on mass transit projects. From a full bus schedule (i.e. 20/7), to light rail, to passenger intercity rail, to High Speed Rail (say 160 MPH) between NWA and Little Rock. To also include smart housing with integrated retail so we can walk to the store for milk and eggs after work. To include dedicated funding in the form of a sales tax (I know they are too high) or an extra $10 on vehicle registration fees or whatever city councils and quorum courts come up with.
This is a unique time to Make the Ask. In November 2021 the Biden Administration and the US Congress passed the Investment in Infrastructure and Jobs Act, that provided Amtrak (our national rail service) with dedicated funding, funding for upgrades to the rail network, and a new Corridor Identification Program. The Corridor Identification Program is an attempt to restart passenger rail routes that have been closed over the last fifty years and find new routes. Included in the IIJA is money for HSR projects.
As you may remember we want an intercity route running from Kansas City MO through NWA to Shreveport LA. Shreveport is part of two new intercity passenger rail routes. One, the State of Louisiana wants a new state supported rail route from Shreveport to New Orleans that passes through Alexandra LA and Baton Rouge. Two, as part of the Corridor Identification Program there will be a route between Dallas TX and Atlanta GA that goes through, you guessed it, Shreveport LA. So NWA can be linked into those new routes with our proposed route. #ConnectivityIsDensity and all that.
Another factor here is that the Arkansas Legislature is coming together for their biannual meeting right now. The Legislature is in regular session and so will only hear testimony regarding items on the Transportation Committee agenda. After April 15th (we think) the regular session will close and the interim session begins and the Transportation committee will hear from the general public. That’s us. And we now have the funds to go the Little Rock. There are several of us going and we need to plan our strategies for that day.
Basically I hope to address the Arkansas House Transportation Committee. I will point out that Arkansas has a Highway Budget of $1.2 billion. There are only 3 million people in Arkansas. So that works out to $400.00 per man, woman, and child. In 2020, the median income for individuals in Arkansas was $26,526.00 annually. $400 to someone who makes less than $30K a year is a lot of money. Most of that money for highways comes from Uncle Sugar, I mean Uncle Sam. I will propose the state peel off say $150 million for rail refurbishment and upgrades. With 70% matching funds from the IIJA, Arkansas can have an annual rail construction budget of $500 million a year. This will provide heavy construction jobs that pay between $60 and $100 thousand a year. This will make Arkansas railroads safer, while lowering transportation costs like liability insurance, and fuel. And prepare our railways for more passenger traffic.
This March 26th to the 30th is the Rail Passenger Association Annual Meeting On the Hill. At the conference we delegates visit our state’s congressional delegation. RPA provided us with a list of congressional staffers and their contact information. I reached out to Arkansas’s Congressional delegation. Good news I have heard from Ricky Crawford’s office. Ricky Crawford represents Arkansas CD1 that covers the eastern half of the state. Rep Crawford sits on the House Transportation Committee. And if you remember I have gripped about Rep Crawford because he regularly proposes legislation that shuts down all passenger rail in the USA.
Oh. Hell. No.
I am scheduled to meet with Ashley Shelton, Crawford’s Staff for Transportation and Infrastructure on March 28th, at 4 PM in the Sam Rayburn Building. I am looking forward to asking that Rep Crawford reconsider his stance on passenger rail and support these projects we are excited for in Arkansas. I hope to hear from Steve Womack’s office and maybe Tom Cotton’s office too. I want to Make the Ask with all of them.
I have made contact with my city council rep. It looks like going before the city council isn’t as easy as the County Quorum Court. I have to work with the city engineer to get a date. So the city council thing isn’t as easy as I hoped. I will keep you updated on this front as it develops.
After I make the ask, I still have a busy year. I will start to work on the official proposal for the new intercity route from Kansas City to Shreveport I outlined above. The IIJA allows more time for the Corridor Identification Program as we can still get the Ask in. I have done my basic research on it. I hope to meet with some friends at RPA Spring Meeting about details. There is a lot of work to do here and I will keep you posted on that too.
In the meantime I still need funding for my trips, though they are basically paid for I still need money for transit passes, and I hope to ride the Amtrak Acela to New York and make a short video for the NWA GO YouTube channel. And money for eats. We started off great but contributions have fallen off.
You can contribute to my GoFundMe here: https://gofund.me/ffd50670
You can also help by liking and commenting on this post. And by going to YouTube and look up NWA GO and subscribe. Also use these hashtags #MakeTheAsk and #ConnectivityIsDensity. Thanks for your support, everybody it all helps. If we work together, we can’t lose.
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