Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot traffic summit Friday

Leader staff writer

Competing plans to remedy Cabot’s traffic ills have been the subject of debate for almost a year with both sides hoping theirs will be the one that gets funded if state and federal money ever becomes available. Since Mayor Eddie Joe Williams favors one plan and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman favors the other, it is likely that Arkansas Highway Department Director Dan Flowers will hear at least a little about both when he attends the traffic summit Williams has planned for this Friday.

Cong. Marion Berry, D-Ark., and a representative from the governor’s office will also attend the summit, to be held at noon at the new community center. Williams supports building the north interchange in conjunction with a railroad overpass between Cabot and Austin linking Hwy. 367 with Hwy. 38, a plan that was developed with the help of the state Highway Department about six years ago. Troutman supports a plan that came out of a committee he appointed that is made up of elected county and city officials and Cabot business leaders.

The plan from that committee calls for an interchange between the two existing interchanges and a railroad overpass in the vicinity of Richie Road. The immediate hitch in the county committee plan is that the railroad overpass Williams supports has been approved for federal funding and Williams plans to break ground for the project Friday afternoon at the conclusion of his traffic summit.

The overpass will cost an estimated $7 million with the city paying about $1 million which voters approved in 2005 as part of a bond issue supported by extending an existing one-cent sales tax. Both plans call for new roads. But as currently drawn, the north interchange would be built through a sparsely populated area. The plan from the county committee calls for road construction in areas that are already populated, but one major road would be built on a power line right of way.

But even though Williams and Troutman disagree about the location of a third interchange for the city they are still working together on a new road that Troutman says he believes will open in May. The road, which was started in 2005, will cost about $1 million by the time it is completed. It will connect Hwy. 5 to the new Wal-Mart in Cabot. At Williams’ request, the city council Monday night approved paying $250,000 to complete the road that is now separated from the super store by a big ditch.

Troutman asked the city for help with the project in 2006, but was turned down. Williams recently told the public works committee of the city council that Troutman was willing to complete the project without the city’s help, but he said, “that wouldn’t be right.”

Frankly, neither would it be exactly what Williams wants inside Cabot city limits. For $250,000, the city gets a $150,000 bridge with a sidewalk over the ditch instead of a culvert in the ditch. The balance of $100,000 will help the county pay for blacktopping the road that is already covered with chip and seal. The 2005 bond issue approved by city voters included $2 million for roads and the $250,000 to the county will come out of that fund.

“We’ve got a $250,000 investment. We get a million dollar road,” Williams said after the council approved the expenditure.
Even though the city needs new roads to handle the traffic, Williams says he realized while standing on the corner of Willie Ray Drive and Hwy. 89 during campaign season that one of the biggest contributors to the traffic problem was the timing of the traffic lights.

At 7:30 a.m., most of the commuters were already gone, he said. Still the light stayed green on Hwy. 89 while school traffic backed up on Willie Ray, he said. Last week a Highway Department engineer examined the lights and made adjustments so that the traffic flows more quickly.

One light had been disconnected from the system, which meant it could not communicate with the master light, he said. Some of the phone lines had been disconnected so that the state could not monitor the lights and make adjustments as needed. And the control boxes on the older lights that the state is not required to monitor had been locked so that no one except city workers could adjust them.

Williams said the phone lines are connected again and the locks have been removed, and he is asking the state for all the help that is available.