Leader Blues

Monday, February 26, 2007

TOP STORY >>Overpass work starts

IN SHORT: Groundbreaking ceremony is held in Cabot for $7 million railroad bridge project.

Leader staff writer

Government representatives from the local level all the way to the federal level lined up beside Cabot Middle School North Friday afternoon to break ground for a railroad overpass that will soon be built between Cabot and Austin linking Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38.

The mostly federally funded project, estimated to cost $7 million, was the first major undertaking of new Mayor Eddie Joe Williams, who was on the city council when the overpass was planned almost 10 years ago. Williams, along with Alderman Ed Long, worked with the state and Union Pacific Railroad to get approval for closing the Polk Street crossing and build the overpass, which has been touted as a safety measure since the 100 or so school buses will use it instead of crossing the tracks.

Williams retired from Union Pacific to become mayor.

In 2005, when Williams had already been off the council for about five years, he came back before the council to argue for the city to come up with the matching money (about $1 million) needed to build the overpass, and the city council responded by placing the overpass on the ballot for continuing a one-cent sales tax, along with the new sewer treatment plant, community center and animal shelter.

Among those wearing orange hardhats and shoveling dirt for the groundbreaking werean Flowers, director of the state Highway Department; Carl Rosenbaum, a member of the Highway Commission; state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle; Erika Krennerich, who manages local projects for First District Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett; Williams and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman, who politely declined to take any credit for the overpass.

“To be perfectly honest, I didn’t have a thing in the world to do with this,” Troutman said when asked to comment about the overpass. Williams hopes the overpass will be the first phase of a three-phase project that will also include a north interchange on Hwy. 67-167 and a new road to Hwy. 5.

Opponents of that proposal, including Troutman, are concerned that the three phases will cost at least $25 million and only take about 20 percent of the traffic load out of downtown.

In declining credit for the overpass, Troutman told Williams that he was still happy for him for what he had been able to accomplish.