Leader Blues

Saturday, September 30, 2006

TOP STORY>>Freeway widening will start this fall

IN SHORT: Metroplan dots the final “i” on road projects, while commission accepts bids.

Leader staff writer

Construction could begin within six or eight weeks on the widening of state Highway 67/167 northbound from Hwy. 440 to Redmond Road at Jacksonville, according to state Highway Commissioner Carl Rosenbaum.

At $13.4 million, Weaver-Bailey Contractors, Inc. of El Paso (White County) was the apparent low bidder to widen to six lanes the 1.6-mile northbound stretch of state Hwy. 67/167 be-tween state Hwy. 440 and the Redmond Road exit, according to Randy Ort, department spokes-man.

“This project is a continuation of the improvements we are making to Hwy. 67 between North Little Rock and Jacksonville,” said Rosenbaum. “The project will construct the northbound lanes and, in the future, motorists will have three lanes in each direction from I-40 northward up to Redmond Road.”

The widening adds two acceleration lanes to the northbound traffic.

Work on this section should be completed by late 2008.

Currently Hwy. 67/167 is six lanes wide or under construction from I-40 north to Kiehl Avenue.

The project is consistent with the Metroplan policy of widening all area freeways to six lanes.

That widening was one of three local projects given final design approval Wednesday morning at the Metroplan board of directors meeting in Little Rock.

The Highway Commission also accepted the apparent low bid of $851,000 from Blackhawk Construction and Transportation Services of Coila, Miss., to construct four box culverts across Bull Creek in White County on County Road 52, according to White County Judge Bobby Parish. “The project will provide a safer roadway for years to come for motorists in this area of the county,” said the judge.

Rosenbaum said construction should begin this fall and could be completed in the summer of 2007.

The other two projects getting final design are the new northbound Hwy. 67/167 Vandenberg Blvd. onramp in Jacksonville north of Lowe’s Home Center, and in Sherwood, the widening to four lanes of the east-west section of Hwy. 107 from Bear Paw Drive to Brockington Road, plus a center, two-way, left-turn lane.

Prior to approving the Hwy. 107 design, the board endorsed a technical coordinating committee recommendation to change the design standard from rural standard to the urban standard.

“That area is becoming unrural real quick,” said Sherwood Mayor Bill Harmon, a member of the Metroplan Board.

“We got subdivision after subdivision going up out there and commercial development at the corner of Brockington Road.”

The change means the lanes will be wider, sidewalks will be constructed, there won’t be open ditches along the roadsides and it will be curbed and guttered—default standards for urban highway construction. That particular widening was long overdue, according to Richard Magee, Metroplan director of planning, because for many years that corridor was also considered the likely path of a portion of the North Belt Freeway.

Now that the Hwy. 107 corridor has, for all practical purposes, been eliminated from North Belt route consideration, the Highway Department and Metroplan have approved the Hwy. 107 widening. Also, a new traffic signal has been installed at the Hwy. 107 and Brockington Road intersection, Metroplan Board members were told. For the new northbound Vandenberg entrance ramp on to Hwy. 67/167, Jacksonville City Engineer Jay Whisker said the shift in the frontage road alignment, not the new onramp itself, is responsible for relocating The Pizza Com-pany. The project includes removal of the existing ramp and construction of a new ramp approximately 2,000 feet north of the existing ramp, as well as improvements along T.P.
White Drive — the frontage road.

The current onramp is right in front of Lowe’s and traffic from Madden Road, including Jacksonville High School traffic wanting to head north on Hwy. 67/167, must now make an illegal turn, or circle around through the Vandenberg intersection or else follow the frontage road north all the way to Hwy. 5 at Cabot.

“They are out there relocating some utilities (already),” Whisker said. The existing northbound entrance is a dangerous slip ramp, where it’s possible to have a head-on collision, Whisker said. The new design will make entrance to the ramp essentially a left-hand turn.