Leader Blues

Thursday, January 17, 2008

TOP STORY >> Congestion get worse

By RICK KRON
Leader staff writer


The Arkansas State Highway System, at 16,440 miles, is the 12th largest state highway system in the country.

Of those 16,440 miles, about half or 8,447 miles has been designated as part of the stateís primary highway network and carries 92 percent of all the traffic in the state and, if sometimes it feels like all that traffic converges into central Arkansas, thereís a reason for it.

Based on the latest traffic counts by the Arkansas Highway Department, more than 75,500 vehicles crowd Hwy. 67/167 near McCain Mall on a daily basisóthatís 52 cars per minute all day and night. By the time a driver has reached the southern limits of Cabot, that traffic count falls to 56,400 cars on a daily basis. Near Austin, that total falls to 21,700 vehicles daily, or just 15 cars per minute.

But donít forget where I-440 converges into Hwy. 67/167, more than 23,000 cars either exit or enter Hwy. 67/167 at that point.

In Cabot, the intersection of Highways 38 and 31 sees about 23,000 vehicles a day, according to highway department traffic figures. Hwy. 107 at Kiehl in Sherwood is slightly busier at 26,800 vehicles a day.

These traffic counts and other information were used by Metro-plan to determine what major roads in central Arkansas were congested.

Metroplanís 70-page draft report on central Arkansasí interstates, highways and main roads calls Hwy. 67/167 from Cabot to Little Rock and the reverse seriously congested.

Metroplan puts a lot of the blame for traffic jams on high traffic and construction, but more lanes will be needed even after construction is done. The group has also designated parts of Highways 89 and 107 as congested.

Metroplan, which has been monitoring traffic growth and patterns on central Arkansas roads since 1996, considers a roadway to be congested if the average speed in a 55-mph zone hits 40 mph or less. Roadways where the speed limit is 60 mph, an average speed of 50 mph or less is considered congested.

Roadways segments are rated as mildly, moderately, seriously, severely or extremely congested based on the average speeds.
Five freeway segments are extremely congested including I-440 from Hwy. 161 to Hwy. 67/167 and I-40 from Hwy. 67/167 to I-30.

During peak travel times the average speed on these segments range from 11 to 15 mph, according to the 2007 report.
Of the nearly 337 miles of roadway surveyed by Metroplan, almost 192 miles, or 57 percent, are considered congested and slightly more than half of those miles are classified as severely or extremely congested.

The report says that the morning traffic flow on Hwy. 67/167 from Cabot to Little Rock starts to bog down just north of Jacksonville, around Hwy. 321 and gets progressively worse as traffic makes its way through Jacksonville, but lightens up south of I-440, becoming severely congested again around the McCain Boulevard exit and remains very congested right into Little Rock.

The noon and afternoon surveys show extreme congestion on I-30 just south of the Arkansas River, moderate to mild congestion on I-30 north of the river and along I-40 and up along Hwy. 67/167 until about the Kiehl Avenue exit when traffic become severely congested through Jacksonville, loosening up again about the Lonoke County line south of Cabot.

Metroplan recommends widening I-30 and I-40 to 10-lanes from I-630 to Hwy. 67/167 and making Hwy. 67/167 six lanes from Jacksonville to Cabot.

Hwy. 89, going through Cabot, is listed as seriously congested in the mornings and afternoons.

The 12-mile stretch of Hwy. 107 from Jacksonville-Cato to Third Street in Little Rock is considered to be moderately congested in the mornings. The report says at 7:30 a.m. the average speed on that segment of the highway is 26.5 mph.

At the same time in the morning the average speed on the 13.3-mile stretch of First Street-Hwy. 161-Broadway Avenue from Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville to the Broadway Bridge in North Little Rock is borderline congested at 32.5 miles per hour.
Main Street in Jacksonville during the morning rush is considered seriously congested.†The average speed on the 1.04-mile stretch from First Street to Hwy. 67/167 is 16 mph.

The 2.3-mile Brockington-Brookswood route from Hwy. 107 to Hwy. 67/167 is seriously congested during the morning rush, according to the report, with an average speed of 19.2 mph.

The highway department projects that it will take $19.1 billion over the next 10 years to maintain and improve the stateís highway system. The state projects funding of $4.1 billion, leaving a $15 billion shortfall which will force the state to pick and choose its highway projects carefully.