Story by Kim Souza
Anyone who lives in Northwest Arkansas is fully aware of the traffic congestion the region suffers from an insufficient road infrastructure still trying to catch up to the area’s 437,000 population.
The cost of doing nothing to improve the congested traffic issues is mounting to the tune of $103 million annually, according to a study commissioned by the Northwest Arkansas Council.
“We wanted to see how much the congestion costs and the report’s finding are staggering,” said Mike Malone, CEO of the NWA Council
The traffic congestion across Benton and Washington counties was studied by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute earlier this year. Eight separate stretches of road were studied for the quantitative costs of lost time and added fuel expenditures.
“Our findings show traffic congestion here is far worse than what we’d expect to see in regions of comparable size,” said David Schrank, one of the researchers present during Tuesday’s (Oct. 9) press conference in Rogers. “Some of the highways and streets we studied would be among the worst in the entire state of Texas.”
Schrank and Tim Lomax based their research of eight road segments in Northwest Arkansas on the method used in the Texas-only study, and then they estimated overall traffic congestion in Benton and Washington counties to arrive at the $103 million figure.
U.S. 412 in Springdale from Arkansas 112 to Thompson Avenue was the most congested roadway of the eight studied. This stretch of heavily traveled road has about 137,000 hours of delay per mile with an annual cost of $12.6 million to those traveling it regularly, according to the report.
U.S. 71 in Bentonville from Central Avenue to Moberly Lane was the second most congested among the eight studied. This stretch has about 130,000 hours of delay per mile with an annual cost of $11.2 million.
The other areas studied include:
No. 3 – College Avenue in Fayetteville from Lafayette to Main
No. 4 – Walnut Avenue in Rogers from I-540 to W. Hudson Road
No. 5 – U.S. 71 in Bella Vista from N. Walton Boulevard to AR 340
No. 6 – Thompson Avenue in Springdale from Main Street to County Line Road
No. 7 – Interstate 540 in Fayetteville from U.S. 62 to AR 112
No. 8 – Interstate 540 from Pleasant Grove Road to Elm Springs Road
“If these eight road segments we studied were in Texas, four of them would be among the worst 100 in all of Texas,” Lomax said. “Regions with twice as many people as Northwest Arkansas, such as El Paso and McAllen in Texas, didn’t have near the traffic congestion.”
Josh Clemence and Brandon Harris said I-540 around the Wedington exit is abysmal in the morning and afternoon commute. Jamie Smith said her nightmare is Arkansas 16 coming from Elkins to Fayetteville which is at a standstill from about 7:30 until about 8 a.m.
"It takes 45 minutes to go 17 miles just about any work day," Smith said.
These two problematic routes and dozens of others were not studied individually by the group, but the analysts did included them in the total report. These non-study roadways account for an estimated 17,050 hours of delay per mile at a cost of $40.8 million annually.
The study release is timely just ahead of the general election Nov. 6 in which voters will have the opportunity approve a half-cent sales tax to improve Arkansas roadways.
Lt. Gov. Mark Darr announced Tuesday his support of the highway tax plan. He is one of the few Republicans in Arkansas willing to publicly support passage of a tax.
“No one hates taxes more than me; however, one of the primary functions of government is to build roads and infrastructure and this act does just that,” Darr said in a statement. “My two primary reasons for supporting Ballot Issue #1 are the 40,000 non-government jobs that will be created and or protected and the relief of heavy traffic congestion. Traffic congestion has become a serious issue in Central Arkansas as well as Northwest Arkansas.”
Arkansas Highway Department Chairman Madison Murphy was on hand at Tuesday’s press conference to applaud the Northwest Arkansas Council for the report.
He said Issue No. 1 on the November ballot will make great strides in helping to reduce the traffic congestion in Northwest Arkansas by expanding I-540 to six lanes from Fayetteville to Bentonville. It will also allow for the completion of the Bella Vista bypass to take truck traffic off of U.S. 71, which was the fourth most problematic area in the study.
Murphy also credited the City of Springdale for trying to address their own traffic problems on U.S. 412. The city will create an exit for the Don Tyson Parkway, which is a parallel alternate route for traffic on U.S. 412 — the most congested roadway in the study.
He did say Issue No. 1 will also allow for the beginning of a 412 bypass west of Springdale that would eventually connect to a feeder road for more direct access to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
Schrank said the researches used software to track traffic speeds that was then matched to the AHTD roadway inventory network. Six of the eight locations had both volume and speed data. Where speed data was not present estimated speeds were generated from similarly sized metro areas in Texas.