Tuesday, December 09, 2014

EDITORIAL >> Infrastructure spending pays

County and city officials in Lonoke on Friday celebrated the official opening of the $9.6 million Hwy. 89 and I-40 interchange in Lonoke, which not only provides convenience to motorists but should encourage economic development in the area once the city extends water and sewer lines out there.

Plans for the interchange began more than 16 years ago. These projects take forever, but they’re worth fighting for. Right now, about $200 million in road construction is underway here or in the planning stages.

Major highway construction continues along Hwy. 67/167, where a hardworking, ever present crew is replacing both the Main Street and Redmond Road overpasses in Jacksonville to accommodate three lanes of traffic north and south, along with substantial shoulders, to take motorists to the highway.

The state Highway Commission has awarded a $42 million contract to James Construction Group of Baton Rouge, La.

The road widening and new overpasses will be an extension of the widening of Hwy. 67/167 from McCain Boulevard to Jacksonville.

Construction is set to start on seven miles of Hwy. 67/167 between Jacksonville and Hwy. 5 at Cabot. The roadway will be repaired, but only two lanes deep in each direction. It’s a temporary fix until the highway is widened and resurfaced beginning in 2019. The resurfacing contract will cost $2,696,218.

The $61 million reconstruction and widening between Main Street and Vandenberg Boulevard is scheduled to begin in 2016. The $70 million project between Vandenberg Boulevard and Hwy. 5 is scheduled for 2019.

As reporter John Hofheimer wrote here, 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.

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 the North Terminal Intersection. That will connect a loop around the city to a new interchange on Hwy. 67/167.

With proceeds from a sales tax, the city is providing $9.2 million of the $20 million project to allow continued growth in the area without further congestion on Hwy. 89 running through Cabot. The project was moved up because Cabot contributed nearly 50 percent to it.

But there’s still no progress on the final stretch of the North Belt Freeway because state and local leaders failed to secure a route from the Jacksonville bean fields at Hwy. 67/167 to I-430 in North Little Rock back in the prosperous 1990s. State highway officials should have lobbied the Clinton administration for $120 million needed to complete the project.

The cost has quadrupled since then and the freeway appears doomed unless community leaders pressure our congressional delegation to support a highway bill that would complete the North Belt. We’re counting on leadership from incoming Gov. Asa Hutchinson and legislative leaders, such as incoming House Speaker Jeremy Gilliam (R-Judsonia) and Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot). Better late than never.