The Arkansas Department of Transportation started an improvement study last year to determine whether a better connection was needed for drivers to get from Highway 64 to Highway 65.

Community members were invited to give feedback on the issues during a public interest meeting Dec. 6, 2018 at the Conway Expo Center and Fairgrounds.

During the meeting, several maps with the proposed study area were laid out on the tables and residents were able to put their thoughts on Post-Its and stick them on the areas, giving ArDOT officials a better visual of what they were up against.

The department also gave attendees comment forms at the end, consisting of six questions that requested specific information:

How often the person traveled the study area regularly? Describe their travel patterns — where they came from and where they were going. Note any traffic concerns they may have had with the area including safety or congestion. Describe locations the study should investigate as high priorities for improvement. Were they away of any environmental constraints in the study area. Were they aware of any land development plans in the study area. What the benefits of any improvements would be. If they supported an improved connection between the two highways and, if so, what is needed. Allowed for any additional comments as well.

According to Dustin Tackett, the project manager for the transportation team at Garver — the engineering, planning, architectural and environmental services firm hired for the study — a total of 105 people from the community attended the public meeting.

All comment forms — 34 were submitted during the meeting but people had the option to mail them in— were due by Dec. 21, 2018.

Since, ArDOT has done a traffic study, City of Conway Communications Director Bobby M. Kelly III told the Log Cabin Democrat on Tuesday.

He said the city had its seventh conference call with officials regarding the study on Tuesday. Per the meeting’s agenda, the group talked about:

The purpose and need of the study. Safety and security concerns. Infrastructure conditions. Congestion reduction, mobility and system reliability. Connectivity - Metroplan data, including recurring and non-recurring delay. Competitivity economically. Multi-model transportation system.

“We had a conference call the other day and [...] the question that was asked to us was, ‘do we hear from residents [...] any stories of intermittent delay as they’re trying to go back and forth between Highway 64 and Highway 65,” Finley Vinson, city engineer and director with the Conway Transportation Department, said.

He said he’s never surprised when people are unaware of what a corridor study entails — “I wouldn’t expect them to” — but this specific one boils down to determining if an alternative route is needed.

Vinson said right now, the main option — especially if someone is on the east side of town — is jumping on Interstate 40, though, he did note there are other ways residents get around that.

“There are other opportunities but they’re not … most of them use old/country roads and there’s not a well-established corridor between those two routes,” he said.

Acknowledging what the study is for, the director said the need and whether there is or isn’t one is the focus.

“It’s more narrow in scope than just … the questions we need people to answer are narrower than just, ‘how do you use 64 and 65,’ but more specifically we need to hear from people, if that’s a route they travel very often, what routes do they take and do they experience a lot of delay using the routes that they’re currently using,” Vinson said.

Kelly said that was the direction the call took.

During, he said, he heard a lot of quantitative analysis from the group in terms of traffic counts but it was the qualitative side of the project that was needed. Kelly said, when moving from quantitative to qualitative, it’s easy to "make assumptions based on data sets" and what those numbers mean/what is going on.

“The way they put it was … on one section, well not that many people are using it for employment opportunities and I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know the answer to that,’” the communications director admitted. “I don’t know … we have a number but we don’t know the reason behind each individual number, so, why not ask the people.”

So, Kelly took to Facebook.

At around 4 p.m., he posted on the Conway, Arkansas, City of Colleges page.

“WE NEED YOUR COMMENTS!,” Kelly wrote. “We’re on a conference call with the Arkansas Department of Transportation and Garver. We need to know more about why, when, and how y'all use Oak Street (Hwy 64) and Harkrider Street (Hwy 65). Thoughts from our neighbors in Greenbrier and Vilonia are welcome here.”

Kelly wrote they were looking for reasons and included employment, shopping, dining, recreation, leisure, medical appointments, medical emergencies or other possibilities.

“At the end of the call, they didn’t seem offset by the idea that we posted this on the internet,” he said, adding he even told officials to go and monitor the feedback. “If it takes off, it would be a good place to go.”

The post did just that. By 7:39 p.m., it had received 249 comments, 22 shares and 31 interactions.

“I avoid Oak St because there are way too many lights and traffic is an absolute nightmare,” Christina Bonner Lois Ross wrote.

Another user, Bryan Edwards, agreed with her and said it’s especially bad around Conway Commons.

“The 6th Street overpass is the only reason I’ll go over there again,” he added.

User, Sarah Holt, said she lived near the Rolling Hills subdivision.

“Very difficult to turn left onto 65 to go to work, shopping, dining during peak traffic times [and] coming home work it's not uncommon for traffic to be backed up due to an accident,” she wrote. “I take Harkrider to work; my husband takes Lower Ridge to Museum to Commons for work. We will also go this route for shopping and dining. Otherwise we hit the interstate off 65 for church, gym, other dining and shopping options. Lower Ridge to 65 is also dangerous!”

Vinson said what they drew through the phone call was that the numbers that had been produced around the study thus far have drawn the conclusion — Kelly agreed — that the area wasn’t a “commuter route,” but that data wasn’t necessarily backed up.

“That was based on a model, which is what engineers do,” he said. “They make assumptions and they model it but that’s not … it’s like SimCity. It’s not real feedback from people.”

Vinson said they can run simulations and do traffic counts to determine what the time savings would be if an alternative route was created, “but what we have almost no data on is what the intermittent delay is.”

“That’s when they asked us, ‘do you get a lot of feedback from people saying that there’s occasion wrecks or problems like that that cause a lot of delay,’” he said.

Kelly said that’s why they’ve reached out to residents and community members to get their feedback and that’s where they’re all at right now.