Springdale plans another east-west traffic corridor

SPRINGDALE -- The city has started work on another road project to relieve traffic congestion.

An overpass of Interstate 49 will highlight the extension of Har-Ber Avenue east from North 48th Street to North Gutensohn Road, said Brad Baldwin, the city's director of engineering and public works.

The three-lane collector street will align with Har-Ber Avenue west of the interstate and with West Emma Avenue on the east, he said. The street will have one lane of traffic going each direction and a center turn lane.

The Har-Ber Avenue extension will give drivers a way t0 cross the interstate and avoid its busy intersections at Elm Springs Road and West Sunset Avenue.

Traffic counts from the Arkansas Department of Transportation show about 43,000 vehicles a day cross the interstate at Elm Springs Road. Another 76,000 cross at Sunset.

Construction is estimated to cost $14.6 million, excluding costs for property acquisition, design and moving utility easements, said the city's contractor, Garver Engineering.

This road project joins 16 others funded by $78 million dedicated to street improvements in the 2018 bond issue approved by voters. All but about $2 million has been earmarked for projects, said Wyman Morgan, the city's director of administration and finance.

Baldwin shared a map of the project during last week's City Council committee meetings. The engineers have completed about 90% of the road's design.

The plans show the thoroughfare will run along the south end of the bank of green space that runs to 40th Street. This will allow the city to avoid heavy electric lines of Southwestern Electric Power Co., which run along the otherwise undeveloped strip of land.

The route of Har-Ber west of the bypass was altered for the same reason, said Mayor Doug Sprouse. Moving those major lines on both sides would have added about $4 million to the project, he said.

That money could fund another small street project, he said.

"We all were looking for any trail east to west," Council member Mike Lawson said. "We had no idea we could afford it. We thought we could get it just to 40th, but now we can go all the way to Gutensohn."

"The city of Springdale is not alone," said Tim Conklin, assistant director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission. "All the cities in Northwest Arkansas are working to provide major corridors to connect their cities north, south, east and west to the rest of the region," he said. "The Har-Ber extension is important."

Conklin said there is significant traffic congestion on West Sunset Avenue in the mornings and evenings -- and "any other time of day," he quipped.

TOUGH DECISIONS

"A Carolina wren. I thought so. They're the noisy ones," said Karen Hill on Wednesday morning.

Hill watched the bird fly over her shaded yard on Angela Street. She's worried she will lose both her trees and the birds. Her family and another soon will become next-door neighbors with Har-Ber Avenue. Her house will sit about 60 feet from the road, and another home about 30 feet. These are the only properties directly affected, Sprouse said.

About 40 residences line the two-road neighborhood of Angela Street and Paradise Lane, just southwest of the intersection of Gutensohn and Emma.

Residents at Monday's meeting said they were "blindsided" by the city's plans.

The city in October 2019 showed a map of the proposed route during a public input session at Central Junior High School. The map showed the extension taking a more northern route, preserving a few more feet of land for the property owners significantly affected.

Residents also thought the city had no immediate plans to build the road. Baldwin found a 1973 plot map of the Lindell Estates subdivision showing West Emma Avenue extended to the west. Another look at the extension project was dropped in 2006 when the Springdale School District decided to build an expansion of Springdale High School across Emma.

The Har-Ber road extension came back before council members as they were prioritizing the bond money.

"The Har-Ber extension is nothing new," Sprouse said. "We were marketing the bond issue, but not this project. But it came up. When we looked at the bond money, we realized we would have the money to do this."

Residents of Angela and Paradise streets said they like their quiet neighborhood. The streets end at woods and pasture land that will become the thoroughfare. Residents expressed concern drivers will use their roads to avoid traffic congestion.

The city will build intersections where Har-Ber and the residential streets connect, but they will remain closed behind a gate, Sprouse said. Those gates will come equipped with locks only the Fire Department can open, he said.

"If we don't make access for emergency vehicles, we are almost negligent," Sprouse said.

The residents would continue to use McRay Avenue to enter and leave the neighborhood. McRay provides the southern boundary of the neighborhood.

Sprouse said almost every city project requires negotiation with some property owners. But those discussions usually happen after the plans are finalized, the assessor has determined the property's value and the city has sent an offer.

"We usually do it in the appraisal stage," he said.

Steve Lisle, a lawyer who has represented homeowners on other city projects, said the process can be emotionally difficult.

"It's hard even when city officials are trying to be sympathetic. Even just the construction process can be very trying, when you've got heavy equipment in your front yard," he said.

"But the bottom line is they are working for the greater good of the city."

Karen Hill stands at the corner of her property on Angela Street and W. Emma Avenue as she describes Wednesday, October 7, 2020, the impact on her property of the presented plans to extend Har-Ber Avenue east over I-49 to match up with Emma Avenue at Gutensohn Road in Springdale. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Karen Hill stands at the corner of her property on Angela Street and W. Emma Avenue as she describes Wednesday, October 7, 2020, the impact on her property of the presented plans to extend Har-Ber Avenue east over I-49 to match up with Emma Avenue at Gutensohn Road in Springdale. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
A section of Karen Hill's backyard near the intersection of Angela Street and W. Emma Avenue Wednesday, October 7, 2020, that will be impacted by presented plans to extend Har-Ber Avenue east over I-49 to match up with Emma Avenue at Gutensohn Road in Springdale. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
A section of Karen Hill's backyard near the intersection of Angela Street and W. Emma Avenue Wednesday, October 7, 2020, that will be impacted by presented plans to extend Har-Ber Avenue east over I-49 to match up with Emma Avenue at Gutensohn Road in Springdale. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Karen Hill next to her property on Angela Street and W. Emma Avenue as she describes Wednesday, October 7, 2020, the impact on her property of the presented plans to extend Har-Ber Avenue east over I-49 to match up with Emma Avenue at Gutensohn Road in Springdale. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)
Karen Hill next to her property on Angela Street and W. Emma Avenue as she describes Wednesday, October 7, 2020, the impact on her property of the presented plans to extend Har-Ber Avenue east over I-49 to match up with Emma Avenue at Gutensohn Road in Springdale. Check out nwadg.com/photos for a photo gallery.(NWA Democrat-Gazette/David Gottschalk)

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Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at joenks@nwadg.com or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

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