Friday, August 04, 2017

EDITORIAL >> Hwy. 89 Extension

Almost $200 million in Hwy. 67/167 construction projects are nearing the halfway mark from Jacksonville to Cabot. Although the construction has caused some disruption for commuters, especially with the recent closing of the Main Street exit, the inconvenience is well worth it once construction is completed in a couple of years.

Two overpasses are under construction at Redmond Road and Main Street at a cost of $42 million. In addition, the widening and repaving to six lanes to Hwy. 5 is also underway, along with a $20 million north interchange going up between Cabot and Austin.

Widening from Jacksonville to Hwy. 5 in Cabot should be completed next at a cost of $70 million. The widening will then resume from Main Street to Vandenberg Boulevard for $61 million.

Now comes or Garver Engineers, who by the end of next summer are expected to complete a $200,000 study on the feasibility of turning Hwy. 89 into an east-west corridor connecting Hwy. 67/167 at Jacksonville and Cabot with I-40 at Mayflower and perhaps on to Conway.

At the behest of many central Arkansas mayors, county judges and legislators, Metroplan and the newly renamed Arkansas Department of Transportation will split the study tab 50-50, according to Casey Covington, Metroplan deputy director.

He said priorities and critical issues must be identified and that there would be a public meeting later this month or in early September.

Complicating factors for such a highway project include its proximity to both Camp Robinson and flight paths at Little Rock Air Force Base, which could have safety and national security implications.

Officials pursued building the Hwy. 89 corridor when cancellation of the $600 million Northbelt Freeway left north Pulaski and southeast Faulkner counties without a loop around Little Rock.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said a Coffelt crossing ramp onto Hwy. 67/167 could eliminate a lot of the upstream congestion coming from the north part of the county and Cabot, Austin and Ward, which backs up at Vandenberg Boulevard.

“It could also open up the five miles stretch between Jacksonville and Cabot to development,” Fletcher told The Leader. So it’s not just about an east-west connection between Conway and Mayflower on the west and Jacksonville and Cabot on the east, he said.

The Hwy. 89 extension would be a welcome addition to the road improvements underway, leading to economic development, more jobs and better schools.