Leader Blues

Monday, January 08, 2007

TOP STORY >>Easing traffic congestion

IN SHORT: Cabot’s new mayor tells chamber members and others about his ideas to improve the movement of vehicles in the growing city, including $200 million in Metroplan projects.

Leader staff writer

During a rolling Cabot chamber board meeting Wed-nesday, Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams explained his ideas for easing traffic congestion in the city, such as installing a cloverleaf on-ramp to Hwy. 67/167, and plans to replace the old culverts and bridges on First Street.

“We do pretty well north and south through town, our problem is travel east and west,” Williams said.

Chamber members, along with Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman and two aldermen, toured Cabot in a Church of Christ van looking at the city streets and discussing how changes can be made to reduce congestion.

Williams said some of his ideas are just visions, but others are done deals, none of which conflict with the county’s road plans.

There are obstacles that must be overcome for Williams’ ideas to be implemented. Because of limited resources, the city will not get all the necessary work done anytime soon, he said.

“Of all the projects talked about, if we get one or two, we’ll be blessed,” Williams said.
Williams said the preliminary draft from Metroplan showed $200 million for projects within the city limits and that the city will try to “stretch it as far as we can.”

“Let’s get the ones that cost the least and start them first, then try to get one of the cloverleafs in, the one we need the most,” he said.

Pressing Need
The first solution for traffic congestion is to install a quarter cloverleaf on-ramp at Hwy. 89 and Hwy. 67/167 to cut out the back up of traffic at the light.

“It’s a disaster area,” the mayor said. “The load (turning lane) in the road holds about five cars. It’s a disaster in the morning.”
Williams said the city would propose at the traffic summit held the middle of February that a quarter cloverleaf be installed to circle back under the interstate and go to Little Rock.

“That way you never get in this mix up going left to Little Rock every morning,” Williams said.
The cloverleaf would leave the streetlight all but useless.

“None of the traffic having to make a right turn (onto Willie Ray Drive) will have to worry about traffic impeding the cross,” Williams said. He added that the cloverleafs are “big deals and terribly expensive,” but he proposes the state Highway Department help the city with them.

“It’s a lot of work to get an interchange, they take several millions of dollars and lots of planning, but if we continue to grow, we’re going to need two or three of them over the years,” the mayor said.

Another idea for the congestion at the Wal-Mart light Williams said is to extend the right-turn lane and keep a center-turn lane all the way past the bank.

“It’s a simple thing; it’s the same piece of asphalt, it’s just a matter of taking a line out and making a turn lane,” he said.
A second cloverleaf is proposed at Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 67/167 to Little Rock, where Williams pointed out some of the work had already been started, adding he didn’t know if it was purposeful though.

Describing it as an “absolute disaster” to get across Hwy. 5 in the morning, Williams said the installation of the cloverleafs in both the Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 89 locations were the most pressing things needed for the streets of Cabot.

First Street
The mayor’s plans for First Street include replacing the culverts and simple bridges within the city, at a total cost of about $80,000 Williams said.

Precast bridges would be installed, at between $7,000 to $10,000 a bridge; one bridge would be taken out at a time, starting with those in town first. The first bridge that would be replaced is located at Stanley Glass. It would take three or four days to replace a bridge.

“Let’s take them out and replace them with the necessary size or maybe larger at each bridge,” Williams said. “This is just something that needs to be done. There is no reason we shouldn’t be doing this,” he added.

He commented that it was a miracle people haven’t been killed on some of the narrow, one-lane bridges along First Street.
“Try to get all the bridges out and get First Street to a grade were people can get out of town this way,” Williams said.

He also has ideas of filling in the open ditches along First Street. He said the street department has been split into two work groups to focus on patching and flooding.

There will be a truck, backhoe and trailer and the work crew will be the same one that works all the time, Williams said.
With the open ditches, he said he wants to roll out a campaign were people can partner with the city to buy the culverts and the city will provide the labor, furnish the truck and backhoe and will bury the culvert.

“Lots of people have said they would be glad to do that,” the mayor said. “There are people out there that say ‘we’ll buy the dirt and culvert if you will just come out and put it in.’ Any we can fill up is our benefit,” Williams said, adding that it doesn’t cost a penny more to run a worker and a backhoe out there if the city is already paying someone to do it.

“We allowed development with open ditches; I wish we hadn’t,” the mayor said.

Joint projects
The 2.5-mile long access road to join Hwy. 5 with Wal-mart, only the last 1,300 feet of which is in the Cabot city limits, is close to being completed. Once the road settles it will be paved; guardrails are currently being installed.
County Judge Charlie Troutman has the permit in hand from the Corps of Engineers to build the remaining piece of the road to tie it in with Wal-Mart.

“It’s just a matter of getting the bridge in, precast or culverts, whatever is needed to open the road,” Williams said.
Troutman said that once the road is complete, it would take a lot off the “crazy intersection” at Hwy. 89 and 167.

“Anyone that lives anywhere out Hwy. 321/Mt.Tabor will no longer have to come in town to go to Wal-Mart or the bank. We should see at least an appreciative amount of relief through town,” Williams said.

He complimented Troutman on the “beautiful bridges” he has built along the 90-foot-wide road, all of which is in a flood plain.

Williams also expressed interest in punching Willie Ray Drive out to join in at Austin, a project that is currently on the drawing board.

“If we have a fire truck on Hwy. 321 and they take it all the way up to Austin and loop back around to get over here to any of these subdivisions, it’d be quicker than if coming through town,” Williams said.

Funding for extending Willie Ray Drive would be done with mostly local funds, and Williams said the city would look at partnering up with the county to do just that.

“It just makes sense for growth,” he added.

“It’s an exciting experience with our leaders, being able to get out in the community” Billye Everett, chamber director, said during the tour.