Friday, December 05, 2014

TOP STORY >> Lonoke overpass officially opened

Leader staff writer

The city of Lonoke and the chamber of commerce held a ribbon-cutting celebration on Friday for the new $9.6 million Hwy. 89 and I-40 interchange that recently opened. The project has been in the works for more than 16 years.

Rain forced the ceremony to be moved inside the Sawbucks restaurant at the old Perry’s motel.

Local and city leaders believe the new interchange will be a hub for industrial and commercial growth in Lonoke. But, before companies will commit to building, the area needs sewer service. The projected cost of that is $350,000.

Mayor Wayne McGee is working on a grant for funding from the Central Arkansas Planning and Development District.

The city is talking with Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department deputy director Emmanuel Banks about adding lighting to the interchange.

Highway Commissioner Tom Schueck said Lonoke signed an agreement in 2006 with the highway department to fund the project with 80 percent in federal aid and 20 percent in local aid.

But, when Schueck became the commissioner in 2011, he heard about the project for the first time. Schueck said he committed $1.5 million in available funds from the Highway Department for the construction of the interchange. Then, in April 2013, the final $7.9 million became available.

Lonoke Industrial Development Corp. chairman Michael Florence said John Tull and Joe Melton, who started the LIDC, needed to be recognized.

The LIDC provided more than $800,000 in private funds to help pay for the interchange. Another $114,000 from Metroplan was allocated by the county judge.

The old Hwy. 89 overpass was replaced when the interchange was built.

Schueck said, “Today we’ve completed the chore and gave the people of Lonoke what they wanted and sought. I’m personally proud to be involved with this because sometimes it takes new blood to come in, take a project and move with it.

“Working together with the city, county and state and the highway department, we can accomplish goals that are achievable,” Schueck said.

State Rep. Walls McCrary (D-Lonoke) said, “We struggled for years. When we got a (highway) commissioner to pay attention to us, it all happened.”

Former state Sen. Bobby Glover (D-Carlisle) said, “This is the largest project that had been approved for this area, that I know of.”

Glover said former U.S. Rep. Marion Berry was responsible for raising between $7 million and $8 million for the interchange project. Sen. Mark Pryor assisted Berry in the getting the appropriation approved. The city provided the funds to repave Hwy. 89 from the courthouse to the cemetery.

“Had the (highway) commissioner not made a commitment and saw it through along with the director, we wouldn’t be here today,” Glover said.

Glover said he was impressed with the layout and construction of the interchange. He said it is the biggest thing to happen to Lonoke since Remington.

County Judge Doug Erwin said, “The exit is going to open up all that area for industrial (growth). It is close to Little Rock. The future of Lonoke is very bright.”