The Fort Smith Board of Directors are set to consider a resolution for a downtown traffic and truck study at the board’s regular meeting at 6 p.m. Tuesday (Nov. 6) at the Fort Smith Public Schools Service Center, 3205 Jenny Lind Road.
The resolution would authorize an engineering services agreement with Halff Associates, Inc. of Little Rock for the Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study.
According to a memo attached to the meeting agenda, the study is estimated to be completed in six to nine months, with a cost not to exceed fee of $151,986. The project is based on recommendations from the Propelling Downtown Forward Plan, which was adopted by the board in August 2017 as “a master plan addressing specific development and revitalization issues in the downtown and Central Business Improvement District (CBID) areas,” board meeting information states.
The subject of truck traffic downtown was brought up several times during panel discussions during the Invest Fort Smith summit held Oct. 30 at Temple Live! in downtown Fort Smith.
Mervin Jebaraj, an economist and director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, who served on a closing panel discussion at the summit, said addressing the truck traffic and making the downtown more walkable is a key to bringing more retail and residential dwellings to the area.
“You really don’t want to see 18-wheelers on your downtown drag. … You don’t want to pause your conversation for five minutes while a truck passes,” he said.
The topic was also broached by Bill Hanna, a panelist in the opening discussion of the summit. Hanna, owner of downtown Fort Smith-based Hanna Oil & Gas, and a CBID member, said trucks are loud, are not pedestrian friendly, and make it difficult to create a walkable urban environment.
“If we want our downtown more livable, we’re going to have to figure out what to do with trucks,” Hanna said. “We have to figure out how to quiet downtown. That’s the challenge.”
Although the issue of diverting traffic from downtown has been controversial in the past, Jeff Dingman, deputy city administrator for Fort Smith, said there has been no opposition to the study.
“In fact, a few businesses whose trucks rely on the downtown truck routes have ponied up with contributions to help pay for the independent study,” Dingman said. “The city’s interest, of course, is in finding a solution that’s workable for all interests involved.”
Private contributions to pay part of the cost of the study total $47,000 and are broken down as follows: Central Business Improvement District (CBID ), $20,000; OK Foods, $10,000; ArcBest, $5,000; Ghan & Robinson Family Foundation, $4,000; Arkansas Refrigerated Services, $3,000; First National Bank, $2,000; Phil White, $2,000; and Davis Iron & Metal, $1,000.
A memo concerning the study from Stan Snodgrass, director of engineering for the city, that was included in information board meeting package states that Halff will work with the city, the Frontier Metropolitan Planning Organization (Frontier MPO), 64.6 Downtown – the group behind the Propelling Downtown Forward initiative – and the Arkansas Department of Transportation along with key freight and commercial business owners to study downtown truck traffic.
“This project will determine the type and intensity of truck traffic using the downtown corridor and its effect on road space and downtown accessibility. It will examine the impacts of the various solutions to the trucking industry and local shippers and manufacturers, and create a plan to alleviate through traffic that is sensitive to local business and community needs,” the memo stated.
The board of directors is also expected to consider a resolution appointing a working group of city leaders, transportation stakeholders and downtown business and property owners. The working group, which will serve as a steering committee for the study, will include: Reese Brewer, Frontier MPO; Hanna, CBID; Rodney Ghan, CBID; Russ Bragg, OK Foods, Inc.; Carl Geffken, Fort Smith City Administrator; Jeff Dingman, Fort Smith Deputy City Administrator; and Snodgrass.