Leader Blues

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

TOP STORY >> Routes offered for loop project

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Nearly 500 North Pulaski residents attended public meetings on potential routes being considered to complete the missing North Belt Loop link through or around Sherwood on Monday and Tuesday, and as expected the predominant theme was “not in my backyard.”
In late 2003, Sherwood rejected the Highway Department choice of alternatives to link the North Belt from Hwy. 67/167 to a spot near the North Little Rock Municipal Airport en route to Crystal Hill and I-430 precisely because the State High-way and Transportation Depart-ment’s preferred route would have run through several developed or developing subdivisions on or near the east-west portion of Hwy. 107.

That’s when the department went back to the drawing board, launching an in-house, supplemental environmental impact statement to determine the route the North Belt Freeway will take through the Sherwood area.

Completion of the 12.6-to 14.5-mile North Belt Loop from Hwy. 67/167 to I-430 is expected to cost about $200 million.
Currently under consideration are variations of four alternatives considered last time, plus two alignments north of Gravel Ridge.
This time, each alignment is broken up into segments that can be combined to make variations. The department will accept comments on these routes through Nov. 30, according to Ruby Jordan, who works in the department’s environmental section.

Jordan said about 260 people attended the meeting Monday night at Calvary Baptist Church on Brockington Road in Sherwood. Among them were faces familiar from the previous attempt to pick a route.

The public meetings are part of the supplemental Environmental Impact Statement.
“We hope to have an approved route in 2007,” according to Randy Ort, spokesman for the State Highway and Transpor-tation Department. First, there will be a final location public hearing, he said.

“We can go to the location public hearing without a preferred alignment,” he said, but added the department hopes not to.
Jim Anderson, who was the president of the group that helped derail the proposed route that would have cut right through Amber Oaks and other subdivisions near him, said he was confident those neighborhoods were safe this time — but not so confident that he would ignore the selection process.

“They are saying the original (rejected) alignment is just for historical purposes,” Anderson said.
Many of those at the Sherwood meeting preferred the two northern-most alternatives, while many among the 220 people to attend the Tuesday night meeting at Cato Elementary School in Runyan Acres said they preferred one of the more southerly routes.

Sherwood Aldermen Becki Vassar and Marina Brooks said they preferred the “red” route — essentially alternative 4-A last time around.
Segments eight and 10 (red and orange on the map) avoid nearly all construction, said Vassar.

Billie Dreher says that alternative would take her whole Silver Creek subdivision and Bobbie Riffle says it would threaten her home at Kellogg Acres Road.

She said money and power seem likely to trump democracy on this issue.

Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon said excluding the “green” option parallel to Hwy. 107 — essentially the route rejected by the town last time — any of the three lower alternatives would be acceptable.

Dianne Wilson, on the Gap Creek board of directors, said she wants a far-north route to avoid planned construction.
Judy Beale, a member of the Dupree family in Jacksonville, said she preferred linking segments one, three, 10, 13 and 16.
She lives in the area and is part of the family developing the Legacy Project, which will be bisected by Hwy. 67/167 and Hwy. 440.
The selection process is broken up into more segments this time around, according to Lynn Mal-brough, assistant division head in engineering for the department.

He said the two northern-most routes, while eliminated a decade ago, now have sufficient area traffic for consideration.
Rick Ragan, who lives in Gibson, said his mother, Freda, lives in Kellogg Acres and has been there since 1959. His brother has a home next door. He was at the meeting looking after their interests, he said.

Comments may be sent to the state Highway and Transpor-tation Department, Environ-mental Division, P.O. Box 2261, Little Rock, Ark., 72203. For a response form or further information, call (501) 569-2281.