SPECIAL REPORT: The future of Fort Smith


FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFTA) — The city of Fort Smith is transforming the way it looks and operates.

City leaders are working on numerous projects for 2020, and for the next five and ten years.

They range from large maintenance projects and system upgrades, to making sure conditions meet federal standards.

Drivers will be especially impacted.

Approximately 6.8 miles of streets will be improved within the next five years.

“They cut out the old asphalt, they patch some low, bad spots and reapply fresh asphalt surface on it. Some of our projects are bigger in terms of complete street reconstruction,” said Jeff Dingman, Deputy City Administrator for the city of Fort Smith.

Neighborhood street improvements, major street projects, drainage improvements, and traffic signal-intersection improvements will cost the city nearly $43 million in 2020 alone.

It’s all part of a five-year capital improvement plan (CIP) funded by the city’s one-cent sales tax.

“The next few years we’re already doing some of our bigger projects, the widening of Massard Avenue…to complete to the boulevard of Massard south of Zero street,” Dingman said.

Proposed CIP Plans

  • Five-year CIP for Streets, Bridges and Associated Drainage
  • Five-year CIP for the Parks and Recreation Department (1/8% Sales and Use Tax)
  • Ten-year CIP for Water Systems Maintenance and Improvements
  • Ten-year CIP for Wastewater Systems Maintenance and Improvements (Non-Consent Decree)
  • Ten-year CIP for Wastewater Systems Maintenance and Improvements (Consent Decree)
  • Ten-year CIP for the Streets and Traffic Control Department
  • Ten-year CIP for the Convention Center

Other big projects on the schedule include the extension of Kelley Highway.

It will widen the highway to a three-lane section from Midland Boulevard to Riverfront Drive, providing a direct route between I-540 and the Riverfront area.

The city is also investing in becoming more efficient.

Ken Savage, Fort Smith Transit Director, says city buses are using compressed natural gas.

“Right now, CNG is relatively new to us and it seems to be working okay. With the investments we made this past year and are currently making in CNG infrastructure…also with the renovation of our maintenance shop, [it] makes it safer and we’re looking for more avenues to be safer,” he said. “We are exploring putting in a level-two charge station downtown. We’re working with ADEQ on some grant funds that might help offset the expenses.”

People who hit the trails will also see changes.

Taxpayer money from a one eighth percent sales tax dedicated to funding parks and recreation projects will add more trails, including Chaffee Crossing and Maybranch Trails.

“Maybranch Trail will connect the Riverpark Trail to Martin Luther King Park. In future years, we will hopefully be able to extend it all the way down to Creekmore Park, to connect the center of the city with the riverfront,” Dingman said.

While Fort Smith is thinking to the future, Mayor George McGill is focused on making sure enough funding is coming in.

“The census is probably the most important event that we’re going to be engaged in as American citizens in 2020,” he said.

However, Fort Smith could soon be passed as the second largest city in Arkansas.

Census data shows Fayetteville is just 1,094 people shy of taking over that second place spot.

“Fort Smith is a unique city, as well as Fayetteville. We have different characteristics, but the important thing is the western part of Arkansas is now one of the most attractive regions in the United States,” McGill said.

He explained how he believes it’s not about competing with Fayetteville, but working together to bring more people to this area of the state.

“I personally don’t look at the growth of one city versus another. I look at what we have to offer as a region,” McGill said.

While some construction work has already started this year for several projects, a lot of it will start in the next five years.

Five Year Capital Improvement Program (2020-2024) Streets, Bridges and Drainage Sales Tax Funds

Presented to Fort Smith Board of Directors

1. Street Overlays and Reconstruction. The total length of streets proposed to be improved is approximately 6.8 miles as shown on the attached list and exhibits. The estimated cost for the 2020 street overlays and reconstruction projects totals $10.0 million, with an estimated $1.0 mil expended in 2020 and $9.0 mil expended in 2021. The total cost shown in 2020 is $10.0 million which includes $9.0 million in remaining construction for the 2019 projects. (See pages 5-9)

2. Neighborhood Drainage Improvements. The projects identified in the 2020 drainage program include drainage improvements in six areas shown on the attached list and exhibits. These projects are associated with structure flooding and infrastructure damage that occurred during the heavy rains this past year. The total estimated cost for this work is $4.0 million, with an estimated $400,000 expended in 2020 and $3.6 million expended in 2021. The total cost shown in 2020 is $10.7 million which includes $10.3 million in remaining work for ongoing drainage projects. (See pages 10-11)

3. Downtown Traffic and Truck Route Study. This project is based on the recommendations from the Propelling Downtown Forward Plan to study traffic in the downtown area and evaluate alternatives to mitigate the truck traffic. This ongoing study also includes an evaluation of the recommendations from the Propelling Downtown Forward Plan to implement two-way street conversions (North A, B, 10th and 11th Streets). For 2020, $100,000 is budgeted to rework the left turn phasing for the traffic signal at the intersection of 5th and Garrison along with some possible intersection radius improvements. This study is expected to be completed by the end of the year and recommendations from this study will be used to determine any future traffic/truck route improvements in the downtown area.

4. Intersection and Signal Improvements. This project includes replacement of traffic signals at the intersection of Midland Avenue at Riverfront Drive and the intersection of Wheeler Avenue at Fresno Street at an estimated cost of $440,000. (See page 12) This item also includes the installation of battery backup at 84 traffic signals at various locations across the city. We currently have battery backup at 69 of the city’s 153 traffic signals. During power outages the battery backup will allow the signal to remain fully operational for two hours then allow for flash operation for another two hours before turning off. The estimated cost for the battery backup is $6,000 per intersection for a total cost of $504,000.

