Friday, October 13, 2017

TOP STORY >> Hwy. 89 plan struggles

By JOHN HOFHEIMER Leader senior staff writer

Turnout was light on Tuesday at the Jacksonville public meeting to discuss options for an improved Hwy. 89 corridor connecting Cabot or Jacksonville on the east with Mayflower and Conway on the west, but attendees seemed most concerned that any such east-west corridor across the top of Pulaski County not interfere with air traffic at Little Rock Air Force Base.

Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, long a proponent of an interchange at Coffelt Crossing now says he’s backed off. Fletcher said such a highway close to the base and in the flight path was not a good idea and that such an interchange would probably cost about $25 million.

Fletcher said with base realignment and closure periodically considered, the mission at Little Rock Air Force Base could change and it might need the flexibility to expand or to extend the runway and flight path.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert would like to see Hwy. 89 four-laned across the top of Pulaski County, running just south of Camp Robinson, then on to Mayflower or an almost identical route, that departs from Hwy. 89 at Batesville Pike, then Bates-ville Pike to Sayles Road and back onto Hwy. 89 again to Mayflower.

Metroplan executive director Tab Townsell, who attended the Jacksonville meeting, said that comments were largely from local people, many of whom don’t want their home area turned into a four-lane highway.

“They can get around now,” he said and are “concerned that it’s a threat to the peace and tranquility.”

The roadway is of more a regional benefit, he said, being looked at for through-traffic. Not necessarily be all and end all route.

If it is to be done, he said, it could be phased in through a series of improvements and traffic demanded. “I don’t see it coming in as four lane, stem to stern.”

He said it might be good to decide a route and buy the right of way.

Metroplan deputy director Casey Covington said the need for such an east-west route north of I-40 increased when the long-planned and expensive North Belt Freeway was taken off the area’s long-term transportation plan.

Cypert has said it could help alleviate heavy rush-hour traffic on Hwy. 67/167 by rerouting many on their way to shopping or jobs in west Little Rock or the medical corridor along I-630.

Richard Robertson, who lives on East Republic Road says, “I’m personally concerned about Little Rock Air Force Base, and I’d rather error on the side of caution.

“The way I understand it,” Townsell said, “the Air Force is primarily concerned about any alignment that begins to mimic the approach zone, glide path, and consider that a grave safety issue. But a design that’s perpendicular is not so egregious.”

Jacksonville resident Bruce McFadden, whose ICM light construction equipment sales and rental business is located on North Redmond Road, said such an east-west passage is long overdue. He would prefer the alternative closer to Jacksonville. He would use it going to or coming from Conway.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde has said, against his wishes, there could still be an east-west four-lane highway across the top of the county. He doesn’t support the plan.

A similar meeting was held Thursday at Mayflower.

About 25 civilians attended the Jacksonville meeting.

The corridor study by Garver Engineers will cost $199,000 to be split evenly by Metroplan and the state Department of Transportation.

Garver will count and address the written comments, probably recommend some options and report to elected officials, Townsend said.