Friday, April 06, 2012

EDITORIAL >> North Belt dead ends

Lack of leadership and money, along with a judge’s ruling in favor of a local developer, apparently has killed the second leg of the North Belt Loop, which would have extended west from the bean fields at Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville to Crystal Hill at I-40 in North Little Rock.

Circuit Judge Chris Piazza ruled recently that Sherwood must approve the plat for Deer Properties, which is planning to build a subdivision in the path of the North Belt.

For months, we’ve been reporting on the standoff between Sherwood and the developer, who had threatened to go to court if he didn’t get his way from the city council. Now he’s been vindicated and the North Belt, after a half-century of planning, appears doomed.

Metroplan could still buy out the developer, but the price, like the cost of the freeway, could be prohibitive. The cost of the 12.7-mile route has more than quintupled in the last decade, going from $120 million to more than $700 million, which is ridiculous.

Some of us remember the state Highway Department telling area residents when Bill Clinton was governor that a five-cent gasoline tax would fund completion of the highway. But funds were diverted for other projects, including $200 million or so for I-540 in northwest Arkansas, leaving nothing for the second leg of the North Belt.

Right now the route is just a 200-foot wide line on a map. The entire segment of the route would require conversion of 707 acres of right of way, including the proposed subdivision, according to the environmental statement.

This is how the route could have gone if state officials had kept their promise: 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 alternative 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 Hwy. 107.

The highway would have turned to the northeast when crossing Fears Lake and back to the southeast, crossing Oneida Street before connecting with the Hwy. 67 interchange.

Sounds like a good plan, doesn’t it? It looks like it will never happen. Thank the state Highway Department, Metroplan and local officials for the debacle.