The 1.1-mile extension of Highway 25 that opened up to motorists less than a year ago will now be patrolled more heavily.
Authorities say the stretch has proven dangerous with already two fatal crashes reported within Conway city limits in a two-week period.
Lt. Casey Dunn, who heads the traffic division, said the Conway Police Department wants to help ensure safety and remind motorists to be mindful of their surroundings, noting officers will increase mobile and stationary patrol of the nearly one-year-old bypass.
"We don't think [these motorists] are bad people, we just know they're not paying attention to what they're doing," he said Wednesday morning while monitoring speeds of vehicles along Highway 25 by Blaney Hill road. "Our goal is to get [motorists] to pay attention to their speed everywhere, but especially here [on this stretch] because people are dying."
Conway has seen an increase in fatality crashes since the bypass opened in early August last year. Three fatalities have been reported on Arkansas roads within Conway's city limits thus far this year — two of those happened within a two-week period between the intersections of Friendship and Blaney Hill roads along Highway 25.
"The numbers don't lie," Dunn said, noting that speeding motorists are posing a danger to themselves and other motorists along the highway.
In 2016, the city documented three fatality crashes. In 2017, the city, again, documented three fatality crashes. For 2018, the city has already documented three fatality crashes as it nears the midway point for the calendar year. One fatal wreck, involving a motorcycle and truck, occurred along the Highway 25 extension on May 13. Two weeks later, another fatal crash involving three vehicles was reported along Highway 25 at the intersection of Friendship Road.
Having increased patrol in the area will hopefully deter motorists from speeding and committing other traffic violations in the area, CPD spokesman LaTresha Woodruff said.
"We are hoping that being visible on Highway 25 will serve as a reminder to drivers to obey the speed limit, as well as all traffic laws," she said. "We aren't doing this to pick on anyone, it's about safety."
The Log Cabin Democrat witnessed first hand nearly two dozen motorists reach speeds near 60 mph as they topped the hill by the Blaney Hill intersection within about a 30-minute period Wednesday morning. As motorists rounded the peak of the hill and headed toward the Highway 64 and Salem Road intersection, most did not obey the 45 mph speed limit in the area.
The 45 mph speed limit between the Beaverfork Lake Park area and the intersection of Highway 64 was set in place as a safety measure because of the two cross streets — Friendship and Blaney Hill roads — that cut across opposite sides of the hill. Those crossing one side of Blaney Hill Road to the other would not be in any danger if vehicles complied with the speed limit. However, given the high rates of speed that many drivers reach in the area, motorists along Blaney Hill Road as well as those on Friendship Road may not see the impending danger headed their way by the time they start crossing to the other side.
One motorist who was cited for driving 25 miles over the speed limit as she rounded the hill on Highway 25 said she knew she was speeding at the time but did not consider the potential danger of her actions as she drove through the area.
The 26-year-old driver told Lt. Dunn she realized she was speeding, but did not realize she was driving 25 miles over the speed limit, noting she was under the impression she was driving 60 mph in a 55 mph zone.
While speaking with the Log Cabin, the woman admitted she was driving 70 mph in the area but that she did not consider the risk "because [she] always speeds through here."
"Yes, I did know I was going that fast," she said. "I just don't really pay attention."
The woman said she's noticed officers patrolling the area and that an increased police presence would likely deter herself and others from speeding along the 1.1-mile stretch.
"There's a lot of people that speed through this area," she said. "If people know there's no one there [monitoring traffic], they just speed on through."
Since the Highway 25 extension opened 10 months ago, Dunn said he has caught some driving nearly 40 mph over the speed limit.
"I've cited a woman for driving 83 mph through here," he said, noting the woman was headed to drop her children off at school as she sped through the area.
At the end of the day, safety has become an issue along the Highway 25 extension and CPD officers will actively enforce all traffic laws "day and night" in the area, Dunn said.
Investigating crashes takes time
Conway police work diligently to accurately reconstruct fatal crashes as well as crashes involving serious injuries.
Reconstructing these crashes allows authorities to get an impartial view of what exactly happened and what factors took effect during these serious crashes.
CPD recently started using drones to help reconstruct crashes.
Woodruff said by using this device, authorities are able to better understand the circumstances behind these crashes and better determine which vehicle is at fault.
"The drone is capable of videoing and photographing the entire scene from an aerial view, picking up thins that can't be seen from the ground," she said. "It can also map the scene using the on-board GPS and software to accurately depict the scene in a matter of minutes versus the hours it takes within our other equipment."
Having this equipment to reconstruct crashes allows the department to establish a number of factors within minutes, instead of having to spend countless hours at the crash scene.
"There are so many unknown factors when there's a wreck, especially if there's a fatality," Dunn said, noting oftentimes officers are only able to gather one person's viewpoint in crashes involving a fatality or serious injury. "This is a way through math and science that we can reconstruct and get all sides, an impartial look, at what actually happened."
Dunn said the police department works hard to investigate and reconstruct to its best ability these serious crashes. The two recent fatal crashes along Highway 25 are still in the reconstruction process, he said, noting this process can often take "up to a month" to complete.
As it is currently in the reconstruction phase of these crashes, CPD will return to Sunday's crash scene to verify measurements Thursday morning. Dunn said a portion of Highway 25 will be shut down "for about an hour" beginning at 9 a.m. Thursday as authorities continue gathering data for their investigation.