Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

TOP STORY >> Sherwood I-440 route submitted

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

The state Highway and Transportation Department has picked a preferred route for the controversial Sherwood segment of the North Belt Freeway, commissioner Carl Rosenbaum said Tuesday night at a reception hosted by the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce.

If the proposal stands up to scrutiny by the Federal Highway Administration and at public hearings planned for area residents, the route will run from Hwy. 67-167 across Sherwood north of the route rejected last time but south of the northernmost proposal.

The route would run roughly like this: It will pass north of Indianhead Lake, cross Hwy. 107 south of Fears Lake, then north of Oakdale Road, crossing Kellogg Acres Road. From there it would cut across to Wayside Road, then southwest to Batesville Pike, where it will join the previously determined route through the southern edge of Camp Robinson and on to I-40 and I-430, near Crystal Hill.

If money were available, the route could be open within about five years, Rosenbaum said. There is, however, no money for the project unless the portion between Hwy 67/167 and Hwy. 107 is built as a toll road. The tolls there could pay about 90 percent of the $90 million needed for the project. It would carry an estimated 40,000 vehicles per day, he said. Two public hearings on the proposed route will be held next month, Rosenbaum said.

The meetings will be from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 20 at the Church of the Nazarene, 9860 Brockington Road and Wednesday, March 21 at Cato Elementary School, 9906 Jacksonville Cato Road. Jacksonville chamber members learned that the $2 million relocation in front of Lowe’s Home Center of the northbound entrance ramp onto Hwy. 67/167 from T.P. White Road should be completed by late this year. It will include a new traffic signal at the intersection of T.P. White and Madden roads.

The department will study the notion of also adding an exit ramp in the same area. Jacksonville’s road list includes many wishes—some as small as a sidewalk, others as expensive and complex as completion of the North Belt Freeway. The wish list includes the needs or dreams of various Jacksonville officials, developers and others in the community, and several of the smaller items on the list have been undertaken and completed relatively quickly in recent years.

As a result of these chamber get-togethers, the John Harden Drive-Vandenberg Boulevard in-tersection has had lanes added to minimize southbound congestion and in recent years the ramp dumping traffic from Hwy. 440 onto northbound Hwy. 67/167 has been lengthened to make the highway both less congested and safer.

SIDEWALKS

Sidewalks from James Street to Dupree Park along Redmond Road have been completed and a Highway Department grant has been approved to extend the sidewalk from Dupree Park on to the Community Center on Municipal Drive, said the mayor.
Engineering has been completed and the right-of-way purchased to move the Hwy. 67/167 northbound from its current location across from Lowe’s Home Improvement Center further north and out of Vandenberg Boulevard congestion. Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim said he’d also like to see a new off-ramp built in that area, but that’s not yet approved or funded and is far from certain.

Engineering has begun for the widening of Graham Road from Loop Road to Oak Street and the project is approved for the future, but not yet funded, according to Swaim. That project will cost about $5 million, with the city’s share about $1 million. “This is an opportunity to visit with the leadership of the Highway Department and the commissioners,” said Swaim, who called the list a compilation of the wishes and needs of chamber members and local government officials.

The list includes widening of U.S. Hwy. 67/167 from I-40 to North Belt Loop to six lanes. Most of that is currently completed with the widening of the northbound lanes from Keihl to Redmond Road just beginning, with the final segment to be the southbound leg from Redmond to Keihl, according to Metroplan’s Richard McGee.

Until the entire route from I-40 to the North Belt and Redmond Road is completed, Hwy. 67/167 will continue to function as a four-lane highway. Also on the wish list is increasing Hwy. 67/167 to eight lanes between the North Belt Loop and Main Street and widening from four to six lanes the highway from West Main to Hwy. 5 at Cabot.

ONE-WAY FRONTAGE

Both Metroplan and the state Highway Department have approved making both John Harden Drive and T.P. White Drive—the Hwy. 67/167 frontage roads—into one-way roads between the James Street overpass and Vandenberg Road, but there are not currently funds available, Swaim said.

John Harden eventually will be one-way south and T.P. White will be one-way north, with a flyover turnaround at James Street allowing motorists on John Harden to get easily over to T.P. White and another flyover or cross under at Vandenberg to allow motorists on T.P. White to get over to John Harden. The new highway structures and one-way frontage roads are still well in the future, businesses and others are frequently resistant to the change to one way, said Swaim. Holding hearings early on would help alleviate their fears as well as fine-tune the project to minimize disruption.

Motorists would be expected to adapt quickly to one-way frontage roads and turnarounds as they have further south along Hwy. 67/167 between Wildwood/Trammel roads and McCain. Apart from the turnarounds to accommodate the frontage roads, local officials also want improvements to the James Street overpass and the Vandenberg Boulevard area.

LEGACY PROPOSALS

The list of long-term projects includes several proposed by the Dupree family, the developers of the Legacy Center, but not currently approved by either Metroplan or the state Highway Department. The Duprees and their supporters would like the section of the North Belt Loop from Hwy. 67/167 to Hwy. 107 built next, to include a full interchange at Oneida Street.

The Highway Department has no current plans to close the Redmond Road ramps on Hwy. 67/167 in favor of a full-fledged interchange constructed between West Main Street and the North Belt Loop. Metroplan and the Highway Department say there’s not sufficient room between those two interchanges for a third one, but the Dupree’s engineer disputes that claim. That study has been given to the Highway Department.

They also say it would facilitate a second east-west traffic corridor through the city, this one in the developing southern part.

HWY. 107

Completion of the four-laning of state Hwy. 107 from Kellogg Road to the west gate of Little Rock Air Force Base is complete or underway in most sections, with the segment from Brockington Road to Bearpaw Lane being designed and work from Gravel Ridge to General Samuels yet to be completed, according to Richard McGee of Metroplan.