City officials on Tuesday discussed ways to improve roads between Jefferson Regional Medical Center and I-530 to accommodate ambulance and fire truck traffic. Aldermen Glen Brown Jr., Donald Hatchett and Win Trafford, who form the Traffic and Aviation Committee, also talked about widening two roads and replacing some city intersections with roundabouts.


Trafford said it is important to improve signage, drainage and visibility on Hazel Street between I-530 and 46th Avenue. During heavy rains, Hazel Street floods between 46th and the interstate, and has had to be shut down several times, he said. Fortieth Avenue is the main route used by hospital traffic. Lack of access to the interstate during flooding for ambulances and fire trucks is “a huge safety concern,” Trafford said. The flooding is potentially disruptive to regular ambulance traffic between several nursing homes located along Hazel near Ridgway Road. Trafford said he would talk to U.S. Congressman Bruce Westerman about securing federal funding to pay for improvements to drainage along the road.


“When it floods, I think our way to federal money is that ambulances and fire trucks can’t get to the hospital in an emergency,” he said. “It could absolutely be the difference between somebody living or dying, and I think the federal government should certainly help us with that.”


Better visibility is also needed between Olive Street and Cherry Street, Trafford said. He suggested installing flashing yellow lights at some intersections, such as Cherry Street and 46th Avenue. Brown suggested a solar-powered flashing light to avoid paying electricity costs. The committee discussed a problematic area of 28th Avenue that narrows for a short stretch in front of the Rally’s fast food restaurant. Brown said the number two (right) westbound lane of 28th Avenue needed to be widened.


“Driving west on 28th [Avenue] after leaving Hazel [Street], if you’re in the right lane, it feels like you’re having to come in, if there’s a car on the side of you,” Brown said.


Trafford said he is working to replace several busy intersections in the city with roundabouts. Roundabouts are circular street intersections with no stop lights. Motorists enter the circle and drive counterclockwise until turning right on the street of their choice. Traditionally more common in Europe than the U.S., roundabouts have replaced traffic intersections in several Arkansas cities in recent years.


“Conway, they have seven of ’em now, and quite a few more are in the works,” Trafford said. “People get used to it, but it’s taken out T-Bones [collisions]. Traffic just keeps flowing. The town has come to love them.”


Trafford said he recently spoke to Southeast Arkansas Regional Planning Commission Director Larry Reynolds about installing a roundabout at the intersection of Pullen Avenue and Rhinehart Road. He said he believes Reynolds is “going to make it happen.”


The committee also needs to determine the cost of a potential roundabout at the intersection of Ridgway Road and Hazel Street, Trafford said. Traffic from the combination of WT Cheney Elementary School and several nearby nursing homes and churches results in major congestion.


“I get more phone calls about traffic backups there [than anywhere else],” he said. “At church times it’s pretty busy, but at school times it’s insane. It seems like the shifts with nursing homes and schools all hit at the same time.”


Trafford said he would speak to Street Department Director Rick Rhoden about the proposed changes. Brown suggested that Rhoden attend future meetings of the commission as well.