Wednesday, March 18, 2009

TOP STORY >> Mayors seek funds in D.C.

Leader staff writer

Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams did not attend the Monday night city council meeting.

He was in Washington, trying to convince the senators and congressmen who represent the Cabot area that if economic stimulus money pays for road projects that are ready for construction now, then some of the money already obligated for that work should instead be used to building a north interchange for Cabot.

The north interchange has always been part of a larger plan to help manage traffic in Cabot, a plan that also includes the railroad pass that is supposed to open in the early spring.

Alderman Lisa Brickell, serving as vice mayor and presiding over the Monday meeting, explained the mayor’s absence to the city council and audience.

“When I asked where he was going, he said he was going to beg for more money,” Brickell said.

Officials with the Arkansas Municipal League, which serves all 500 Arkansas cities and lobbies for cities at the state level, said Monday that because of the economic stimulus money, the turnout for this year’s National League of Cities’ Congressional City Conference was the best in recent history.

Almost 60 city leaders went to Washington for the conference that started Saturday and will end today, compared to about 40 most years.

The Cabot mayor was accompanied by City Attorney Jim Taylor.

Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim went with aldermen Kenny Elliott and Gary Fletcher.
Sherwood Mayor Virginia Hillman was accompanied by aldermen Marina Brooks and Charlie Harmon.

Beebe, Ward, Austin and Lonoke did not send representatives to the annual March conference.

The Congressional City Conference is designed to inform municipal leaders about federal policy issues and at the same time provide an opportunity for them to bring local concerns to their federal elected officials in Washington, D.C.

Karen Davis, operations director in Cabot, said Williams intended to meet with Rep. Marion Berry, Sen. Blanche Lincoln and Sen. Mark Pryor.

“His top priority is the north interchange,” Davis said.

Contacted Monday night, Williams said the hope is that money for the north interchange will be included in the transportation authorization at the end of the year.

“I visited with the (Arkansas) Highway Commission again and their position is still that if we can get help from the congressional delegation that they’ll help, too,” Williams said.

The mayor said he had appointments with Pryor and Lincoln on Tuesday and with Berry today.

He would tell them, he said, that Cabot has done what it said it would to help build the overpass and the armory that will be under construction this summer.

Cabot the third fastest-growing city in the state and it deserves help controlling the traffic, he said.

Williams said the estimated cost of building the north interchange that would connect Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 367 is $19.5 million.

The railroad overpass will connect Arkansas Hwy. 367 to Arkansas Hwy. 38.

“You have to have an overpass before you can have a north interchange,” the mayor said during an interview late last year. “That’s done. Now it’s time to move on to the next step.”

The hope is that the north interchange will be completely funded with federal money. Williams said the $3 million he has put back over the past two years could help pay an 80-20 match if necessary and he is still saving.

According to the Web site for the National League of Cities, it is “the nation’s oldest and largest organization devoted to strengthening and promoting cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance.

“NLC is a resource and advocate for 19,000 cities, towns and villages, representing more than 218 million Americans,” according to the Web site.