Tuesday, August 01, 2017

TOP STORY >> Hwy. 89 extension on horizon

By JOHN HOFHEIMER Leader senior staff writer

Garver Engineers are expected to complete by the end of next summer 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.

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 half-billion dollar Northbelt Freeway left north Pulaski and southeast Faulkner counties without a fairly direct transportation route.

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 gets backed up at Vandenberg Boulvard.

“It could also open up the five miles stretch between Jacksonville and Cabot to development,” Fletcher said. 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.

Stated in the scope of work, “as a result of the removal of the long-planned Northbelt Freeway from the Metropolitan Transportation Plan…the Hwy. 89 corridor has risen in importance on the Regional Arterial Network as a key route in connecting the northern parts of the region to each other.


Garver will perform a study of a continuous arterial path. The study corridor generally follows existing Hwy. 89. “The objective of this study is to determine options for improving and/or constructing a continuous multimodal linkage from the western portion of Conway through Mayflower to Cabot, including a potential new interchange with Hwy. 67 in the vicinity of Coffelt Road,” as stated in the scope of work.

The study would include alternative solutions, a cursory environmental review, cost estimates and recommendation on phasing in construction in consideration of potential funding.


Garver is charged with holding meetings with stakeholders and public involvement meetings and “shall use the results of the alternative analysis and the environmental constraints map to show the positive and negative impacts that would result from implementing each of the alternatives.” 

If any alternatives are determined to be feasible, (Garver) shall perform a detailed analysis to determine a recommended alternative, according to the scope of work document. 

In the letter Metroplan sent Dick Trammel, chairman of the state Transportation Department, officials noted, “The department is already working on improvements on each end of that corridor. In Cabot the draft STIP (Surface Transportation Improvement Plan) contains a project to reconstruct and add capacity to the state Hwy. 89 interchange on U.S. 67/167 and the roadway has been improved west to state Hwy. 5. On the west end, the draft STIP contains a project to reconstruct the Mayflower interchange on I-40 and include a rail-grade separation as part of the project.”


“There’s been discussion about a Coffelt connection,” said Metroplan’s Covington, but the entire process is “just getting started.”

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

“We want to make sure the connection back into Hwy. 67 doesn’t have an adverse effect on Little Rock Air Force Base. We believe that the corridor is almost uniquely situated to that it can be improved in phases as demand warrants once the full connections have been made. The planning study should lay out a road…of those phased improvements,” local officials wrote to the highway commission.