Leader Blues

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

TOP STORY>>Metroplan approves funding of projects

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The Metroplan board of directors last week approved $40 million for improvement projects, including the widening of Highway 67/167 from the North Belt Freeway to Redmond Road in Jacksonville. Although all work on Hwy. 67/167 benefits Cabot commuters by increasing the road’s capacity, only one job is planned for the Cabot area under the 2007-2010 Transportation Improvement Plan (TIP) for central Arkansas.

All the design work for the planned $4.1 million Union Pacific Railroad overpass in Cabot is completed and right-of-way acquisition is underway, according to Richard Magee, Metroplan director of planning. Cabot’s share for the overpass is about $800,000, which the city is funding with the extension of a one-cent sales tax.

The bridge will be built near Polk Street off Hwy. 367 between Cabot and Austin. Even as they were unanimously adopting the TIP for central Arkansas, Metroplan board members also approved $330,000 to relocate utilities for the 1.7-mile, four-laning of Hwy. 107 between Bear Paw Drive and Brockington Road this year. That project is on the 2005-2007 TIP, which expires in October.

The TIP—a list of projects and funding sources—is the link between the Metroplan planning process and implementation of the plan, identifying the funding available. The new TIP also includes $2 million to buy right-of-way for widening that Hwy. 107 route and an additional $4.4 million for its construction.

JACKSONVILLE

The TIP includes construction projects in the Jacksonville area during that period totaling $25.5 million, with $10 million of that earmarked for widening a 1.8-mile section of northbound Hwy. 67/167 from Hwy. 440 to Redmond Road in 2007.
The southbound lanes will be widened in 2009 at a cost of $7.8 million.

“This is going to be great for Jacksonville,” City Engineer Jay Whisker said Tuesday of the work on Hwy. 67/167. “I’m happiest they decided to do Hwy. 440 to Redmond first. That will help alleviate (a bottleneck).” Another $2 million will be spent in 2007 for construction of a new, safer northbound Hwy. 67/167 on-ramp near the site of the old Pizza Company.

Currently, that ramp is near Vandenberg Boulevard in front of the Lowe’s Home Improvement store. In 2008, $663,000 has been allotted to purchase right-of-way for the widening of Graham Road from Oak Street to Loop Road. The actual widening is budgeted for 2009 at a cost of $1.2 million.

Whisker said the improvements to Graham Road are important because “it gets you a four-lane into your downtown. That’s what you’re after.” “It’s the central (east-west) arterial through the city. That’s what you’re trying to do is keep people headed toward downtown,” Whisker added.

Also in 2009, the state budget includes $304,000 to purchase right-of-way for the widening of 0.85 miles of Hwy. 107 between Jacksonville-Cato Road and Bayou Meto and another $3.4 million for the actual widening.

SHERWOOD JOBS

With a $20.2 million, 1.5 mile widening of Hwy. 67/167 from Kiehl to Hwy. 440 slated for 2010, and other major widenings slated for Brockington Road and Hwy. 107, spending on Sherwood-area projects will total $34.1 million. In 2007, $2.6 million is committed for widening Brockington Road to four lanes from Maryland to state Highway 107, a 1.2-mile stretch of road.

In 2008, $1.2 million should be available to purchase right-of-way and relocate utilities on a 0.8-mile section of Brockington Road from Kiehl to Maryland. About $3.7 million will be available for the actual widening in 2009.