City construction increases safety, hassle

Students at John Brown University and residents of Siloam Springs will not drive far before running into road construction. Both U.S. Highway 412 and the University Street bridge are getting a makeover.

David Bushey, resident engineer of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, said they are “widening 1.6 miles of Highway 412 from five lanes, open shoulder to six lanes, curb and gutter with a raised median,” according to the department’s contract.

The new University Street bridge will have two 12-foot lanes, with a 6.5-foot sidewalk on either side, decorative rails and lighting.

Bushey manages both the highway and University Street bridge projects in Siloam Springs.

The Highway Department awarded the city $7.1 million through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, Bushey said. Of the $7.1 million, $1 million will go toward the bridge project.

The city’s Board of Directors is exploring decorating inside the median, possibly planting shrubs, flowers or something similar, said Randy Atkinson, public works director.

Highway improvements run from Washington Street to the state line, Atkinson said. The department considered rerouting traffic north or south of town, but decided on expanding the highway on its current route, through Siloam Springs.

Justin Bland, city engineer, said the main benefit to expanding the highway through town was that traffic can still stop at commercial businesses.

However, some students are frustrated not just with the construction, but its design.

“That median is ridiculous,” said freshman Josh Fritz. He does not believe the median will make the road much safer because now vehicles are making U-turns at every intersection.

“I think it’s just as dangerous as going straight across the road,” he said.

Bland explained the city does not plan these projects. The Highway Department creates the plans and does the construction, although on local projects, such as the University street bridge, the department will turn over maintenance to the city afterward.

The Highway Department inspected the University Street bridge two years ago and informed the city they would need to look at making repairs, Atkinson said.

The bridge was never a safety concern before construction, Bland said.

Glenn Bolick, spokesman for the department, said that in planning a project, the department gathers input from city officials, legislators, and others. They never come with an idea of exactly how a construction plan will turn out.

However, Bolick said the department must also consider the cost of the project.

Highway construction is scheduled for completion on Nov. 2, Bland said. He believes the community is through the worst of it, but will still have to get used to the median.

Bland estimated the University Street bridge project would take 18 months.