Downtown Fort Smith traffic study ideas include roundabouts

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 1,060 views 

Roundabouts could be an answer to traffic issues in Fort Smith’s downtown. James Arbuckle, vice president with Halff Associates, reported Thursday (Aug. 23) on possible short- and long-term ideas that could help traffic downtown.

He also gave an update on goals and said recommendations on what Fort Smith officials could do to help traffic downtown would be coming within the next two months. Arbuckle, project manager of the Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study, and his team spent the last several months meeting with key players, looking at survey results and reviewing traffic studies in order to come up with viable solutions to the downtown traffic.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed a resolution in November that authorized an engineering services agreement with Halff Associates of Little Rock for the Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study. 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.

Key findings of surveys conducted were Garrison Avenue safety issues, including vehicles running red lights, unsafe pedestrian crossings, traffic delays and area hot spots. After studying survey findings, Halff representatives agreed the key goals of the study were safety, developing balanced solutions, economic vitality, preserving downtown’s character, and aligning with applicable federal and state regulations.

Thursday’s presentation looked at some short term solutions that included turning movements, signal phasing, safety improvements, trailblazing (wayfinding), signal turning changes, channelization/restriping and access management. One of the easiest solutions would be to change the lights at Fifth Street and Garrison Avenue, Arbuckle said. This would involve having split signal for traffic going north and south on Fifth Street and turn signals for traffic going east and west on Garrison Avenue.

“This would have a lot of benefit for a fairly low investment,” Arbuckle said.

There was discussion of other alterations to the streets including raised channels and striped turn lanes to help trucks turning onto and off of Garrison Avenue.

More long-term solutions included changing the truck route from Fifth to Third Street, changing the intersection at Third and Garrison, changing the intersection at 10th and 11th streets and Garrison and Towson avenues into a single intersection and the use of roundabouts. Combining the two would have a multi-lane roundabout at Third Street and Garrison. Problems with this would include negative impacts on existing businesses and parks. A roundabout would take up significantly more space than the current intersection, Arbuckle said.

“Keep in mind, we are giving you a menu of ideas to consider. We have some conceptual drawings. That’s all,” he said.

A multi-lane roundabout was also conceptualized for the intersection of 10th and 11th streets and Garrison and Towson avenues. This idea would have an impact on the post office and parking in that vicinity.

“It would impact a hotel/business,” Arbuckle said. “Basically, Red Roof Inn would be a causality.”

In a move to think outside the box, Halff associates went “a little crazy” and also conceptualized roundabouts that would change intersections at 10th and 11th streets and Grand, Garrison and Towson avenues. This idea would have two single-lane roundabouts at Grand Avenue leading onto 10th and 11th streets and a multi-lane roundabout further down at Garrison and Towson. It would affect B Street traffic at intersections and would create a significant green space between the roundabouts.

“It could make for a stunning gateway or entrance into your downtown area,” Arbuckle said.

Because of the nature of roundabouts, the use of them would slow down traffic, making navigating easier and safer for pedestrians, he said.

The idea of a roundabout sparked the interest of several of those at Thursday’s meeting, including Russell Bragg, senior vice president of supply chain for OK Foods.

“I’m not sure roundabouts don’t make the most sense. They have merit. It doesn’t say you can’t have trucks downtown. If you have business down there, it can be done. But you will change the course of trucks downtown just because they don’t want to have to deal with them if they don’t have to,” Bragg said.

Tim McGuire with Belle Point Beverages Inc. agreed. Belle Point’s office is in downtown Fort Smith.

“It makes too much sense for Fort Smith not to consider it,” he said.

Arbuckle also brought up the idea of continuing Interstate 540 around Fort Smith, through Oklahoma and back to Interstate 40 in Roland.

“I know it’s out there. It would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to do. But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that was an option,” he said.

The next step in the truck study will be for Halff Associates to evaluate options and the goals and objectives for a report that present three alternatives, one of which will be what they consider the most feasible alternative, Arbuckle said. That report should be ready in about two months.

The study is a private/public partnership. 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.

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