For the past several years, Branson has been working on a plan to re-imagine highway 76, the main strip through Branson. The plan, dubbed “Spirit of 76″, is a conceptual plan to expand highway 76′s walkability, desirability, and ability to handle a mass transportation system. The plan includes huge walkways on both sides of the road with intriguing sculptures and landscaping, and a new flex lane down the center of the road that will be able to accommodate a new trolly system. The plan was formally adopted by the city back in August as should be working its way towards engineering and construction now. The last we heard about the project, the city had approved a $5.2 million contract amendment with the engineering firm as they continue to work on various design details and right-of-way negotiations. You can view the conceptual plan here.
We have briefly mentioned this project on our forums in the past, but with the recent discussion of Silver Dollar City’s and Branson’s performance in 2014 the project seems all the more pertinent. The focus on walkwability follows the recent trend to promote entertainment districts within cities by making them into spaces where people park their cars and then walk around all evening from location to location within the district. However, one wonders how fitting this will be in Branson, where many visitors and part-time residents are of retirement age and the temperatures swing to extremes on both ends during the year. Again, Branson is faced with a question of whether to cater to a new generation of younger visitors or cater to their old base which is now largely composed of retiree’s.
The other stand-out piece of the plan involves converting the center lane into a “flex lane” that will more easily accommodate a proposed trolly system. We have been begging for a trolley system for decades now, and the one in Branson’s twin city, Pigeon Forge, TN, seems to do well. However, with all the right turns one needs to make to get into various locations on the strip, it’s not immediately clear how that will work. It sounds like there will be far fewer curb cuts and entry points into locations off the strip, as parking lots become more centralized and shared between various locations. This will make the strip much more stream lined, but all those cars funneling into fewer ports will require some majorly re-configured spaces around the strip. The conceptual plan doesn’t detail any new specific new parking lots or parking garages, but it seems like a few new garages would be called for with this plan.
All in all, the conceptual plan seems like a good line of thought for the city, but it will be interesting to see how the actual plan will come to fruition. With the myriad of tangled properties surrounding the strip, it will be incredibly tough to both integrate all the parking lots and build the walkway as presented all the way down both sides of the strip. If they can at least get the trolly system in place and have a few places to park and ride, it will still be a huge step forward.