Sunday, September 09, 2012

3+3 = Trouble

After recently installing Cable Barriers on I-540 between Fayetteville and Bentonville, AHTD moved on to another project: widening I-540 to 6 lanes between Exit 62 (US 62 West/ Martin Luther King Blvd) and Exit 64 (AR16 West/Wedington Dr). The project is nearly complete so I visited the area on Saturday to see how things looked.

First of all, the median has been replaced by a concrete "Jersey Barrier". OK, that's fine. but the third lane looks kind of narrow and doesn't look like a full traveling lane. My guess is AHTD is going to re-stripe the existing lanes of I-540 and make them narrower to accommodate the third lane of traffic. It wouldn't be the first time: AHTD is fond of adding extra lanes of traffic by taking away from existing lanes. US 71 in Mena suffers this problem: in order to create a continuous Left Turn Lane, the main travel lanes were re-stripped to make them narrower. So if you ever get stuck behind a wide load that's straddling both travel lanes, this is why.

The northbound 3rd lane ends a few feet past the exit ramp for Exit 64. In fact: it looks like the lane ends immediately before the center bridge column on the Wedington Drive bridge over I-540. This could be interesting: if a motorist isn't paying attention and misses the end of the third lane, he risks wrapping himself around a bridge column. Hopefully, AHTD will install some crash barrels "just in case".

Southbound, the third lane ends a few hundred feet before the I-540 bridge over MLK Blvd.  Hopefully, there will be some crash barrels or another barrier to keep motorists from careening down the embankment.

To me, it looks as if AHTD didn't plan very far ahead with the 6-Lane Project: it looks slapped together. Sure, you will have an extra lane in each direction, but it looks as if the lanes will be narrower than normal and the extra lanes will abruptly end, leaving an opportunity for accidents to occur.

Eventually, AHTD wants to widen I-540 (Future I-49) all the way from Fayetteville to Bentonville. To do that, some major changes will likely need to occur: 
  • The center bridge columns will need to be removed from all bridges crossing the 540.
  • Bridges over Porter Road, Martin Luther King Blvd, Greathouse Springs Road in Johnson and other locations will need to be widened or replaced.
  • Additional land may be needed on either side of the existing highway to ensure travel lanes are the proper width and not merely re-striped to accommodate the extra lane.
I don't see this happening any time soon. AHTD doesn't have enough money to complete new construction on I-49, let alone upgrade the existing roadway.

But please: when you DO have the money, do the upgrade right.  Even if it takes a little more time, please do it right. 


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