About 40 segments of highways in the state have been shut down as a result of flooding along the Arkansas River. As the river crest in areas of central Arkansas, that number is expected to rise. Danny Straessle, a spokesman with the Arkansas Department of Transportation, says the areas being flooded are not the “usual suspects” the department prepares for during a flash flood.
"What we’re seeing here is something different where you’re seeing the river push, force water backwards into some of these channels and streams and creeks and then impacting areas that aren’t typically closed to flash flooding and the likes," Straessle said. A section of U.S. Highway 64 between Conway and Menifee shutdown as of Monday morning.
"That’s a pretty big route right there because that’s our alternate route for I-40 in case anything happens there," Straessle said. Major river crossings such as State Highway 60 at Toadsuck, in Conway, State Highway 23 in Ozark and U.S. Highway 64 in Fort Smith heading into Oklahoma are also closed. Also included on the list of closures, according to Straessle, are backways locals use to avoid getting on the interstate.
"That’s starting to really impact some of these communities and their ability to get from one place to another, to get to work, to get to the grocery store and things like that," Straessle said. "We do have a lot of calls and texts coming in to our center that people are asking about how to get from one place to another." As the river rises and crests further downstream, the ArDOT is paying attention to the conditions of some highways.
"We’ve been keeping an eye on several areas of Interstate 40 all weekend and it’s looking pretty good there so we’re not as concerned as we were initially about that," Straessle said. The department has also set up cameras along the highway to monitor water levels. Those cameras are accessible at the iDriveArkansas website. The department has also been operating a traveler information call center for the past week.
"The public is able to contact us between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. daily and we’re here to help people navigate around flooded areas, give them updates on which roads are flooded and anything else that we can provide information-wise that’s related in navigating the state highway system," Straessle said. The center’s number is (501) 569-2374. That information can also be found on the department’s website and on its Twitter account. Even when the roads are no longer flooded, they won’t open up immediately. Some could simply have debris to clear, while other could have greater damage. Straessle cited State 155 near the levee that failed in Dardanelle as one that will probably need greater repairs.
"We had reports of chunks of asphalt floating in the water, so we really don’t expect that highway to be there. So we’ll have to go in and completely rebuild it," Straessle said. He said this flooding event has brought an awareness of the importance of the state’s highways.
"A lot of folks take the highways for granted and when they’re not available, then all of a sudden they become hot topics again. But we’re here to help and to get as much information out to the community as possible," Straessle said.
The Arkansas River is expected to crest in Little Rock sometime tomorrow at just over 29 feet, according to the National Weather Service. Pine Bluff will see a crest of 51 feet on Wednesday.