Friday, July 18, 2008

TOP STORY > >North Belt only lacks $347M to complete

Leader senior staff writer

The path through Sherwood for completion of the North Belt Loop has been chosen, but it will take about $347 million to set it in stone—or concrete in this case.

The state Highway and Transpor-tation Department has made the final environmental impact statement concerning the loop’s path through Sherwood available for final review, but “assuming we don’t receive any showstoppers, we can apply to the Federal Highway Administration for a final record of decision,” according to Randy Ort, department spokesman. After that, the department can begin engineering and acquisition of right of way—if it can just find the money.

The environmental statement is available for review at the city halls and public libraries of Sherwood, Jack-sonville and North Little Rock.

Additionally, a review copy is available at the Metroplan office at 501 W. Markham in Little Rock, the Pulaski County Administration Building at 201 S. Broadway in Little Rock and the AHTD District 6 office at 8900 Mabelvale Pike in Little Rock.

Comments about the document should be sent to the AHTD Environmental Division, P.O. Box 2261, Little Rock, Ark. 72203-2261, by Aug. 18.

Of the $347 million estimated cost, $320 million would be for construction, $14.8 million for right of way, $10.9 million for utilities and $1 million for relocation costs.

While no money has been identified to build the project, there is $4 million available to begin purchasing right of way, according to Richard Magee, deputy director of Metroplan.

While the North Belt Loop was one of two major projects in the state that could conceivably be financed by making it a toll road, that is not currently being contemplated, Ort said.

Magee said the Metroplan board approved the preferred alignment through Sherwood some time ago.

He said completion of the North Belt Loop would help alleviate congestion on Hwy. 67 and I-40. While the number of vehicles expected to divert to the loop wasn’t that great, much of it would be during rush hour, where the impact could be significant.

For instance, by 2030, without the loop, daily traffic on I-40 near Crystal Hill would be about 89,000 vehicles per day, but with construction of the loop, it is estimated to be about 83,000.

Traffic in 2030 on Hwy. 107 south of the North Belt would decrease slightly, according to computer modeling, but north, between the loop and the back gate of Little Rock Air Force Base, it would increase about 6,000 trips a day.

Traffic south of the loop on Hwy. 67/167 is estimated to decrease about 6,000 trips a day as well.
Traffic on Main Street, west of Redmond Road, is anticipated to be about 10 percent less than it would be without the North Belt Loop.
The $347 million total represents a 26 percent increase from the estimate of $275.8 million in 2006, according to the documents.

Once all comments have been received and evaluated, an application will be submitted to the FHWA for a record of decision, the final approval concerning the location of the facility. The record of decision is the final approval needed to proceed to the next stage of project development, the survey and design work. Additional public meetings will be held during the design phase. There is no timetable for construction at this time.

Right now the route is a 200-ft. wide line on a map, according to Ort, and once the real engineering begins and right-of-way is determined, the department will have a better idea of the number of homes and other structures have to be relocated, he said.

Preliminary estimates are that unbuilt section of the loop, between Hwy. 67/167 and I-40 at Crystal Hill,f3fff3 could cause displacement of 29 residential owners at a cost of $750,000, of four residential tenants at a cost of $40,000, nine businesses at a cost of $180,000, services and others costs for a total of $1.07 million, according to the document.

The entire 12.7-mile segment would require conversion of 707 acres of right of way, according to the environemental statement.

The route east from I-40 at Crystal Hill was described like this:

From the western end of the proposed project at Interstate 40, the Preferred Alternative goes to the northeast through the Crystal Hill community to an interchange at Hwy. 365.

From there, it continues to the northeast into Camp Robinson, passing to the southeast of the Camp Robinson Army Airfield.

Briefly turning to the southeast then east, the route passes to the north of Engineers Lake before turning to the northeast again to cross Batesville Pike just to the north of Maryland Avenue and the North Little Rock Municipal Airport.

Part of the Preferred Alter-native includes relocating a portion of Batesville Pike outside Camp Robinson.

From the Batesville Pike interchange, the preferred alternative continues northeast, to the west of Wayside Drive and crosses Kellogg Acres Road just to the north of the intersection with Oakdale Road. It continues east just north of Oakdale Road and then southeast with an interchange proposed at Highway 107.

The preferred alternative turns to the northeast when crossing Fears Lake and back to the southeast, crossing Oneida Street before connecting with the Hwy. 67 interchange.