5. Kelley Highway Extension to Riverfront Drive. This project is for the reconstruction and widening of Kelley Highway to a three lane section from Midland Boulevard to Riverfront Drive.This extension of Kelley Highway will provide a direct route between I-540 and the riverfront area. The engineering design is approximately 95% complete. Right of Way acquisition and franchise utility relocations are scheduled to begin in 2020 with completion in 2021. Construction is scheduled to begin in 2022. (See page 13)

6. Towson Avenue – Garrison Avenue to Zero Street. This proposed partnering project with ArDOT includes the complete rehabilitation of the approximately four mile section of Towson Avenue (Hwy 71B) between Garrison Avenue (Hwy 64) and Zero Street (Hwy 255). The project will include upgrading of the drainage system to current standards, replacement of the curb/guttering and driveway approaches, installation of sidewalks and pavement improvements to the street surface. The estimated total cost of this project is $12.5 million and the city’s share will be 16% of the project costs, up to a maximum amount of $2.0 million. Construction is estimated to begin in 2022. Upon completion of the work, this section of Hwy 71 B (Towson Avenue) will be removed from ArDOT’s highway system and will become a city street. (See page 14)

7. Geren Road Reconstruction. This project is the reconstruction and widening of Geren Road to a three lane section between Highway 45 and 58th Street. Plans are complete and right of way acquisition is nearly complete. This project has significant utility adjustments which include a major electric transmission line along the south side, a high pressure gas line along the north side and fiber optic lines throughout the corridor. Relocation of the gas facilities are complete. Pending acquisition of the remaining right of way tracts, construction is expected to begin in early 2020. (See page 15)

8. Zero Street (Hwy 255) Improvements. This partnering project with ArDOT includes the widening to a five lane section of Zero Street (Hwy 255) from just west of Massard Road to its new alignment with Frontier Road. The project is being cost shared with ArDOT, the City of Barling, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment and the City of Fort Smith. The City’s share is $4.8 million. ArDOT expects construction to begin in 2020. (See page 16)

9. Levee/Floodwall Items. This project includes the installation of rip rap along approximately 1600 feet of eroding river bank adjacent to the City’s “Rice Carden” levee. With the major flooding on the Arkansas River, this river bank has experienced significant erosion and needs to be stabilization before the erosion encroaches to the toe of the levee. (See pages 17-18) The project also includes minor joint repairs to six locations along the City’s seawall. These six areas experienced leakage during the Arkansas River flooding earlier this year.

10. Major Stormdrain Rehabilitation. This work includes the installation of a cured in place lining in two major storm sewer lines. Both lines are very deep and have a significant problem of leaking pipe joints which have created numerous sink holes. The first line (Carnall Outfall) varies in size from 60” to 72”, averages 20 feet deep and extends 3000 feet from Towson Avenue to the Poteau River. This line runs immediately adjacent to the police department, county jail and under a significant portion of the National Cemetery. (See page 19). The second line is 54” in diameter, averages 20 feet in depth and extends 1000’ from the J Street pump station to the Arkansas River adjacent to the U.S. Marshals Museum. (See page 20).

11. FCRA (Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority) Development. This work includes construction of two additional lanes on Massard Road, completing approximately 5,600 feet of the four lane boulevard section south of Zero Street. The project also includes the installation of a traffic signal at the intersection of Massard Road and McClure Drive. The construction contract has been approved and the work is estimated to be completed in late summer of 2020. (See page 21)

12. Flooded Residence Buyout Program. While this proposed program is the result of extensive evaluations of the flooding issues on the May Branch and Town Branch drainage basins, the intent is that the buyout program would apply city wide. The proposed program would be used to purchase residential properties that have experienced structure flooding and the cost of the residence/property is less than the cost of public drainage improvements to reduce the flooding. This proposed voluntary buyout program was reviewed and approved by the Street and Drainage Capital Improvement Advisory committee including a recommendation to set aside an annual amount of $250,000 to allow for the purchase of flooded residences. The buyout program would apply to residential structure flooding from a city maintained drainage way, easement, street, or right or way. Examples of non-qualifying flood events include structure flooding where the flood source is from neighboring properties, a hillside, groundwater seepage, or the Arkansas River. A proposed Flooded Residence Buyout Program policy will be presented to the Board of Directors for review in early 2020.

13. Highway 45 widening – Hwy 255 to Hwy 71. This partnering project with ArDOT is for the widening of Highway 45 between Highway 255 (Zero Street) and Highway 71. The project also includes the installation of traffic signals at the intersections of Highway 45 with Planters Road and Geren Road. This project is a collaboration between the ArDOT, the City of Fort Smith and Sebastian County. ArDOT’s cost estimate for the total project is $16 million. The City and Sebastian County are providing funding in total amounts not to exceed $4.0 million and $1.1 million, respectively. ArDOT estimates the construction to begin in 2022. (See page 22)

14. Railroad Crossing Panels. This project improves street crossings at railroads through the installation of concrete railroad crossing panels. For 2020, improvements at three railroad crossings are proposed on Roberts Boulevard, west of Taylor Avenue. (See page 23)

16. Update Aerial Mapping. This project consists of aerial survey services for the Fort Smith city limits and the extra territorial jurisdictional area south of the city, comprising a total area of 95 square miles. The project includes preparing high quality aerial digital photos which are utilized extensively on street and drainage projects.

20. Indirect and Operating Costs. This item includes indirect and operating costs associated with the implementation of the street and drainage sales tax capital improvement program. This includes costs encountered by City Engineering, Information and Technology Systems, Finance, Planning and Zoning, City Administration, Human Resources, Purchasing, Internal Audit, Collections, City Clerk, Board of Directors and the Accounting Systems / ERP.

Grants/Other Participation

This amount of $278,072 is reimbursement from the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) for half of the resurfacing costs of Wells Lake Road that was completed in 2019.

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