Friday, November 24, 2017

TOP STORY >> Improve Hwy. 107, residents ask

Leader senior staff writer

Focus should be on the continuation of Hwy. 107 widening, not a Hwy. 89 corridor connecting Cabot to Mayflower and Conway, said the few who commented at a Tuesday night town-hall meeting at the North Pulaski Community Center.

There’s no telling how many of the 30-some local residents came for the brownies and crime-watch portion of the regularly scheduled meeting, but those who spoke said they didn’t see much benefit to the proposed Hwy. 89 improvements being studied.

The study seeks to determine the need for and feasibility of a continuous state Hwy. 89 corridor, making it a key component of the regional arterial network, providing a continuous east-west corridor between I-40 and Hwy. 67, north of Camp Robinson.

Pulaski County Judge Barry Hyde, an avowed opponent of the Hwy. 89 plan, brought representatives of Metroplan, the Arkansas Transportation Department and Garver Engineers to the meeting.

“What are we going to accomplish?” asked resident Stoney McKeehan.

Hyde has said he doesn’t know of any rural north Pulaski County residents who favor any of the four similar paths being considered for an east-west corridor and that the primary beneficiaries would likely be residents of Faulkner and Lonoke counties.

Hyde has said Pulaski County could end up with a highway that the county judge doesn’t favor and the county doesn’t need.

Hyde said as a Pulaski County bypass, it would be disruptive of the neighborhoods, but “I can be outvoted.”

It makes sense for May-flower, Conway and Cabot and Hyde said, and if he were one of those mayors, he’d support the plan, but that it doesn’t make sense for unincorporated areas of Pulaski County and as such he doesn’t support it.

He said if a plan moves forward, it could result in a wider right-of-way.

Of the half-dozen residents who spoke, none spoke in favor of the Hwy. 89 project.

Hyde said that initially, all the Metroplan board, comprising Central Arkansas mayors and county judges, favored the idea except him, and that Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher, an early proponent, has backed away in face of some concerns that a Coffelt Crossing component of the plan could interfere with Little Rock Air Force Base’s flight path.

Tommy Majors said he thought improving Hwy. 107 to Gravel Ridge and north of the air base was more of a priority.

“Widen Hwy. 107, that’s a nightmare,” said Gloria Mathis. “This ain’t gonna’ do any good.”

“The obvious project to me is to continue to improve Hwy. 107 to (the back gate of) the base,” Hyde said. “Sometimes traffic there is backed up half a mile.”

A partial solution would be to move the gate further in on the base, said transportation department engineer Virginia Porta. “It would create more storage.”

Metroplan deputy director Casey Covington said improving Hwy. 107 to the air base has been a regional priority.

“Your comments today are just as important as Jackson-ville and Conway residents’ comments,” said Covington. “It’s not too late.” He said comments would be accepted through Dec. 11.

Covington said the Hwy. 89 proposal came about after completing the Northbelt Freeway, on the long-range transportation plan as early as the 1950s, was finally scrapped as being too expensive.

Of the Hwy. 89 proposal, Covington asked, “Do you think it’s of benefit to you?”

“I don’t see this being a four-lane highway anytime soon,” he added.

Previous public meetings, part of the $200,000 Hwy. 89 corridor study, were held at Jacksonville and Conway, and Hyde wanted to hear from his constituents, whose lives might be impacted by a continuous, four-lane shot through their rural neighborhood.

“There’s not much awareness of the people most affected — you and your neighbors,” Hyde said.

Covington said the study, being conducted by Garver Engineers, couldn’t commit anything — it just provides a road map if Metroplan and transportation department to move forward if the idea is approved.