Fort Smith board ap­proves down­town master plan

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - NORTHWEST ARKANSAS - DAVE HUGHES

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.”

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