Leader Blues

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

TOP STORY >>Cabot opens new road to alleviate congestion

Leader staff writer

The weather was warm and the atmosphere festive for the Monday ribbon cutting on the 2.5-mile long roadway connecting the Cabot Wal-Mart to Hwy. 5. More than 100 area business people and government officials from all levels chatted amiably while they waited for the ceremony to start on the new bridge that cost Cabot $150,000.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams passed out flyers commemorating the event that looked like the front page of The Leader. Lonoke County Justice of the Peace Larry Odom, who was instrumental in building the $1 million road, served strawberries ripened in his fields at Holland Bottom Farms. Cabot Chamber of Commerce provided real, working scissors (replacing the silver-painted wooden ones) to cut the ribbon. And after the ribbon was severed, the guests passed underneath an arch of water from two fire trucks as they drove across the bridge for the first time.

Unlike the February ribbon cutting for the railroad overpass that was hurried because school was about to let out and a little tense because the city and the county disagreed on its location, Monday’s event was a celebration of the two governing bodies working together on a project that will benefit both.

It is generally believed that not only will the new road help some traffic congestion, both the county and city will benefit from increased tax revenue because of the direct route to Wal-Mart and the potential for commercial development along the road.
“This is a million-dollar project,” Williams said as the ceremony began. “If it had been done with outside vendors, it would have been a $10 million project.”

Except for removing the trees, the paving and the bridge, the entire project was completed using county labor, which was not included in the $1 million price tag. Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said later that the project actually would have cost $3.5 million to $4 million if the county hadn’t supplied most of the labor and equipment.

He gave credit to the leaders of his road crew, Roger Light and Jimmy Bowlin, whose simple instructions were to “get it done.” His voiced cracked with emotion when he said Bowlin died from a massive heart attack last October before the work was finished.

Troutman also gave credit to Odom, who instigated the project two years ago when he asked if there was anything the county could do to help the traffic congestion around Cabot. And there was an edge to his voice when he recalled that Wal-Mart, the business that would benefit the most from the new road, refused to help pay for it.

The city also would not help, though several on the council pushed the project, until Williams became mayor in January. One of his first requests from the council was for $250,000 to pay the county $150,000 for the new bridge and $100,000 to help with paving.

Even before the road opened, “for sale” signs were going up on some of the property that joins it. Williams said he has heard criticism that the new road will be a financial benefit to some property owners, but there is no way to avoid that and no reason to try because new businesses bring in more tax revenue for the city. “I’ve said, ‘show me a piece of property that nobody owns and I’ll build a road through it,’” the mayor said.

In addition to the new road, which has been named South Rockwood, the county also replaced several narrow bridges on First Street for the city and is currently helping the city widen Hwy. 89 at the Rockwood intersection. According to Metroplan, which helps with planning for new roads in central Arkansas, by 2010 the new road will carry 2,000 to 2,500 vehicles a day and reduce the traffic on Hwy. 89 and Hwy. 5 by 500 to 1,000 vehicles a day. While not a fix for the city’s entire traffic problem, Troutman said it is a start and one that he is pleased the city was willing to help with.

“Yesterday was a good day,” Troutman said. “I was glad to see it come.”