The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department met with Bryant residents Tuesday evening at First Pentecostal Church regarding plans for widening Arkansas 5 from Benton to Little Rock.
Highway Department officials say the changes are necessary to accommodate continuing growth in the communities and increasing traffic congestion. The department estimates 15,000 vehicles travel this stretch of highway per day and projects this number will double by 2035.
The first portion of the project, scheduled to begin in 2015, will be the section from Reynolds Road to Springhill Road, and the department is conducting a planning study to prepare.
In Tuesday's meeting AHTD officials discussed the advantages and disadvantages of a raised median versus a flush median.
According to the report, the design plan, which includes a raised (or curbed) median, would allow for four vehicle lanes, bicycle lanes, sidewalks and turning lanes. The plan would handle high traffic volumes better than a flush median design, Highway Department officials say.
Other advantages include the elimination of unpredictable turning conflicts, which might be more likely to occur in a five-lane road. This will decrease traffic delays and accidents.
Another advantage of a raised median is to provide a refuge in the middle of the road for pedestrians, which might reduce the number of pedestrian-involved accidents, according to the report. It would also encourage more orderly future development and decreases driveways by encouraging shared access at median breaks.
A raised median will also improve the aesthetics of the road, which seemed to be a priority for some people in attendance at the meeting Tuesday, including Mayor Jill Dabbs, said Steve Mitchell, senior transportation planner of AHTD.
Disadvantages reportedly include the fact that the plan would require an additional 6 feet of right of way more than the flush median. The plan also would limit direct left-turn access into and out of some driveways and streets. Along the same vein, the plan could lengthen some trips by requiring turns only at median breaks.
The raised median plan could affect local businesses, according to the Bryant Area Chamber of Commerce. The AHTD presented maps of “proposed typical highway sections” to illustrate the general concept of the changes to be made.
”There are five businesses in our area whose buildings were marked green, meaning they would be impacted,” said Rae Ann Fields, executive director of the Bryant Area Chamber of Commerce. “The translation is that the buildings are encroaching on land they will need should they implement the four lanes.
The AHTD is still looking for community input. Comment forms are available by contacting the department. They are also available at the Chamber of Commerce, Fields said.
“It behooves the businesses along this road to attend any future highway meetings and see what the future holds for you," she said.
The other option discussed at the meeting was a flush median plan, which would call for five lanes: four vehicle lanes and a continuous center turning lane. This plan also would include sidewalks and bicycle lanes.
Advantages include direct access to left turns along the road. Compared to a four-lane, undivided highway, this would remove left-turning vehicles from the travel lane, improving traffic flow and reducing the number of accidents. In addition, the plan would require six feet less right of way than the raised median alternative.
Disadvantages include an increase in opportunities for unpredictable turning movements. Also, roadway traffic capacity may suffer as traffic conflicts increase.
The design would also create a long distance (more than 60 feet) for pedestrians to cross without a refuge. Finally, the plan would encourage small lot commercial development with closely spaced driveways that may increase turning conflicts, according to the report.
Prior to the AHTD hearing, Dabbs presented her ideas for the project to several Bryant residents with her presentation "Envisioning Highway 5/Stagecoach Road." More information is available at www.cityofbryant.com 
Mitchell said he spoke with Dabbs, who is concerned with designing the road to encourage drivers to reduce their speed. Mitchell said his major concern is to accommodate the traffic increase. "High traffic volumes tend to slow down on their own," he said.
The project is still in the conceptual stage, Mitchell said. A design meeting will be scheduled once actual plans are drafted.