An expensive western bypass was one idea James Arbuckle, vice president with Halff Associates, reported to the Fort Smith Board of Directors from a downtown traffic and truck study conducted throughout 2019.
Arbuckle, project manager of the Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study, and his team spent most of last year meeting with key players, looking at survey results and reviewing traffic studies in order to come up with viable solutions to the downtown traffic. Arbuckle presented the report to the Board Tuesday (Feb. 25) during a study session.
The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed a resolution in November 2018 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 and unsafe pedestrian crossings, traffic delays and area hot spots. After studying the survey findings, Halff representatives agreed the key goals of the study were safety, developing balanced solutions, economic vitality, preserve downtown’s character, and align with applicable federal and state regulations.
The Traffic and Truck Study presented to the board examines “seven truck routing scenarios to reduce the negative impacts of large trucks traveling through downtown and to mitigate delays caused by conflicts between trucks and other travel movements.” Of those, two alternatives plus the no-build alternative were evaluated based on how well they addressed the project goals, objectives and performance measures, Arbuckle said.
The no build alternative shows no changes or improvements to transportation infrastructure other than what has been identified through the city’s ongoing capital improvement program. A western bypass alternative would create another option for truck traffic that current uses U.S. 64. It would provide a bypass in the southwest quadrant of the city for traffic from south of Fort Smith to Oklahoma and an additional crossing of the Arkansas River.
“This option could relieve a significant amount of truck traffic currently traveling through downtown,” Arbuckle said.
With a $225 million price tag, it was suggested as a long term alternative that could provide an alternate route and promote economic development opportunities, not a realistic plan for the intermediate future.
The Fifth Street to H Street alternative would use the existing State Highway 255 (Wheeler Avenue) truck route south of US 64 (Garrison Avenue). North of U..S. 64 the plan would have Fifth Street shifting to Fourth Street between A and B Streets and follow Fourth Street until it intersects with Division Street, an existing east-west truck route connecting to U.S. 71B (Midland Avenue). The local truck route that uses Fifth Street between H Street and Division Street would be removed.
The Fifth Street to Kelley Highway Alternative would use the existing Wheeler Avenue truck route south of Garrison Avenue. North of Garrison, it would follow Fifth Street to Fourth Street between A and B Streets and follow Fourth Street until it intersects with the future Kelley Highway. Truck traffic could then travel east along Kelley Highway to U.S. 71B tying to the existing truck route that connects to Interstate 540.
The Third Street to H Street alternative, Third Street to Kelley Highway alternative, and the split Alternative that uses parts of the Third Street to H Street alternative were also considered.
The results of the study showed the No Build, the Fifth to H streets and the Fifth Street to Kelley Highway alternatives to be the best choices. The Fifth Street to Kelley Highway alternative received the highest score.
The report also suggested that in the next 12-18 months, the city look at signal phasing at Fifth Street and Garrison Avenue; pedestrian safety improvements at 11th Street and Garrison/Towson avenues; trailblazing (Wayfinding); updating the long range plan to reflect a new truck corridor; and begin a Fifth Street to Kelley Highway corridor study with a concept plan and intersection concepts. The cost would be $275,000.
The three to five year plan, with a $5.8 million price tag, would include the Fifth Street to Kelley Highway final design and construction and forming a bi-state committee to evaluate the purpose and need of a western bypass.
Fort Smith directors asked for a night study session to discuss the plan and ask Arbuckle more questions. They also said they would like for stakeholders within the trucking industry and downtown business owners to be able to attend.
“We have a lot of questions. We need some time for this,” Director Kevin Settle said.
Discussion on the truck study was tabled until an evening study session could be set.