Fort Smith board approves downtown master plan
FORT SMITH — City directors have approved a master plan to revitalize the downtown area and called for a working group to resolve differences over the truck route that runs through downtown.
Meeting Tuesday evening, directors passed a resolution adopting the Propelling Downtown Forward plan. Its creation resulted from months of work by the city’s Planning Commission and staff, the downtown advocacy group 64.6 Downtown, Dallas consultant Gateway Planning, the city’s Central Business Improvement District and many community stakeholders.
The vision stated in the Propelling Downtown Forward plan is to unite real estate development, arts and culture, job creation, place-making, and public and private investment through unified planning efforts.
While the approximately 100-page document included ideas for revitalizing downtown, the plan to bar most truck traffic from downtown drew opposition from businesses that rely on truck transportation.
Banning trucks from downtown would “jeopardize our ability to run and maintain competitive businesses in these economic times,” OK Foods Inc. Senior Vice President Russell Bragg wrote in a letter to city directors in June for a group of 26 concerned trucking interests.
Bragg said Tuesday that officials in transportation businesses have had good discussions with Propelling
Downtown Forward planners, who he said are willing to do what is necessary to reach an agreement on truck traffic downtown.
“We can support the plan going forward, and we appreciate the work everyone did,” Bragg said.
The plan recommended that most truck traffic bypass downtown. The trucks would lose access to U.S. 64 (Garrison Avenue) to and from Oklahoma as well as Riverside Drive, an expressway and part of the city’s truck route along the Arkansas River into north Fort Smith. Trucks that go downtown to make deliveries to businesses and industries would be restricted in their movements.
The plan documents say that in gathering public input, community stakeholders expressed strong desire to ban trucks from downtown. Trucks were safety hazards to pedestrians and cyclists, and produced noise and air pollution that presented “several challenges to making downtown an active, walkable and inviting environment,” according to the plan.
Instead, the plan documents stated that trucks would have to take Interstate 540 and Interstate 40, which Bragg said in his letter would add to transportation costs and cut into drivers’ time behind the wheel. The federal government limits the number of hours a driver can drive in a day.
City directors were supposed to consider the downtown master plan at their July 11 meeting, but the matter was postponed until Tuesday because of the opposition raised by the transportation interests, Development Director Wally Bailey said Tuesday.
Bragg said in his letter that the plan puts the cart before the horse and recommends the solution before holding discussions with people in the transportation businesses.
Discussions since July 11 between planners and trucking interests have led to some changes in the plan’s wording. For example, one revision is that all references about truck routes and downtown truck traffic in the plan are to be intended as a catalyst for discussion and not an endorsement of a particular solution to the problem.
The resolution that directors passed Tuesday said directors will appoint a working group of city leaders, transportation stakeholders, and downtown business and property owners to review the truck routes and craft “a plan for the truck routes in the downtown area in the most effective way possible.”