The City of Van Buren will partner with the Arkansas Department of Transportation in seeking federal funds for the improvement of the highway interchange at Arkansas 59 and Interstate 40.

Council members voted 6-0 on Monday night to support an application for $11.75 million from the Department of Transportation’s 2018 Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant program.

City Planner Joe Hurst said the partnership agreement is a real win for the city in addressing the congestion at the interchange, which has been under AHTD study since 2008.

“The city’s commitment is paying off,” Hurst said. “The transportation department is trying to expedite the project because of the city’s support as well as the support of local legislators and U.S. senators and representatives. It is all positive.”

In 2011, the interchange was identified as a significant regional traffic problem by the Metropolitan Planning Organization, a group of cities that compromise 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. Hurst 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 the 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.

Hurst pointed out the congestion is caused in part by four traffic signals within the space of a half mile, causing traffic to be backed up to the point where other signals are blocked.

The $11-plus million cost includes $450,000 for preliminary engineering, $1.4 million for right-of-way and utility relocation, $900,000 for construction inspection and $9 million for construction, Hurst said.

Mayor Bob Freeman said the city has been setting aside $250,000 a year for matching funds for the project.

Hurst said the city’s portion if the federal grant is approved would be $2.45 million.

The council also voted 6-0 to:

• Approve the final plat for phase 6 of Legacy Valley. The addition will include about 25 lots.

• Amend a June resolution passed by the council to purchase a 2019 Chevrolet Colorado crew cab truck via state contract for $23,524.80 for the parks department. Bale Chevrolet offered to upgrade to the 2019 model at the same price since the 2018 model is no longer available.

• Authorize the city to do business with Star Mechanical Supply, which is managed by T.J. Rust, husband of city employee Ashley Rust.

• Approve the reappointment of Tracy Engel to the Housing Authority Board.

• Close certain streets for the annual Sparks Stampede 5k and 10k race on Oct. 6.