Public hearing set about downtown Fort Smith truck traffic

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 926 views 

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) will hold a public meeting about improvements to U.S. 64 in Fort Smith from 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday (March 10) in the east room of the River Park Events building at Harry E. Kelley Park, 121 Riverfront Drive in Fort Smith.

U.S. 64 enters Fort Smith from Oklahoma across the Garrison Avenue Bridge. It follows Garrison Avenue to 10th/11th Street where it turns northwest to become Midland Boulevard and continue into Van Buren and further east.

The open forum, in-person meeting will not have formal presentations, but residents can drop in at any time during the scheduled hours to view exhibits, ask questions, and offer comments.

Highway Commissioner Keith Gibson told area residents last summer that ARDOT had commissioned a truck study to determine the feasibility of a new U.S. 64 river crossing into downtown Fort Smith. The study by Halff Associates of Little Rock will identify improvements in and surrounding downtown Fort Smith, Gibson said.

“Fort Smith struggles with, as you all know, the truck traffic in downtown,” Gibson said.

He said downtown merchants and property owners and the city have worked for a long time with the ARDOT to find a way to move traffic off Garrison Avenue because truck traffic disturbs those wanting to eat outside at downtown restaurants and interferes with a more pedestrian-friendly Garrison Avenue, he said.

“The problem is, that’s a federal highway. That’s not just a state highway. … So traffic is scheduled to go down that road, truck traffic in particular,” Gibson said. “I know people don’t like studies, but that’s the only thing we can get things done.”

Along with the public meeting Thursday, interviews, online surveys and other public meetings are planned for later in the year. The study is expected to be completed in early 2023. Link here for more info about the study.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed a resolution in November 2018 that authorized an engineering services agreement with Halff for a Fort Smith Downtown Traffic and Truck Study. The study, not to cost more than $151,986, was 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.

James Arbuckle, vice president of Halff, and his team spent most of 2019 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 Fort Smith report to the Fort Smith Board of Directors in December 2020. In it, he presented an alternate downtown truck route that included a route suggested by Phil White, downtown business owner and member of the CBID board of commissioners, as well as alternate routes that would take truck traffic off Garrison at Fifth Street and route it towards Kelley Highway. Arbuckle’s report suggested that, 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. (Link here for a PDF of the report.)

This ARDOT study “will evaluate the feasibility of alternate improvement scenarios for improving system efficiency – including the potential construction of a new Highway 64 river crossing,” the study’s website states. It will consider “no-build” and bypass alternatives.