The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDot) is considering moving the on and off ramp of eastbound Interstate 40 at the Highway 59 exit in Van Buren and adding a roundabout in hopes of improvement to that interchange.
The project is slated to begin in “early” 2022 and take a maximum of 18-24 months to complete, said ARDoT District Engineer Chad Adams.
“That is the maximum amount. I believe it could be completed in 15-18 months. I know two years is a long time to deal with construction,” Adams said.
ARDoT held a virtual meeting to seek public input about improvements to the I-40/Highway 59 Interchange Thursday evening (April 8). John Cantabery, a design engineer with Garver engineering firm, said the proposed improvements will alleviate some commuter congestion in Van Buren as well address issues with access to the eastbound entrance to the interstate.
The highway department is tying improvements to the access road west of Elfin Glen Street and will tie the new access road into the current access road that runs parallel to I-40, Cantabery said. Proposed improvements will have to be moved south in order to tie into a new roundabout intersection. Once through the roundabout, the road will quickly pull back to the north and tie in the existing access road.
On eastbound I-40, a deceleration lane will be added along with a new exit ramp that will allow traffic to exit off the interstate, come into the roundabout with the option to make a right turn to head west back on to the access road or east, enter the roundabout and proceed on the access road east to Highway 59, Cantabery said. There also will be a new entrance ramp to eastbound I-40 and an acceleration lane that runs parallel to the interstate.
The new entrance will keep traffic from turning left at the I-40/59 intersection. Southbound traffic wanting to enter I-40 will turn right onto the access road and travel down to the new eastbound entrance. Northbound traffic will also turn right at the intersection and enter eastbound 1-40 at the current entrance. This will optimize the intersection making a “basically free flow right turn” onto eastbound I-40, Cantabery said.
“Based on the analysis that we’ve done, it should be a significant improvement over what is currently out there today (in terms of traffic congestion” he said.
Westbound I-40 will get additional left and right turn lanes. There is now one of each at the exit. The proposal calls for two left turn lanes and two right turn lanes, which again should help alleviate congestion, Cantabery said.
“Traffic congestion has been a concern here for years, so tonight’s virtual meeting is a big step forward. I appreciate the Highway Commission for partnering with the city on this important project, and I’m grateful for all the work ARDoT has done to get us to this point. I’m hopeful that improvements to the I-40/Hwy. 59 interchange will improve driver/pedestrian safety, economic development, and overall quality of life for the community,” said Van Buren Mayor Joe Hurst.
The state and Van Buren are partnering on the project, but Cantabery said it was too still too early in the design phase of the project to estimate a total cost.
Although ARDoT representatives attempted to reassure those in the meeting that preliminary designs presented are the most optimum to alleviate traffic issues at the I-40/59 intersection, many were not convinced. W. Layton Lord representing Southeastern Freight Lines Inc. said the existing truck terminal will be negatively impacted by the proposed roundabout and it will devalue the terminal and make Southeastern’s proposed expansion impossible. Lord said the company objects to the roundabout as planned and asked for alternatives to the roundabout.
Others questioned whether the roundabout would be able to handle the number of 18-wheeler trucks that use that interchange daily. Cantabery said engineers had taken into account that there is a lot of 18-wheeler traffic when designing the proposal.
“We made sure any improvements would accommodate those. We didn’t see any issues with being able to accommodate that, and we didn’t see any operational issues either,” he said.
Plans for the project are available on the ARDoT website. The public can provide written comments through the website or by mail until 4:30 p.m. April 23.