Public input sought for Towson Avenue improvements; city funding uncertain

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,576 views 

An example of an improved Towson Avenue in Fort Smith, according to the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) is seeking input from Fort Smith residents on the importance of long-awaited improvements on Towson Avenue – U.S. 71B – in Fort Smith. But a start date for the project is unknown.

ARDOT is proposing improvements to Towson Avenue with the purpose of the project to mill and inlay Towson Avenue from Highway 271 to Highway 64 (Garrison Avenue) in Fort Smith, while providing additional drainage and ADA compliant sidewalks.

At a Nov. 30 public involvement meeting at Fort Smith Public Library, residents had a chance to see maps and designs of the work that will be done. Along with resurfacing the road, there will be extensive work done to improve drainage, that not only will help alleviate flooding on the state highway, but also will help keep the surface of the road from developing as many potholes, engineers with Little Rock-based Garver Engineers, the engineers for the project.

There also will be new curbs and sidewalks installed the entirety of the project, the engineers said. That aspect of the project will lead to specific entrances and exits to the properties along the road, which should be better for traffic, engineers said. While some traffic signals will be replaced, no new intersections will get signals.

The main concern expressed during Thursday’s meeting was whether the project would interrupt business. Dave Parker with ARDOT said there are no definite next steps for the project.

“You aren’t going to be seeing any dirt moving until well into next year,” Parker said.

A lot of the project depends on the City of Fort Smith relocating sewer and water lines along Towson Avenue, which Parker said the city is still looking at ways to fund. The U.S. Department of Defense denied Fort Smith’s pre-application for a $20 million grant to fund water line work along four miles of Towson Avenue, but the city said it will continue to look for other funding opportunities.

The city requested a postponement of the Towson Ave project while it tried to find the funds to perform the work, but since the DCIP pre-application grant was denied, it has communicated to ARDOT that the Towson Avenue project should move forward.

“The City will work to secure the necessary funding in the future and repave the parts of Towson where we need to perform work underneath it,” City Administrator Carl Geffken said in September.

Parker said until Fort Smith comes up with a way to fund the water and sewer relocation, there are a lot of unknowns for ARDOT on the project.

“I wouldn’t be able to even tell you our next steps at this moment or to give a guess on the estimate of the cost of the project. The city’s funding (for the relocation) has an impact on all of that,” Parker said.

The Fort Smith Utilities Department’s 10-year Capital Improvement Plan (CIP), which was presented to the Fort Smith Board of Directors at a Nov. 28 study session has $6.1 million listed in the water department’s CIP for relocation of water lines on Towson Avenue in 2026 and $1.654 million in the wastewater department’s non-consent decree CIP for sewer line relocation on Towson Avenue in 2026.

ARDOT is accepting comments regarding the project including answers to questions including whether residents feel the proposed project will have any beneficial or adverse impacts and whether there is a need to improve the highway. ARDOT will accept feedback about the project until Dec. 15. Link here to find the Towson Avenue project.