Road widening, downtown truck traffic part of Fort Smith Board session

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A brainstorming session was held Monday evening (Aug. 25) for the Fort Smith Board of Directors at the city's sanitation department headquarters, with a wide range of topics receiving attention from the group of seven city directors.

Vice Mayor Kevin Settle raised the topic of possibly adding a corridor from State Highway 45 to Planters Road to Massard Road as the city's next priority, as traffic has increased along the route. He also noted the investment being made by several industrial facilities along the corridor.

"As private businesses make an investment, we have to. I know it's a state road (Highway 45) and there's a lot going on, but we need to start putting that in our priority of the state issues and start getting that project (started). Like we did with the pavilion area and from Phoenix to Zero. We have that and who would have ever thought of five lanes and it's full of traffic all the time.”

The point Settle raised lead into a discussion with City Director Keith Lau regarding truck traffic through the city of Fort Smith and the possibility of extending Kelley Highway to Riverfront Drive as a way to relieve truck traffic through downtown.

"If we're going to make that (downtown) an entertainment venue and ultimately open the door - not saying that that's the case - but to do something and close that truck traffic, or at least get that truck traffic (out of the core of downtown)," Lau said.

City Administrator Ray Gosack said the city already has a route in place that is only supposed to introduce truck traffic to Garrison Avenue from 5th Street to the west.

To Lau's point of possibly extending Kelley to Riverfront and allow a more direct line of traffic to Interstate 540, Gosack said it not only would add nearly 18 miles round trip to a truck's journey and possibly hit a company's bottom line, he said it would also add more risk for drivers of both private automobiles and commercial big rigs.

"They like getting out of the city traffic as fast as they can because that's the most dangerous travel for trucks is being in city traffic, so the more time they spend in city traffic, the most risk they have of being in an accident. So they want to get out of city traffic as fast as they can and for them, those located near downtown is going across the Garrison Avenue bridge.”

As a workaround, Lau proposed the possibility of closing downtown to truck traffic on certain weekend nights between the hours of 8 p.m. and 1 or 2 a.m. in order to cultivate entertainment in the area that may not have previously considered downtown Fort Smith.

Gosack said the city could possibly approach some companies that use the downtown routes about those possibilities.

"But when I hear people complain about truck traffic, I tell them we're the manufacturing capitol of the state. We're going to get trucks and trains. They go together," Gosack said.

"And we don't want to jack with that," Lau responded.

"We want to help existing businesses hear as much as we can," Settle noted.

On the topic of traffic and roadways, Gosack noted that the city was likely to hold a special election in May 2015 regarding renewal of a sales tax to benefit road projects.

He said voters would have the option to vote on renewal of the tax and would also have the option of directing where the money is spent with individual votes on roads, trails, and shared roadways (bike trails on the same streets car traffic moves), among others. Should the tax pass, its use would be restricted to uses that passed along with the tax.

Part of the discussion came about after Lau asked to know whether it was more expensive to build shared roadways or individual trails. Gosack said the shared roadways are more expensive since the bike lanes would have to be built to the same standard as the lanes next to them carrying cars.

During the discussion, it was also revealed that the city is getting closer to a finalized consent decree with the United States Department of Justice regarding Fort Smith's non-compliance with the federal Clean Water Act. Gosack said a study session regarding the details of the decree and the financial models being developed by consultants to comply with the act would likely be presented at that time.

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He added that the DoJ had their hands to the city's back pushing them to finalize the plan currently in negotiations. Settle said he would like for representatives of the Justice Department to be present at the meetings, which Gosack said happened when an administrative order was imposed on the city for violation of the Clean Water Act in the 1980s.

"Back I think it was in the early 1980s when the city went under a consent decree for sewer work, they invited people from the regulatory agencies to the Board meeting and they basically told them, 'If you don't approve this, you will go to jail, you will go to jail, you will go to jail,'" Gosack said, pointing to members of the Board as he told the story. "If that's what they're going to do, I don't want that.”

Settle said he'd still like to have someone from the Justice Department on hand to answer questions regarding the consent decree and improvements the city should fund in order to be in compliance with the Clean Water Act.

