JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - Construction crews have been hard at work on I-555 in Jonesboro over the last few weeks, getting ready to start a major reconstruction of it.
Brad Smithee, Arkansas Department of Transportation District 10 Engineer, said earlier this spring that prep work began on the stretch of interstate between Southwest Drive and Nettleton Avenue.
Smithee said people have asked why there are some odd things in the median between the southbound and northbound lanes, such as fresh concrete x-like lanes.
He said those are called crossover ramps that will be used during the heavy construction portion of the project.
As early as next week, Smithee said barrier walls will be placed on the southbound lanes.
“So, if you’re leaving Jonesboro, headed towards Memphis, we call that the southbound lanes,” Smithee said. “We will put a wall at the lane line, and so we’ll start closing that that direction the southbound lanes down to one lane, the outside lane only. So, as the wall goes in, traffic has to move over so that can happen.”
Once the wall is put in place, and some striping and other housekeeping items take place, the northbound traffic will then use the crossover lanes to get to the southbound lanes.
“So, at that point, we’ll have traffic one lane in each direction,” Smithee said. “Then, we’ll close the northbound lanes, everybody will drive on the southbound lane.”
He said once that happens, there is still a need to allow people to get off and on the interstate.
“So, if you are coming from Memphis and you need off at Caraway Road, or well actually Red Wolf because they are the same exit, you’ll be on the wrong lanes and you’ll have to have a crossover to be able to get to that exit,” Smithee said.
He said every one of those crossovers serves a purpose for not just this stage of the construction, but also the next stage on construction so people can access all of the exit and entrance ramps from the interstate.
Smithee said as early as the week after the Fourth of July holiday, the heavy construction will start and traffic on the northbound will shift to one of the southbound lanes.
“Obviously, we always knew that there were gong to be some queuing of traffic or some delays in traffic,” Smithee said. “Honestly, I hope that once we really get into the more long-term traffic mode, all the work is going on across the ditch. The workers are not so close in proximity, it’s my hope folks will have a more normal flow, and they’ll find it won’t be as congested, and they can move along a lot more easily than it’s been while we’re building all this work in the median.”
Once work starts in reconstructing the lanes, the work on the northbound side should be complete by the fall, and then traffic will flow to the northbound lanes and work will begin on reconstructing the southbound lanes.
Smithee said most people who have driven through construction zones have driven through crossovers before.
“If you’ve ever driven through an interstate construction project, you’ve done this,” Smithee said. “If it was more rural, you probably made one transition over when you got past the construction you went back, you want to wear single crossovers on either end.”
He said what makes Jonesboro unique is it being a urban area and more exit and entrance points on the interstate.
While it may look confusing now, Smithee said when they start moving traffic, there will be barrels and markers that will direct drivers into the right lanes.
Smithee also urged drivers to be more cautious when driving through construction zones.
Throughout the project, highway police officers have made a presence.
“Right now, temporary lane closures for the daytime operations are in place,” Smithee said. “Folks are running 75 and 80 miles an hour. I mean, our officers have been present and they’ve been measuring this.”
He said the speed limit normally on I-555 in Jonesboro is 65 mph, but it has been reduced due to the construction.
Smithee said he was out at a construction site and saw a car run through the barrels and nearly hit a highway patrolman head-on. That officer had his vehicle parked facing traffic and had his blue light on.
“You know, that it’s, it’s very scary. I mean we don’t want a driver hurt. We don’t want a construction worker hurt. We don’t want anyone hurt. And it’s hard to understand when there’s a sea of orange signs, flashing arrow panels, message boards warning you miles out,” Smithee said.
He said it is amazing to see how many people are on their phones driving through construction zones.
“Almost everybody who drives by you, when your looking in their window, they have a phone in their hand.,” Smithee said. “And it is not just distracted driving by phone, it’s not just somebody with a cheeseburger in their hand, but’s its unnerving when we do what we do, and you really have the opportunity to see drivers as they drive right by you and they are looking at their phone the whole time.”
He challenges people when they approach construction zones, to think you are in a construction five miles from the actual zone.
He said traffic can back up for several miles outside the zone and people need to be vigilant.
In Arkansas, fines double for any offense inside a construction zone, Smithee said.
Work should be completed on I-555 in Jonesboro late spring or early summer 2021.