Shoppers venturing out on the evening of Thanksgiving (Nov. 28) and Black Friday (Nov. 29) may want to avoid the intersection of Rogers Avenue and Interstate 540 in Fort Smith.
The reason, as it has been since January, is the ongoing construction on the interstate, according to District 4 Engineer Chad Adams of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. The construction has created bottlenecks and slowed traffic during slow times. Traffic could come to a halt on sections of the road that lead to the more popular shopping locations in Fort Smith.
Adams said his department was unable to change traffic flows or patterns either on I-540 or on Rogers Avenue due to the construction project.
"There's no method in place to deal with it," he said of the potential traffic snarls. "The configuration is the same – two lanes in either direction on Rogers Avenue."
And while there are two lanes open in either direction on I-540, traffic backups have already started with some motorists having to sit through several traffic light rotations before being able to move down the avenue.
Asked whether the Fort Smith Police Department was planning any special preparation for the increase in holiday shopping traffic along the city's major retail corridor, Sgt. Daniel Grubbs said the Super Bowl of shopping would not be different than any other day.
"We treat it as a normal holiday," he said. "We've kind of seen a slide in some of those major issues we have to face. But it's a part of life. We understand it will be an issue. (We asked people to) just slow down, be a defensive driver and take basic safety tips. As far as anything particular or specific, special assignments, we have nothing planned at this point."
Sgt. Randall Dias of the Arkansas State Police Troop H Headquarters in Fort Smith said his department was also not making any special preparations in anticipation Black Friday.
"There are limited things we can do except prepare to handle the inevitable crashes that will occur."
He said while there is some increase in the number of incidents that occur on Black Friday, it has not typically been a major issue. But that was before I-540 was reduced to one lane in both directions earlier this year.
"Everybody's got to go to Best Buy and get their laptops at 4 a.m. So we know there will be traffic to deal with," Dias said. "If you get one crash, what is going to be different this year is the construction. If you get one crash, it'll bottleneck everything up for a while."
Dias added that multi-car accidents were more likely to occur in the construction zone.
"Of course, we're talking about rear end collisions," he said. "Sometimes it's the second or third car back that pushes them into each other. Also, what happens is if there is one crash like that maybe a half-mile back, there could be another crash because of the resulting backup."
Grubbs urged the public to not worry about any problems that could arise.
"To pay an officer to sit at the Rogers and I-540 interchange to deal with traffic control – at this point we don't have anything planned. But we are problem solvers. We'll deal with (problems) as we need to."
Asked what drivers should do in preparation to deal with the Black Friday traffic, Adams said he was at a loss.
"It's going to be your normal Black Friday traffic, but it may be down some. You've got no school, no work. So traffic may be a little bit down compared to your normal rush hour everyday traffic. But I don't really know what to recommend on that one."