Tuesday, June 04, 2013

TOP STORY >> Cypert pushes for road work

Leader senior staff writer

Metroplan staff presented findings last week to Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert’s ad hoc Metroplan North Belt Freeway alternatives committee.

Cypert, president of the Metroplan board of directors, said the group now needs time to study those data-rich findings. The group is unlikely to make a decision until after completion of a $500,000 feasibility study on paying for the freeway by making it a toll road.

Metroplan and the High-way Department will split the cost of that study.

“Essentially, the presentations by the staff...includes statistical database and positive and negative impacts of each of five alternative routes, plus full-build and no-build options,” the mayor said.

“There was no option that surfaced that seemed to be a prime performer,” Cypert said.

The North Belt has been on the books since the 1950s, sometimes with money identified and promised, but more than half a century later, it is incomplete and completion estimates run as high as $700 million.

The roughly 13 miles from Hwy. 67/167 in Jacksonville to I-430/I-40 in North Little Rock is the only uncompleted segment of a patchwork of highways that would circle Little Rock and North Little Rock.

Most, if not all, large and major cities have such a bypass, although that’s not the primary benefit now, if it ever was.

The North Belt is now perceived of primarily as a good route to move people/employees from the bedroom communities in and near North Pulaski County to West Little Rock employers and those in and around the medical corridor along I-630, while alleviating congestion on Hwy. 67/167, I-30 and I-40.

According to Cypert, each option was evaluated on its impact to travel time, potential use, traffic reductions on other roadways (Hwy. 67/167, Hwy. 107, and I-40), cost and right of way acquisition.

By 2030, it is estimated that as many as 13,000 to 15,000 daily trips would use the full-build North Belt alignment to travel between Hwy. 67/167 and I-430/I-40.

The only option that provides these users with consistent travel time savings over the use of Hwy. 67/167 and I-40 (both peak and off-peak) is the construction of the North Belt as a freeway on the approved alignment.

It is the only alternative providing consistent travel time savings.

Of the arterial options proposed, Option 5 (Jacksonville Cutoff Extended) and Option 7 (Jacksonville Cut-off Extended and Coffelt Crossing Connection), provide the highest level of service.

To achieve these benefits, Jacksonville Cutoff and Main Street (Jacksonville) would have to be widened and access to abutting property controlled. The right-of-way acquisition would result in significant business and residential relocations (50+). Even if one assumes that Highway Department is willing and able to construct the portion of the roadway from I-430 to Batesville Pike, each of these alternatives would require a substantial financial commitment from local governments to complete ($125/$225 million).

Each scenario is described and discussed below, with most of the language verbatim from Metroplan’s Casey Covington, Central Arkansas Regional Arterial Study director, who authored the report.

Option 1 – No Build Alternative
The no-build option assumes that none of the North Belt is built by 2030. All other alternatives are compared with the No Build alternative.

Option 2 – North Belt Freeway Full Build

The full build alternative assumes that the North Belt will be built as a freeway consistent with the alignment approved in the environmental impact statement.

This option “provides both non-peak and peak travel time savings over the use of Hwy. 67/167 and I-40 to travel from northeast Pulaski County to I-430. No other option considered provides these savings. It maximizes the reduction in traffic on Hwy. 67/167, I-40 and Hwy. 107, completes the circumferential freeway network around the Little Rock/North Little Rock metro area, and provides the greatest flexibility in funding options, including tolling. Approximately 100 acres of developable (excluding flood plain) land would be consumed by this alternative. This could potentially be reduced if the freeway was pushed north into the Kellogg Creek, but this would have negative environmental impacts and likely increase the cost of the road’s construction.”

Option 3 – State Hwy. 89/Batesville Pike

This option “connects the North Belt Freeway with Cabot by improving Batesville Pike and Republican Road. A new link is added to connect Republican Road with the Hwy. 67/167-Hwy. 5 interchange in Cabot. Additionally, this alternative assumes that Hwy. 89 will be improved between Cabot and Mayflower to provide another option for east/west flow. This arterial alternative would connect with a freeway type roadway, for security purposes, across Camp Robinson.”

The study concluded that this “is the most expensive alternative considered and requires the most land for construction. This alternative provides few travel time savings and, consequently, its use is minimized. This alternative provides a desirable connection from northeast Pulaski County to Faulkner County and improvements to Batesville Pike should be considered if North Belt Freeway is constructed.”

Option 4 – Coffelt Connection/North Air Force Base

This option “extends a new arterial from a new interchange at Hwy. 67/167 and Coffelt Road along the north side of the Little Rock Air Force Base to Hwy. 107. Sharing a short section of Hwy. 107, the new arterial directly connects to the North Belt alignment at Kellogg Acres Road via new alignment.”

This option “provides a direct connection from Cabot to the North Belt Freeway but does not serve much of Jacksonville. This alternative is less effective than the freeway alternative as it serves less area and provides less travel time savings.

This alternative should be considered as a means to improve access to the Little Rock Air Force Base and areas between Batesville Pike and Hwy. 107 in northeast Pulaski County.”

Option 5 – Jacksonville Cut-off Extended (South Air Force Base)

It connects the North Belt Freeway with Hwy. 67/167 via improvements to Jacksonville Cutoff/Main Street and a new connection from Hwy. 107 west to Kellogg Acres Road. This new link would cross much of the current Kellogg Creek wetlands.

This option “comes closest to providing the benefits and travel time savings of the full build freeway. This is only the case if one is willing to reconstruct Main Street (west of Hwy. 67/167) and Jacksonville Cut-off as a four-lane divided arterial with access control to maximize travel speeds.

As a result, this alternative has higher right of way costs and existing business impacts than other alternatives as an estimated 50 residents/businesses along Jacksonville Cutoff/Main Street would require relocation. A significant bridge required to cross the Kellogg Creek Wetlands would result in additional environmental impacts.

This route (to Hwy. 107) is part of the regional arterial network and should be considered for improvements as an arterial route.”

Option 6 – Jacksonville Cut-off, Kiehl, and Hwy. 107

This option “uses two existing routes to connect Hwy. 67/167 with the proposed North Belt. The Jacksonville area is connected to the North Belt via improvements to Jacksonville Cutoff, Hwy. 107 and Maryland Avenue while Sherwood is connected via improvements to Kiehl and Maryland Avenues. Significant impacts to both existing business along Kiehl and Jacksonville Cutoff/Main Street would occur due to the required widening.

This option “results in few benefits for through traffic (no travel time savings) as the connection is less direct than other arterial options considered. This option is also associated with higher (right of way) and business impacts along Jacksonville Cutoff/Main Street. This option does demonstrate a need to consider improvements to Maryland Road west of Hwy. 107 to provide improved access to North Belt for areas of Sherwood.”

Option 7 – Coffelt and Jacksonville Cut-off Extended

This option “connects the North Belt to Hwy. 67/167 by using the Coffelt Connection (Option 4) and Jacksonville Cutoff extended (Option 6). This scenario would provide direct connections for both Cabot and Jacksonville by the construction of two separate arterial alignments.

This option “provides the maximum benefits of all arterial options considered due to it providing direct connections to both Cabot and Jacksonville. Travel time savings would be realized during peak hours (future) with fewer benefits during non-peak periods. This option is the second most expensive option considered (more than the full build freeway) and has the same right of way/business impacts along Jacksonville Cutoff. Elements of this option might be considered to improve access to the freeway if it is ever constructed.”