The City Wire has previously reported that final compliance with the DoJ's administrative order from the 1980s and the latest consent decree could total more than $350 million.

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Comments

Need a change

I've retyped this a few times and this is as nice as I can put it: Gosack has no vision for this city and needs to go. Trying to hold us back into maintaining a 'manufacturing capitol of Arkansas' image is not what's best for the city and the young people growing up here. Manufacturing has a purpose and a place in an enconomy but maintaining it as the only option is just running people to other parts of the state and country just so you can maintain the Fort Smith status quo.

Its As Plain As The Nose On Your Face

Gosack has no vision, no plan, no direction, and thinks tax increases and studies are the answer to every problem. A cool 2 million tax dollars in over spending on the water park to get less for the taxpayers and lets not forget that it was Kevin Settle that wanted Gosack as the main man.

New Road

Rather than develop the roads mentioned, why don't we direct more of the road money to Spradling and extend it all the way to Riverfront Drive. Unless I'm mistaken, it's a requirement that this road be extended if we want to develeop the river. If I'm incorrect please let me know.

Understanding

When the 51 acres of land was purchased on Riverfront Drive for the new softball fields to replace Andrews Field there was an understanding at least that Spradling was to be extended to Riverfront. The land is contiguous to the 51 acres. It was part of the deal with Rice-Carden. Of course that sports complex was voted down and nothing has happened. There was also an understanding that if the city would purchase another amount of acreage in order to build the sports complex that 800 acres across the levy that could not be developed would be granted to the city. This never happened as well. Now the softball fields are at Ben Geren and everyone seems happy with that but the riverfront continues to lanquish. The concerns are the truck transportation important to vital industries and the effect on neighborhoods through which Spradling passes as a residential street will be effected by at least a three lane collector street passing by these houses. There are several interests to consider.
When the 51 acres of land was purchased on Riverfront Drive for the new softball fields to replace Andrews Field there was an understanding at least that Spradling was to be extended to Riverfront. The land is contiguous to the 51 acres. It was part of the deal with Rice-Carden. Of course that sports complex was voted down and nothing has happened. There was also an understanding that if the city would purchase another amount of acreage in order to build the sports complex that 800 acres across the levy that could not be developed would be granted to the city. This never happened as well. Now the softball fields are at Ben Geren and everyone seems happy with that ...>> Read the entire comment.

Road extension

Kelly Hwy extension would be a better choice. From the first exit after crossing the river into Fort Smith on 540 to the already widened and paved road halfway to downtown, Kelly extension makes more sense in that respect. Maybe we should be widening the road across P street right now while there is construction going on anyway. Tie that into Division Street - Midland- Kelly Hwy. Do some cosmetics on Midland. Much less expensive.

Bottleneck

No matter now many roads, old or new, lead to the Riverfront downtown area it will continue to be a bottleneck to access the bridge to Oklahoma. Really now, how many truckdrivers will be going out of their way by exiting Fort Smith via I-540? Still, it's not an all or nothing situation. Traffic is a matter of degree, something to be managed. Mr. Lau's idea of limiting truck traffic to specific hours is a step in the right direction in theory but current truck traffic laws are not adequately enforced as evidenced by truck drivers routinely ignoring "No Trucks" signage on N 6th Street. Questions for Mr. Lau: Does the additional 18 miles to the bottom line pertain to all trucking companies or just a couple of local companies? Why isn't Mr. Settle proposing a city surtax for companies to use the Garrison Avenue bridge instead of proposing new taxes on the average citizen via sales tax?

Here we go again

One guy is having a problem with trucking going through the historical district and since he can't get it stopped there he's trying to get it off Garrison which would accomplish the same thing.

