Leader Blues

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

TOP STORY>> Air base gets top planners' attention

IN SHORT: The staff at Metroplan is looking at ways to accommodate an influx of new jobs and personnel at Little Rock Air Force Base. Ideas include widening Hwy. 67/167 from Jacksonville to Cabot, as well as parts of Hwy. 89.

By John Hofheimer
Leader staff writer

Widening Hwy. 67-167 between the North Belt Loop and Hwy. 89 at an estimated cost of $124 million will be a high priority if 4,000 new jobs come to Little Rock Air Force Base over the next few years, according to a recommendation of Metroplan staff on Tuesday.

“We’re pleased that they are looking and making sure that the air base is covered,” said Jacksonville Engineer Jay Whisker, who serves on the Metroplan technical coordinating committee. “Its nice when communities get together and we can all benefit from having the air base.”

He said he was pleased Metro-plan was considering the widening of Hwy. 67/167 between Vandenberg Boulevard near the air base and Hwy. 89 in Cabot. One accident or one small problem can back up traffic to Cabot, he said.

No one expressed serious opposition during Metroplan’s transportation advisory council meeting to consideration and reordering of a dozen projects that could be affected by the expected increase in jobs at the base, but the council stopped short of sending the plan on to the Metroplan board of directors.

It would cost an estimated $197 million to complete all 12 projects, with only $48 million currently projected to be available, according to Casey Covington, a Metroplan traffic planner. Most of the proposed changes involve increasing traffic capacity to and from the front and back gates at the base.

“Getting people to the back air base gate is just as important for folks moving into the west side of Jacksonville,” Whisker said, noting growth at Forest Oaks and Base Meadows subdivisions and the approval by the Jacksonville Planning Commission Monday night of the Lost Creek subdivision.

Broken up into three separate projects to meet increased traffic use with additional base personnel, an estimated 2,000 vehicles a day would be projected to travel on each if the new jobs materialize as a result of the base realignment and closure process.

Ten million dollars already is committed to widen the highway to six lanes from the North Belt Freeway to Redmond Road. An additional $32 million would be available to widen it from Redmond to Vandenberg if the Metro 2030 long-range transportation plan is adopted in August.

The segment from Vandenberg to Hwy. 89 would cost $82 million and the staff has recommended that as a high priority should the jobs materialize.

The Metroplan/Highway De-partment plan already calls for widening Hwy. 107 from Jack-sonville/Cato to General Samuels at a cost of $3 million and the widening of Graham Road from Main Street to Loop Road, also $3 million.

If money is available, the widening of Hwy. 107 from General Samuels to the air base would be a high priority and cost about $4 million. A lower priority would be the widening of Hwy. 107 from the air base to Republican Road—a $10 million project.

The widening of Hwy. 89 from U.S. 67/167 to Hwy 367 in Cabot also is rated a high priority if there is air base expansion, at a cost of $4 million.

The widening of Hwy. 321 from Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 89 is rated a low air base priority, but improvement of the interchange is considered important in the context of the air base.