The commute along Van Buren's north side will likely be a little smoother in coming weeks due to upcoming milestones associated with two different road projects.
The longest-running of the two projects is the Rena Road widening, which started on June 20, 2012. According to Jason Hughey, district construction engineer with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, the $4.4 million project has narrowed the commute that serves several neighborhoods and an elementary school just north of Interstate 40 between exits 3 (Lee Creek Road) and exit 5 (Fayetteville Road/Arkansas Highway 59) from two lanes to one.
While traffic has been narrowed to one direction for several months now, Hughey expects the road to open to two-way traffic again this week.
"We have it down to one lane right now, but at the end of (next) week we'll have it back to two-way traffic again," he said, adding that the re-opening date for the second lane will likely to be Sept. 5 or 6.
The Rena Road project, which will eventually add a middle turn lane along much of the route from west of Fayetteville Road toward Lee Creek, was slowed by several weather delays during the summer, keeping the route one-way for longer than planned and causing tension for motorists driving the route, including parents taking students to Rena Elementary.
"As far as the rain delays, we've had 23 days where rain has impacted our work," Hughey said. "Like I said, we planned to be back to two lanes before school started."
Another delay in the project was the lack of useable materials at the construction site, which he said was unforeseen.
"We took the old road out and widened the existing material. Some of it had to removed and replaced with more suitable materials."
And while it may feel like progress has been made with the upcoming opening of the second lane of traffic, Hughey said residents will have to endure a few more months of construction before an expected completion date of Thanksgiving opens all three lanes of traffic.
Another project impacting a busy east-west route near a school is taking place south of I-40, at the intersection of 16th Street and Pointer Trail East.
The $624,951.01 project, approved by the Van Buren city council in June, resurfaced Pointer Trail all the way to 24th Street to the east and 16th Street up to the section of 16th maintained by the county. The overlay itself cost $200,000.
City Engineer Brad Baldwin said the construction also included re-routing traffic exiting the city's tennis courts facility and Heritage United Methodist Church to new exits, maintaining traffic flow at the resurfaced intersection.
The reason for the re-routed exits, Baldwin said, is the new traffic signal that will be installed at 16th and Pointer Trail, which accounts for the more than $400,000 in remaining funds associated with the project.
Much of the resurfacing work is complete, though he said the traffic signal is unlikely to be installed until at least October.
"The traffic signal installation will probably be in October just because of the lead time it takes for traffic signal components," Baldwin said. "We're estimating the middle to end of October before the traffic signal is actually up and running."
Even without the signal installed, Baldwin said the redesigned intersection, with the re-located exits at the tennis courts and Heritage, has already relieved congestion near Van Buren High School, which sits just east of the city's tennis court complex.
Following the completion of the signal install, he said area residents and commuters should expect future construction, though he said it should not conflict with traffic.
"There will be a future project that wraps up at the west end of the tennis courts to provide more parking on that end and exit up by the softball fields that exits out onto 16th Street. I'm not sure when that will happen, but I imagine in the next couple of years."