Traffic, business shifts noted from I-540 work

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 110 views 

Since the start of more than $78 million in construction on Interstate 540 in Fort Smith and Van Buren on Jan. 28, shifts in traffic have taken thousands of cars onto different routes all across the area.

Because of the route changes, businesses along the construction route have noted a considerable drop in sales and now some of that business is starting to shift to one detour route.

According to Bud Crowden, a supervisor who oversees Sonic locations on Broadway in Van Buren and Midland Avenue in Fort Smith, there has been an increase at his Van Buren location.

"It's not a lot (busier), but I think it's helped a little bit," he said.

With nearly 15,000 cars per day finding alternate routes, according to figures provided by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, the increased congestion on city streets has stifled some of the growth Crowden expected when the construction started.

"With all that traffic and congestion, I don't think a lot of people want to get off and try to fight that and get back on. I think that's exactly it," he said.

While the Broadway location has seen an increase in business, Crowden's location across the bridge on Midland Avenue has not fared as well.

"I have a store at Midland, too, and it hasn't helped there at all," he said.

On another detour route that has seen a considerable increase in traffic is the route starting in Dora, along Highway 64D in rural Sequoyah County, Okla. The route eventually brings commuters back to Arkansas by way of the Garrison Avenue bridge.

Margaret Mitchael, an accounts receivable clerk at Arklahoma Pipeline Company, said commuting to work in the morning to their office just off Interstate 40's exit 1 in Dora has become a nightmare.

"Coming to work at 7:15 in the morning, it's really bad," she said.

Mitchael said something as simply as turning into the parking lot from Dora Road has become a challenge.

"When you come in from Fort Smith, you have to wait for a stream of cars."

Lindsey Grinstead, an accounts payable clerk at Arklahoma Pipeline, said since Jan. 28, traffic through the small border town, with a posted speed limit of 30 miles per hour, has been hazardous. She said many people ignore the posted speed limits and she has seen at least one accident on the curve as commuters enter Oklahoma from Arkansas.

Additional problems would not surprise her due to the change in traffic patterns.

"There used to not be that many (cars) at all," she said. "There used to be one every now and then. There's a lot now."

The detour may be making at least one positive, unforeseen impact.

According to Fort Smith Parks and Recreation Director Mike Alsup, the Park at West End, which sits near the base of the Garrison Avenue bridge, saw its largest ever attendance last weekend, selling 1,348 individual tickets, beating it's previous record by about 350 tickets. He says while the Heritage Festival was going on the same weekend and sales are typically higher, the increased traffic was likely a plus to the park.

"It probably didn’t hurt," he said.

To determine the long-term impact of the increased traffic on park attendance will take time since the park opened for its first weekend of the season last weekend, Alsup said.

"But exposure always helps. There are people who normally don't go down Garrison Avenue who are coming down there now," he said.

And he has been experiencing firsthand an increase in the number of visitors to the area around the park and downtown, in general.

"I talk to people who haven't been downtown in years and now they are down there every week. I know there are people down there who typically don't go there at all."

The AHTD has said construction along I-540 from Rogers Avenue to I-40 is expected to be complete in mid-2014.