Public input sought on downtown Fort Smith truck traffic

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 631 views 

Fort Smith City officials want the public’s input on traffic and trucks downtown. A public survey is the next step in the Downtown Traffic and Truck Study. It follows meetings, discussions, and a public open house held in late February.

“The survey takes only minutes to complete, asking participants about their frequency of travel in downtown Fort Smith, as well as requesting input about turn lanes, signage, road condition/maintenance, and related topics,” noted a media release about the study.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed a resolution in November that authorized an engineering services agreement with Halff Associates, Inc. of Little Rock for the Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study. At the Feb. 26 open house, consultants from Halff and ATG Alliance Transportation Group said the study involves several steps:
• Gathering information about downtown traffic;
• Determining exiting traffic patterns, including the level of truck traffic;
• Identifying existing constraints and suggested mobility improvements for downtown;
• Developing additional traffic improvement strategies;
• Evaluating potential impacts of strategies and solutions to those responsible for local movement of goods; and
• Creating a context-sensitive improvement plan that incorporates feedback from the community and stakeholders and achieves the goals of the study.

“We want to get an idea of how we can offer traffic improvements to promote safety, walkability and bikeability. We want to look at trucks and possible noise and air pollution. See if that might be an issue. We are really gathering information,” said Chris Stansbury, a transportation planner with ATG, at the open house.

The study, not to cost more than $151,986, 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,” information on the study 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.

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.”

Representatives of the trucking industry joined citizens wondering what can be done about downtown traffic at the February open house.

“(Trucking industry representatives) are coming to the table. They understand trucks can be perceived as an issue. They want to be good members of the community and not unduly burden everyone else,” Stansbury said.

Representatives from Halff and ATG also met with stakeholders Feb. 27.

Fort Smith citizens are not the only ones being asked to complete a survey. A separate but similar survey of truck operators is being sent directly to trucking companies, according to city officials.

James Arbuckle, vice president with Halff and a project manager, said the goal is to have a report ready by the end of August. Alternative solutions will be presented to local representatives on the study’s committee, Arbuckle said.

“It will definitely be a challenge to come up with something that can work. It’s going to take outside-of-the-box ideas. Right now we just have to gather as much information as possible.”
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.

Link here to take part in the survey. Deadline to participate is April 15.