Fort Smith metro planning group considering ‘wayfinding’ signs

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 165 views 

Fort Smith residents and citizens may have an easier time finding their way around town if a plan by the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization becomes a reality.

Dianne Morrison, director of the Frontier MPO, said her organization will host a meeting Nov. 4 to focus on the installation of "wayfinding" signs throughout the Fort Smith region.

According to Morrison, the idea for the signs originally came from former Rep. Ed Thickston of Alma and Fort Smith Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Claude Legris.

"They originally brought it up. They came to one of our policy board meetings. And it had been an idea that we had been thinking about," she said.

The "wayfinding" signs idea the two men and the organization had been contemplating came about, she said, after the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department reversed a long-standing policy that had prevented local signs from being placed in the department's right of ways.

With the AHTD now allowing local signs in the right of way, Northwest Arkansas was the first to move forward with the so-called wayfinding signs last year. Eureka Springs was the first Northwest Arkansas city to see the erection of the signs, with similarly designed signs eventually popping up in Bella Vista, Rogers, Lowell, Springdale, Fayetteville and Siloam Springs.

“What I love about the regional wayfinding project is that it unites Northwest Arkansas in a visual way,” said Rogers Mayor Greg Hines, a member of the Northwest Arkansas Council's regional wayfinding steering committee. “The signs will make tourists feel like insiders, and they’ll remind local residents of the great places right here that are perfect for weekend outings.”

The Council was the organization that pushed the wayfinding signs in the region, which were paid through a grant from the Walton Family Foundation to Endeavor Foundation, in partnership with the Northwest Arkansas Council. According to information provided by the Northwest Arkansas Council, total costs for more than 250 signs in the seven area cities included in the program totaled $1.1 million.

As for costs in the Fort Smith region, Morrison said it is still an unknown though the Frontier MPO would work to keep costs minimal.

"Right now it is just in the planning (phase). A lot of it will be able to be done in-house," she said. "We may need a consultant to help with designing the signs and coming up with exact locations or best locations for routes on where to put the signs. But we're trying to do as much as we can without having to pay someone."

The cost of the signs, she added, would be paid for by the individual communities. Those communities, she said, would also pay for installation of the signs in the highway department right of ways. Legris said some of the communities could apply for grant funding similar to what many cities in Northwest Arkansas did when signs began to be installed last year.

The communities that have agreed to be a part of the Frontier MPO's wayfinding sign group include the Arkansas cities of Alma, Barling, Bonanza, Central City, Fort Smith, Greenwood, Kibler, Lavaca, and Van Buren. Crawford and Sebastian Counties, as well as the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, are also included in the group, as are the Oklahoma cities of Arkoma, Pocola and Sallisaw.

Oklahoma Department of Transportation spokesman Cole Hackett said for the program to cross the state line, the MPO and the communities would need to work with ODOT to make sure the organization's restrictions and guidelines were followed.

"We don't do it too often, but we do it occasionally," he added.

Legris said local residents should be aware that the program is not intended as a short-term project and was intended to guide visitors and locals to signs such as the planned U.S. Marshals Museum and other attractions of note in the community.

"This will be a long-term project and the folks in Northwest Arkansas are more than happy to share information with us, some of the successes and some of the challenges in bringing different communities together to where the signs have a unified look and design," he said, adding the the signs he envisions would be similar in design to those in Northwest Arkansas.

"It shows unity in the region and with Northwest Arkansas, as well. If you're coming to the region, you'll see a similar design of signs in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith," Legris noted.