Construction projects are headaches for drivers. Anyone remember the repaving of I-540 through Fort Smith a few years ago? And anyone who has driven through the intersection of Zero Street and Jenny Lind Road recently (or tried to get over to Evans Boys & Girls Club) can tell you all about it.

Ultimately, though, the projects are worth the time, effort and stress they cause when they make the driving experience better for everyone, eventually.

A decade or more ago, there was a sense among the folks at Chaffee Crossing that wider streets were going to be necessary to avoid an extreme amount of morning and afternoon traffic in that area. With the ongoing growth in that area, traffic could prove to be a killer.

“We are anxious because of the increased traffic that will be caused from the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine opening in August and ArcBest Corp. opening later this year,” says Ivy Owen, executive director of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. “Those two openings alone could account for over 1,300 additional vehicles a day at Chaffee Crossing.”

We were pleased last week to hear plans are moving forward for the expansion of Zero Street and Highway 255 relocation. Costs for the $12 million project will be shared among the city of Fort Smith, city of Barling, FCRA and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

“The widening and realignment of this section of Zero Street will create a much-needed continuous five-lane roadway extending from I-540 to the Hwy 22/59 intersection,” according to a recent memo from Fort Smith Director of Engineering Stan Snodgrass to City Administrator Carl Geffken.

Currently, this project is not scheduled to begin until 2020, but Owen and others at Chaffee Crossing are “collectively trying to influence AHTD to move it up to 2018.” We can’t help but think he’s correct in thinking the traffic situation in that area is going to get ugly, fast. Residential growth at Chaffee Crossing is happening at a rapid pace; one can only imagine what it will be like a few years down the road.

Once things get farther along with the creation of I-49, the Zero Street widening will be crucial to the success of the new interstate, with traffic expected to increase with ongoing business development in the area. Owen said previously that the 6.5 miles of I-49 constructed near Chaffee Crossing in the past decade has helped significantly with economic development because businesses and the medical school want to be near an interstate.

“This (widening) project will also provide a safer truck route for semi-trucks connecting with I-49 to access the Chaffee Crossing industrial neighborhood,” Owen says.

Other projects in the area no doubt will also help with the area’s traffic situation, including an upgrade the Arkansas 45 corridor from Zero Street to U.S. 71. There are more projects on the agenda at Chaffee Crossing as well, including the widening of Massard Road from Zero Street to McClure Drive and Chad Colley Boulevard from the medical school south to Rye Hill.

Owen hopes the widening and overlay of Wells Lake Road from Frontier Road to Massard Road will begin in 2018 as well.

As far as I-49 goes, it is far from complete, but at least there is movement on the project.

The estimated cost for finishing the Fort Smith-to-Texarkana portion, the “missing link” in the project, is $380 million, including $110 million to construct a bridge over the Arkansas River. The federal government has agreed to pay for 80 percent of the cost, but 20 percent must come from the state.

Our hope is that Fort Smith’s drivers will be able to see the big picture in the ongoing projects and exercise patience when getting from place to place. And we’ll keep fingers crossed that these projects begin sooner rather than later. The need is there.