The widening of I-40 to six lanes is seen as a positive for those who commute to and from Conway, but those who are looking at the disadvantages over the next two years include emergency response departments.
Representatives from the Conway Fire and Police Departments met with the Arkansas State Police, Conway Dispatch, Mayflower Fire and Police Departments and Metropolitan Emergency Medical Services in order to coordinate the response to every type of emergency that could occur while I-40 is under construction.
The $100 million project will widen from four to six lanes 20 miles of Interstate from U.S. 65 through Conway to I-430. The first phase of construction is 8.2 miles beginning at the Highway 65 intersection, ending near the overpass over Lake Conway. The cost of this phase is estimated at $45 million with completion in 2014.
Cpt. Keith Eremea of the state police said he will attempt to secure cameras from the Arkansas Highway Department to place at both ends of construction in order to monitor areas of congestion when an accident takes place. Eremea pointed out that cameras at I-430 and I-630 loops in Little Rock have been extremely valuable when attempting to get an emergency vehicle into heavy construction.
"It saves so much time when you can see what the traffic is like long before you get there," Eremea said. "The cameras are able to be moved and zoomed in and out, making it so much easier to communicate with a truck or car trying to get to an accident."
Eremea said that there were similar precautions taken when I-30 was widened from Little Rock to Benton, but he also pointed out that Faulkner County has fewer off ramps for emergency vehicles to use.
Concrete barricades have already been put in place on the inner shoulder of westbound I-40, and drivers can expect to see those same barricades on the other side for some stretches, eliminating the ability to pull off on the shoulder. Conway Fire Chief Bart Castleberry is concerned that drivers take the utmost precautions in these areas more than any others when they drive.
"Obviously you cannot text while driving," Castleberry said. "That is a given. But it is just as important that drivers abstain from talking on their phones while driving these construction zones." Castleberry also wants people to take health precautions, including those needing medication or certain types of food or fluids. An accident within the barriers could cause traffic delays of 2-4 hours.
The agencies are working together to make sure where helicopters will be able to be brought in if needed for emergency transportation and where other vehicles will be able to respond. Drivers will be discouraged from using the shoulder in order to view traffic ahead since there may only be one avenue for an ambulance or other vehicle to get to a wrecked car.
Glenn Bolick, a spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, said the next challenges are the safety of the contractor to get in to do the work and make it safe for traffic to get around that work.
"People will need to adjust their schedules — get out earlier in the morning or wait a little later. We may be disrupting traffic, but we assure you that we and the contractor want it completed as fast as possible."
Eremea said he thought the entire construction would last about two and a half years.
"Summer traffic will be hard, as well as spring break and Memorial Day, but we are getting out in front of this to make sure we can respond to an emergency as soon as possible," he said.
(Staff writer Richard Duke can be reached at email@example.com and 505-1297.)