Tuesday, July 08, 2014

EDITORIAL >> $235 million invested here

As the economy improves after six years of slow growth or no growth at all, much of the credit should go to local communities that pushed construction projects while the economy was in deep recession.

Call it infrastructure investment in the area’s future. The road improvements, along with other building projects, are the result of local, state and federal initiatives that will improve the lives of local residents and bring more businesses to the area.

More than $180 million in road construction will soon begin between Jacksonville and Cabot, including the repaving and eventual widening of Hwy. 67/167. This is the first real modernization of Hwy. 67/167 since it was built 50 years ago. The improvements will ease traffic to and from those communities and should start a retail boom along Hwy. 67/167.

National chains are showing interest in the growing corridor, which will soon benefit from a $42 million contract awarded to James Construction Group of Baton Rouge, La., to replace both the Main Street and Redmond Road overpasses in Jacksonville. Wider, safer overpasses will accommodate three lanes of traffic north and south, along with a substantial shoulder at Main Street, new approaches and ramps to the overpasses, and a new stretch of highway between them.

Repairs are also set to begin on seven miles of Hwy. 67/167 between Jacksonville and Hwy. 5 at Cabot. It’s a temporary fix until the highway is widened and resurfaced beginning in 2019. That contract was awarded to Chester Bross Construction Company of Hannibal, Mo., for $2,696,218.

Hwy. 67/167 is already a six-lane highway from I-40 to Redmond Road, and widening the highway from Main Street to Vandenberg is slated to begin in two years, about the time work will be completed on the Redmond Road-Main Street section.

Resurfacing projects in several towns here will pump additional millions into the local economy. Meanwhile, the design and environmental work has begun and traffic signals are being installed at the intersection of Hwy. 367 and Hwy. 38 at Cabot for what’s known as the north terminal intersection, which will speed traffic in and around Cabot, Austin and surrounding communities. The cost of about $8 million will be split between Cabot and state Highway Department.

Cabot voters last year approved a plan to extend the city’s one-cent sales tax to fund a $42 million bond issue for sewer improvements, a new freeway interchange, a new library, sports and aquatic complex, improvements at the community center and drainage work in the Highlands subdivision.

The city last month broke ground for the $13.5 million sports and aquatic complex on Hwy. 321 next to Holland Bottom Farms.

The $8.2 million water park will have a four-lane swimming pool, a slide pool, a walk-in pool, a lazy winding river, a bath house, a concession stand and outdoor private party area. It will open next summer.

The $5.3 million sports complex will have nine baseball fields, two football fields, playgrounds, batting cages, pavilions and a walking track, lighting and a concession stand. It will open in the fall of 2015.

The 160-acre shooting and archery range in Jacksonville, built for $3.5 million, will continue to pump millions of dollars into the local economy, although nearby residents, unhappy with the noise, want to scale back the hours of operation. A noise specialist will make recommendations on how to soothe nerves in homes that surround the shooting range.

Little Rock Air Force Base is spending more than $5 million on street repairs and resurfacing parking lots, as well as remodeling the three main base gates at Vandenberg Boulevard, Harris Road and Arnold Drive. The projects are scheduled to be completed in October 2015.

According to an announcement from the air base, the new, modernized gates will help improve base access, safety and security procedures, while improving traffic flow. There will be some delays and traffic congestion during these improvements.

Adding up all these projects, we come up with $235 million in infrastructure investments in our communities. That money will be well spent. Twenty years ago, another $100 million would have completed the west leg of the North Belt Freeway, but a lack of leadership doomed the project. That project today would cost at least six times that amount.

“The best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago,” says an old proverb. “The second-best time is now.”