The Arkansas Department of Transportation might not yet see the need for a traffic light at the intersection Chad Colley Boulevard and Frontier Road in Chaffee Crossing, but stakeholders say there is a need for one in order to keep drivers safe.
“We are very concerned for the safety of these students. I’ve been there since 2016, and there have been six wrecks, two of which were Jaws of Life at the corner,” said Kyle Parker, president and CEO of Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, located on Chad Colley Boulevard in Chaffee Crossing.
The college is the parent organization of the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine, which is home to around 300 students and will serve 600 students in two years.
The answer to traffic issues and safety concerns that develop when the thousands of residents of Chaffee Crossing and employees who commute to business there daily could be alleviated with a traffic light, Parker said during a discussion at a meeting of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority board Thursday (Jan. 24).
Lorie Robertson, FCRA marketing director, gave a report to the board on a meeting held with ARDOT and representatives with FCRA, the City of Barling, the City of Fort Smith and ACHE and other stake holders on Tuesday (Jan. 22) regarding the Highway 255 relocation. A main concern brought up at that meeting was the need for stoplight at the Chad Colley/Frontier intersection. Stakeholders sent a number of letters to ARDOT Director Scott Bennett about the need for the traffic light prior to the meeting, Robertson said. Instead of considering a traffic light, ARDOT representatives asked engineers to draw up what it might look like to put a roundabout at that intersection, Robertson said.
Parker said he contacted Mike Fugett with ARDOT in weeks prior to the meeting because of concern for the safety of those at the medical school. Fugett told Parker the traffic counts to did not justify the need for a traffic light.
“They did not count traffic on the road that has been shut down that’s called Veterans. We have 5,000 cars a day come through there because it’s a four-way stop. They did not count Church Street out Barling where people are coming west. They did count the traffic on Frontier at Highway 22, but they didn’t count at Church. They did an ‘estimate,’ and that’s what really concerns me. They are getting inaccurate information, and they are basing their studies on this and their justification for not putting in a light,” Parker said.
During discussions, ARDOT explained they do not build and plan based on future projections, Robertson said.
After Parker voiced his concern about the intersection, he asked Fugett what a traffic light would cost, and was told it would be $150,000 for a basic light.
“I asked, ‘Where do you want me to send the check?’ Said that we would pay that right now. I asked him, ‘I don’t know what the value of human life is to you, but to me it’s worth more than $150,000,’” Parker said. “He said it didn’t work that way that we needed the cities Fort Smith and Barling and others affected to send in letters and that’s what we did.”
Parker said after his discussions with Fugett, he was told ARDOT would install the wiring and necessary power for a light at the intersection but would not put up the lights because Fugett believed in a few years there would be enough traffic to justify the light.
The cost of a traffic light versus a roundabout also did not seem to add up to Robertson, who was told the cost for the basic light as well as the street work that would be needed, including turn lanes and such would be around $500,000, which was her guess and not an estimate provided by ARDOT. But those at the meeting were told the cost for a roundabout would top $1 million.
Chad Colley Boulevard is divided down the middle, the west side is Fort Smith and the east side is Barling. An interchange at that corner would cost both cities, she said. A roundabout would also require 100 to 200 feet on either side from the center of the intersection for easements, right of ways and everything else that goes along with them, Robertson said.
Parker said the medical school is against a roundabout at the intersection but the medical school will pay part of the cost for a traffic signal. It is his understanding that the major stakeholders share the opinion that a traffic light is the most viable and needed option.
“I know that from the conversations I have had, and these conversations have been going on for a year and a half, that our understanding is that traffic signal makes sense. I was never under the impression anyone was cheering on a roundabout. It’s always been about a traffic light,” Parker said. “We’re talking semi’s going through there. This is not a residential area.”
Robertson said there are about 2,600 people a day coming to Chaffee Crossing for jobs.
“We have 28 residential neighborhoods with around 2,900 residential units that are built, under construction or planned on property sold. Add potential growth at ArcBest, my numbers just straight up of those jobs plus med school campus attendees with conservative estimates, you’re looking at over 5,000 people a day,” Robertson said, adding there would be more discussions with ARDOT on the topic.
The FCRA board said they would help in any way they could with the talks.