Band Aid Approach

Once again we are missing the point. Is Fort Smith post-industrial or not? Make up our minds and focus instead of being scattered all over town. Narrow down specific routes and zones within the city limits, then enforce it. Keep commercial thru traffic out of residential areas in general. Keep industrial traffic out of current or future tourist areas. Prohibit residential construction near industrial toxic sites. You get the idea. Don't just take ideas and throw it at a map to see where it will stick. This goes for old parts of town as well as new parts of town. Chronically vacant locations need re-zoning and re-purposing to be put back to productive use so we don't look like a ghost town. Or implement a vacancy tax as a disincentive. There are numerous things which can be done besides wasting money studying and talking about it. The latest example is the traffic engineering report about A Street. The BOD, with a push from Mr. Griffin, will ignore the recommendations. Has the CBID offered a professional traffic engineering report of its own?

These are some good ideas

These are some very novel and excellent ideas that the old guard won't like because they own all that undeveloped and higly overpriced land. What ward do you live in? Will you be running for next election in your ward? People, until someone gets off their butt and tries to implement change, the same old riff raff will be doing it the same old way. Only if we get 5 of the 7 spots on the council can anything move forward. (5 to override vetos by a major) That or change the format of government.

7 of 7 won't even change things

The old guard and the good old boys have a unshakeable grip on this city. Whatever the BOD does can always be overturned in a court of law which the good old boys can afford to buy off locally. Sorry to say, but Fort Smith is too fare gone and too far off the beaten path for anyone else to care what happens here. Your best bet is to vote with your feet and walk if you can't run away from this place. NWA is still a better bet within the region and the smart money keeps going that way.

Not that it would ever bother you but there's no logical way

to keep industrial traffic out of what's supposed to someday be a tourist area here. Hurting as it most certainly is, the industrial section still adds to the economy here as compared to tourism which has only cost us a fortune so far. BTW since we're on the trucking subject, how did only one side street in the entire Historic District end up with a decorative 'No Trucks Allowed' sign..especially since that one dead ends only a block away? You did say 'We?' didn't you?

Logical and Logistical

Industry adds and detracts from the economy. Manufacturing is dying in this country and in this state. A logical transition to diversification is the path to progress. Don't put all your eggs in one basket as they say. Don't know about the side street but "No Trucks" sign at N 6th @B Northbound and N 6th @ P Southbound are routinely ignored where heavy trucks are damaging newly paved roads and spewing exhaust within a residential and tourist designated area. If reasonable management of that which can be mitigated is not voluntary, then strict mandates need to be imposed. Industrial site managers negligently pollute the air frequently while they don't have to. Ignoring the living, breathing residents in the neighborhood should not be tolerated. I am not making-up this stuff. I've personally notified authorities regarding pollution, fire hazards, blight, etc. with timely positive results. Illegal outdated incinerator was shut down, toxic material removed, junk and refuse disposed of properly, noise abated, etc. Those business responded quickly and guess what....they are still in business prospering. I thank them for doing the right thing. After all, we all have to live together. So if one humble person like myself can affect positive change out of negative circumstances I ask why the bitterness, sarcasm and demonization towards citizens like myself. There is middle ground. Let it find its way without extremist sensationalizing. Just abide by and enforce the rules, guidelines and laws already in place. Flaunting the previously well thought out laws and policies will only lead to more outcry and more restrictive laws since people will figure there wasn't enough regulation for quality of life protection to begin with.

Merry Go Around

Same old same old but we need more trucks, more business, more jobs, more downtown entertainment events, more visitors, more tourists, and a little less business obstruction from city government. What do you think?

All or nothing irrationality

Didn't the man say "degree" ? Go ahead, think either/or, black/white, up/down, smart/stupid......extreme and polarized thinking. A pre-schooler is smarter than that. Gimme a break.

Please Stop Asking Settle

If Settle hears about a new tax proposal, he may wet his pants and propose 10 new taxes because Settle has never seen a tax that he doesn't love as long as someone else is paying.

My Bet Is

that Settle voted against the library tax because his property taxes would go up, up, up, and lighten his own wallet but said he was for the library tax in public. Some you win, some you lose but my bet is only my bet.

Only true solution

The only true solution to truck traffic would be a second bridge to bypass downtown but we all know that will never happen. It would require a) lots of money that doesn't exist, b) cooperation between Arkansas and Oklahoma, c) more taxes and d) an aggressive plan for the future that doesn't exist because too few people truly care about a strong, vibrant downtown in Fort Smith.