In response to citizen complaints, the Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) Expressway (state highways 70 and 270) will have litter removed and will be mowed an additional time this season, courtesy of the City of Hot Springs.
The MLK Expressway is one of many thoroughfares in Hot Springs that is controlled and maintained by the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT). The ArDOT annual budget allows for the MLK Expressway to be mowed three times each year, yet City officials regularly receive citizen concerns over the condition of the bypass.
The $15,439.50 to have the MLK Expressway cleaned and mowed will be paid out of the Street Maintenance budget. The ArDOT contractor began picking up litter on Aug. 24, and mowing will begin around Aug. 30. ArDOT is funding the final MLK Expressway mowing of the season in November.
At the Aug. 3 meeting of the Hot Springs Board of Directors, City Manager Bill Burrough responded to a letter to the editor and spoke about the collaboration between the city, county and state in terms of street conditions, maintenance and improvements.
“I read a letter to the editor in Sunday’s paper that really disparaged some of our board members and some of our City staff in regards to the condition to some of our streets, so I wanted to at least help people understand what we are doing in streets and some of the challenges we face,” said Burrough.
Burrough listed some of the roadways in Hot Springs that fall under ArDOT’s responsibility. They include Albert Pike, Airport and Carpenter Dam roads; Central and Grand avenues, as well as the east and west Grand Avenue frontage roads; Higdon Ferry Road; Hobson Avenue, between Summer and Third streets; Malvern Avenue, east from Grand Avenue; Pakis Street; MLK Expressway; Park Avenue; Section Line Road (each end); Summer Street (between Grand and Hobson avenues); Third Street (between Hobson and Grand avenues); and Werner Street.
“Those are all main thoroughfares that we drive each and every day. Each and every one of those are outside our purview. Those are state highways,” he explained. “We do have a good relationship with (ArDOT); we pass (resident complaints) on to them. They don’t have the maintenance budget they need to maintain all of their state highways. As we get those, and we receive those complaints, we do pass those along to the highway department.”
Rather than passing on litter complaints regarding these state highways, the City established in 2020 the Hope Works Job Experience Program in collaboration with the Jackson House and funded by the Solid Waste Department. Hope Works participants earn a wage to pick up litter along these state highway right-of-ways, and they are also connected to a network of support services addressing each individuals’ critical health and safety needs. Hope Works facilitated the removal of more than 3.56 tons of litter from September 24 through December 14, 2020.
In terms of how the City is addressing conditions of roadways that are the City’s responsibility, Burrough said there has been an emphasis to take care of the walkability, the streets themselves and the hard infrastructure in general. At the direction of the board, the City budgeted more than $1.5 million in 2021 for street improvements, which is almost twice the amount spent in 2020. The 2021 Paving Program includes 8 miles of paving on portions of more than 40 streets. The streets were selected by blending the City’s street paving rating spreadsheet with the condition index from the recently conducted street inventory study, in which every City street was driven and repair orders were generated for every issue.
Residents are often surprised at the costs associated with repaving roadways, which are determined by the price of petroleum that is used in the asphalt.
“Hot Springs has about 299 miles of streets. This year, the cost to pave a mile of street is $187,000. Those costs, we bid out. We choose the lowest prices out there. Out of the $1.5 million, we are going to be able to do about 8 miles,” he said. Over the past five years, the City has paved around 35 miles of streets.
Also in 2021, around $600,000 is being invested in sidewalks for repairs and to connect existing walkways. Burrough said a lot of the funding is from grants and partnerships, primarily with the Hot Springs School District through the Safe Routes to Schools program.
Burrough said he continues to work with Garland County on ways and funding opportunities to further expand street improvement opportunities. For more information on the repair and maintenance of Hot Springs’ streets, visit www.cityhs.net/street.