Members of the Van Buren City Council voted Monday night to spend up to $3 million over the next four years to improve the flow of vehicular traffic on Arkansas 59 at its intersection with Interstate 40.
Aldermen voted 6-0 to allow Mayor Bob Freeman to write a letter to the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department to pledge 20 percent of the estimated $15 million project.
“The highway department favors projects with a partnership,” Freeman told the council. “Offering local funds might move this project, which is still a long ways out, forward.”
Growing congestion at the interchange has been under AHTD study since 2008.
In 2011, the interchange was identified as a significant regional traffic problem by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group which includes the metropolitan area of Fort Smith, Greenwood, Van Buren and Alma, that deals with transportation issues. In response, the state highway department developed three possible solutions to the problem.
Van Buren City Planner Joe Hurst has said the most feasible is a six-lane diverging diamond interchange at the interstate and Arkansas 59 interchange. Both left-turn and right-turn traffic accessing Interstate 40 would be unopposed.
To further increase traffic flow an AHTD study states Arkansas 59 could be widened to six lanes from the I-40 westbound ramps to Sandstone Drive along with improvements to the intersections with Pointer Trail and Rena Road.
Freeman said he will reach out to State Sen. Terry Rice to seek his help when he approaches Scott Bennett, director of the highway department.
“We have to start somewhere to move this thing forward,” Freeman said. “This will give us four years to put back our $3 million toward the project.”
Freeman also cautioned the council he did not want to make a commitment which would be a burden on a future council or mayor.
“We will be making a commitment for someone else which could be a big chunk to fund in the final year,” he said.
Freeman, who is in his final two years of a third-term, has announced he will not seek re-election.
“We owe it to our city to do something,” Alderman Jim Petty said. “We will be doing a disservice to the citizens if we don’t do something. We need to let the highway department know we are serious about this project.”
Petty said lack of action will prevent Van Buren from further growth.
The council also:
• Approved 2 percent raises for the mayor, city clerk-treasurer and city attorney. The salaries will be $64,760 for the mayor, $47,912 for the city clerk-treasurer and $12,760 for the city attorney.
• Set the city’s portion of the District Court judge salary at $27,551.90 and Crawford County’s portion at $18,774.33.
• Authorized the expansion the city’s contract with Biggerstaff, Minden and Associates to provide architectural services for the design and project oversight at the Veterans Park. Freeman said the city has already contracted with the firm to provide certain services at the park and the resolution will simply be a change in scope at no extra cost to the city.
• Conducted a public hearing on the abandonment of a public right-of-away in the Faber Addition. However, a vote was delayed until the Feb. 27 meeting.
• Appointed Jessica Fisher to the Municipal Auditorium Commission.
• Named Aldermen Alan Swaim and Tyler Wood to the Van Buren Advertising and Promotion Commission.
• Voted to sell at public auction a 2002 Chevrolet Impala, 2002 Dodge Ram 4x4 pickup truck and 2000 Ford pickup truck.
Freeman also reminded the council the next meeting of the council will be Monday, Feb. 27, due to Presidents’ Day on the regular meeting night.