Tuesday, August 23, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Highway plan upsets crowd

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert and Lonoke County Judge Doug Erwin stayed calm last week in front of 50 angry residents who are upset about a major road project that would build a four-lane highway from Lewisburg Road down to the future Cabot North Interchange on Hwy. 67/167 near Willie Ray Drive and Ernie Davis Road. Bids will be opened in December for the interchange that will connect to Hwy. 38 in Cabot.

During a town hall meeting at Austin City Hall, Cypert and Erwin did their best to explain how the three-and-a-half mile route will ease traffic on Hwy. 5 and give residents in Greystone and Magness Creek subdivisions and elsewhere an eastern route to Hwy. 67/167.

Drivers in those neighborhoods are forced to take Greystone Boulevard, Magness Creek Drive and Lakeland Drive west to Hwy. 5, which leads to congestion and frequent car wrecks.

The proposed highway is estimated to cost $8 million and will be paid for with an 80-20 federal matching grant if Cabot is awarded the grant when it applies next year. The county would contribute $1 million to the project. Its northern starting point at Lewisburg Road could travel south on Ed Haymes Road and then straighten out and go directly to Hwy. 67/167.

It would cut through ranches and be near some residents, not too many though, whose homes were once in quiet secluded areas.

The route is only conceptual and may be revised to meet property owners’ requests and engineering concerns. Cypert said at the town hall that if there isn’t enough public support for the project, then the plan will be abandoned.

A look at Google Maps shows 20 homes situated along the route. The city and county need to pay landowners handsomely for the rights of way. The residents complained that they’ll loose quality of life, but this isn’t another I-40. It will be less traveled than Hwy. 5.

They also complained that the mayor and county judge hadn’t reached out to them about the plan sooner, but this plan is still in the preliminary phase and it’s plenty early to give feedback.

But more town halls about the project should be held soon, and officials should emphasize what other roads are needed to connect Cabot residents to this proposed highway. Omni Farms Road is little more than a dirt road that isn’t capable of handling high-volume traffic daily. The city and county will have to revamp it and connect it to Greystone Boulevard.

Bailey Road, just north of Greystone, runs into Lewisburg, and needs to connect to Pinehurst Loop, and Magness Creek also needs a route to Lewisburg. We know that’s an expensive to-do list, but the map shows just how penned in those neighborhoods are and how over-reliant they are on Hwy. 5.

The map also shows a potential for billions of dollars in residential development bringing it countless businesses and jobs that could be supported by the growth. The proposed highway could pave the way for several neighborhoods on both sides and in both cities.

Most of the route is in unincorporated areas so it won’t be surprising to see Cabot and Austin moving to annex much of those areas soon.

The highway will benefit both communities economically and improve traffic flow. It makes sense because it will help more people than it inconveniences.

If the two communities can share a top-notch school district, they should be able to work together to improve roads.