Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

TOP STORY >> Lonoke hoping to land Toyota

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Even as Toyota announces that one or more sites in Arkansas are among those under consideration for a new auto plant, Lonoke city fathers, including Mayor Thomas Privett, are closer than ever to construction of a new Hwy. 89/I-40 interchange. But for the lack of the proposed new interchange on the west side of Lonoke and adjacent to prime industrial development sites, Lonoke might already have landed a major manufacturer, they say.

“It would encourage a big outfit like Toyota,” Privett said Tuesday. “We have money, and we can get what we need to match. We’re going ahead with pre-engineering for the interchange.”

He added, “That’s important to people that like the site.”

Privett, chamber director John Garner and members of the Lonoke Industrial Development Committee have been in discussions with several manufacturers over the past two years, and they think they’ve come close to landing a big one.
“Arkansas has a presence on their radar screen,” said Privett, who revealed at least one manufacturer is interested in the site adjacent to the future interchange.

The Lonoke City Council last week passed a resolution required by the state Highway and Transportation Depart-ment before planning and engineering can go any further. “I hope we can bid (pre-engineering) next month,” said the mayor.

During talks with Highway Department officials, including director Dan Flowers and commissioner Carl Rosen-baum, a tentative plan that resembles half a cloverleaf but provides on and off ramps both east and west on I-40 has emerged as an economical solution, according to the mayor.

“That was the highway people’s choice, lesser cost,” he said.

Planning and design and right-of-way procurement and engineering are on the same page, he said, although a Highway Department spokesman was unable to confirm that Tuesday afternoon.

That half-cloverleaf design would cost an estimated $5.9 million, ac-cording to the mayor, most of which has been earmarked for the project in the form of Federal Highway Administration funds, courtesy of hard work by Senators Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor and Cong. Marion Berry, all Demo-crats .

Now the city is trying to get more federal money to cover about $1 million it needs in matching funds, he said. It’s possible that the money could be obtained by the Lonoke Industrial Development Commis-sion, Privett said.

Right now, he said, the project is targeted for a 2009 start date, but the city is trying to get it moved up to 2007.