The public interest meeting held by the Arkansas Department of Transformation on Thursday spurred both positive and negative reactions from community members regarding proposed changes to the Interstate 40, Highway 65 area in Conway.

ArDOT’s Danny Straessle said about 50 people attended the meeting, which he called a “good turn out.”

The event was held from 4-7 p.m. at the Don Owen Sports Complex as an open-house type meeting where residents could come and go, ask questions about the proposed efforts and then submit a questionnaire that asked for feedback.

Straessle spoke with the Log Cabin Democrat on Sept. 21, regarding ArDOT’s plans for the area.

Currently, he said, the design calls for dual left turn lanes on Highway 65 to get onto the I-40 ramp headed toward Little Rock, the relocation of the eastbound I-40 off ramp to make separate right-turn and left-turn exits, the addition of a stoplight and raised medians.

Straessle said it will also restrict the ability to turn left onto Sanders Road from Highway 65 and to turn left off that road as well — drivers will be allowed to turn right off that road onto the highway.

That issue specifically, is why Ben Allen Jr., owner of Shucked Surf and Turf, says this is a bad idea.

He said restricting the ability for customers to turn left off Highway 65 onto Sanders Road will hinder his business.

“[This] will shut us down,” Allen said. “That won’t work. It’ll shut me down and probably the hotels.”

ArDOT employees noted another option -- O’Bryant Street, a block down from Sanders Road, which remains open per the designs.

“My customers aren’t going to do that,” Allen said. “No left turn out of [Sanders Road] is fine but if people can’t get in there, there’s no other good way to get in there.”

He called the O’Bryant Street option inconvenient.

“It would be a map of directions,” Allen said, referring to new road signs pointing the way. “It’s not ‘turn here.’ It’s ‘turn here, and then go there and then turn here.’”

The Conway business owner was also displeased with the meeting itself as was another Conway resident who lives at the Village at Hendrix, who asked to remain nameless.

She said the current design was “not good,” and cited namely the Sanders Road issue as well as the new off ramp relocation.

When she gets off the interstate eastbound, she is able to turn right and cross over Highway 65 to Sanders Road to get home. With the new changes, she’ll be forced to drive through the intersection at Harkrider Street and Old Morrilton Highway, which she deemed “one of the worst traffic accident” areas in the city.

“I’d prefer not going through there, if I can [avoid it],” she said.

During the meeting, the ArDOT representatives pointed out the option of O’Bryant Street but she said she wouldn’t do that and it didn’t make sense to move that road and send everyone the other way.

She said she’s been to other ArDOT meetings before and didn’t like what they proposed.

“To me, it was another failed attempt for the highway department to improve things,” she said.

Another Village at Hendrix resident, Nancy Graddy, said she was for the changes not only because it will speed up travelers but also for safety reasons, especially near Sanders Road.

“I think that’s a dangerous situation there,” she said. “I know the plan change will help that.”

Graddy said ArDOT’s design is a “good improvement.”

“I think it will speed up the traffic,” she said.

ArDOT’s Straessle told the LCD the issue with congestion was what initial traffic studies revealed and through this development plan, ArDOT hopes to east that problem.

Post meeting, he said, its next step is to acquire right-of-way near Shucked that is needed.

Straessle said community members will also have the next 15 days to turn in the citizen comment forms passed out at the forum Thursday, though plans are unlikely to change.

“What was proposed is what we’re going to do,” he said.

To alter it, Straessle said, something big would have to be presented.

“It’s not a vote, but it’s just a ‘give us some opinion on what you’re seeing,’” he said. “Unless there is something significant, it’s not going to change.”

In regards to the forms though, Straessle said those will be gathered together in a document and submitted to “feds.”

He said residents in the area will “quickly realize,” how much more functional it is with the addition there.

Currently, ArDOT is on track to bid the project out October 2019.

The proposed changes are part of the 2019-2022 statewide transportation improvement program (STIP) by ArDOT and sit at a $3.5 million “planning level estimate,” Straessle said.