Leader Blues

Friday, September 26, 2008

TOP STORY > >Mayor: Stagger working hours

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

If the state would stagger workday starting times for its thousands of workers, much of the storied rush-hour congestion on Hwy. 67/167 could be avoided, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said Thursday night at Cabot’s public meeting to identify area bottlenecks and safety concerns.

Williams pointed out that wider highways, although helpful in the Jacksonville and Cabot areas, would just shift the congestion further south, where virtually all those with a downtown Little Rock work address still have to cross the I-30 bridge.

Of nine Operation Bottleneck public input meetings planned in four counties before crafting its next Long Range
Transportation Plan, Metroplan has only the Jacksonville meeting left. It’s slated for the Jacksonville Community Center, 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Jay Whisker, the former Jacksonville city engineer turned city administrator, has several ideas to address traffic and safety issues in his area, ideas which he is likely to reiterate either by email or in person Tuesday at the Jacksonville meeting.

Whisker said recently that the town’s biggest problem was Vandenberg Boulevard at Hwy. 67/167, including both frontage roads and North First Street.

The congestion—sometimes even gridlock—starts around 3:30 p.m. on weekdays and continues until about 6 p.m., he said.

Whisker said there was no one simple solution to getting more traffic through the intersection in less time. He said that the state Highway Department and Little Rock Air Force Base solved one bottleneck in recent years that choked John Harden Drive at Vandenberg and backed up past the interstate to the Bible Fellowship Church.

So far, about 3,000 problems have been identified through Pulaski, Lonoke, Saline and Faulkner counties, most of them by 1,100 people filling out an electronic survey online at www.metroplan.org, according to John Hoffpauer, a Metroplan planner.

He said participants going to the Web site should click on the Operation Bottleneck logo, then choose a questionnaire for congestion or one for safety concerns.

As has been the case throughout the previous meetings, only a handful of people came to the Cabot meeting, most of them officials of Cabot or Metroplan.

Kelly Coughlin came to report a couple of problems, mostly getting children to and from school safely on foot. Coughlin, who lives near schools at Shiloh Subdivision, says she would like Cabot to abide by the Walkable Cabot plan drawn up after several public meetings.

Coughlin represents Cabot on Metroplan’s Transportation Advisory Council.

“In just a few minutes, I was able to come up with 20 congestion and safety issues that I experience within a few miles of where I live,” said Jim McKenzie, executive director of Metroplan.

Two weeks into operation bottleneck, residents of Pulaski County, which has most of the population, have provided 51 percent of the suggestions, according to Metroplan.

Feedback has included local community concerns such as the need for better traffic-signal coordination as well as commuting issues throughout central Arkansas that would require additional lanes, exits or public transits as possible solutions.

A Sherwood resident identified the intersection of Kiehl and Brookswood for northbound traffic on Brookswood trying to turn onto Kiehl or continue north onto Brockington. The person identifying the problem suggested readjusting the traffic signals.

A Jacksonville resident identified congestion at the intersection of Vandenberg and John Harden Drive at the traffic light and also at North First Street and T.P. White Drive. “These intersections are very dangerous between 7 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. and all weekend long.”

Another Jacksonville respondent identified the light at Brockington and Maryland at the rush hours. The person who identified the problem suggested it could be fixed by adjusting the timing of the traffic signals.