A crowd of concerned residents and commuters gathered at the Don Owen Sports Complex on Tuesday afternoon to offer their suggestions on possible improvements to Interstate 40 to representatives from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.

According to Randy Ort, public information coordinator with AHTD, both existing and anticipated traffic overflow issues in the I-40 corridor between Conway and North Little Rock led to the highway commission’s approval of a study on the area.

Ort said that process includes hearing public feedback to evaluate improvement alternatives, determine highway widening needs, current road conditions and interchange operations.

"A lot of residents are using the area interchanges to sort of navigate around town from one point to another, so that, too, adds to the congestion on the interstate," Ort explained. 

Ort said several residents are asking for the obvious, which is to add more lanes between Faulkner and Pulaski counties.

"Before we do that, we want to make sure that anything that is done short-term will also be consistent with area traffic needs 25 years from now," Ort said. 

According to Ort, that includes looking into the possibility of adding light rail systems, intelligent transportation systems and bus services in the area. 

"To a whole lot of people’s chagrin, most of the improvements will begin in Faulkner County," Ort said. "Changes will be made in this area first, beginning with the interchanges and bridges."

Ort explained that the improvements are made possible through funding provided by its Statewide Transportation Improvement Program (STIP) for fiscal years 2010-2013. 

"The money has been allocated for use during that time, so we have to begin the projects over the next couple of years," Ort said.

The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department will hear additional feedback during two more come-and-go public meetings this week; one from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday at Mayflower High School, and another from 4-7 p.m. Thursday at Cedar Heights Baptist Church in Morgan. 

"After those meetings, we’ll take all of this feedback and incorportate the findings into the study to help develop a conclusive plan on what needs to be done," Ort said.

(Staff writer Megan Reynolds can be reached by e-mail at megan.reynolds@thecabin.net or by phone at (501) 505-1277. To comment on this story and others, visit www.thecabin.net)