Leader Blues

Monday, April 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>Roads improving at rapid pace

IN SHORT: Cabot projects include the access road and bridge near Wal-Mart, improving the downtown rail crossing, and a traffic signal at Hwys. 5 and 89.

Leader staff writer

The million dollar road from Highway 5 to Wal-Mart in Cabot now has a name and a bridge over the big ditch that separated it from the store and it will soon have a top coat of asphalt.

The new road, expected to be open in about two weeks is one of four projects that might have caught the attention of area residents who drive the highways and streets around Cabot.

Workers also have recently been on First Street and on the Highway 89 railroad crossing.

Additionally, permanent traffic lights are now operating at the intersection of Highway 5 and Highway 89 and a temporary light should be in place within four weeks at the top of the hill on Highway 5.

County project
The road to Wal-Mart is a county project that the city refused to help with until this year when Mayor Eddie Joe Williams asked the council to contribute $250,000 to pay for a $150,000 bridge and to help pay for the asphalt.

Still, Williams said County Judge Charlie Troutman allowed him to come up with the name. When the asphalt is down and the signs are up, the road will be called S. Rockwood.

The contract for paving was awarded to Rogers Group, a Cabot company. Troutman said Friday that it would likely take 4,500 tons of asphalt to cover the 2.5- mile-long road. At $53.66 a ton, the asphalt is expected to cost $241,200.
“I had maintained all along that we were looking at a May 1 open date,” Troutman said. “But we’ll probably beat that by two weeks.”

Before the new road opens, it will have to be striped and guard rails will be installed. The quarter-mile stretch that is inside the city limits will have sidewalks.

The county also has been working on First Street replacing narrow, 80-year-old bridges with culverts. The city is paying for materials for that project. Williams said not all the bridges were replaced with culverts. Over the years, the water that once ran under the bridges had changed directions so the bridges that were no longer needed were pulled out and the holes in the street were filled.

Troutman said the asphalt to cover those culverts has not yet been bid. Former Alderman Odis Way-mack paid $2,400 for the engineering on that project last year as part of his unsuccessful effort to get the mayor and city council to allow Troutman to do the work.

At that time the council was considering hiring the work done for $750,000, using money from a $2 million bond issue for streets. Waymack and Alderman Tom Armstrong wanted the council to instead pay the county $75,000 and also contribute $400,000 toward building the road to Wal-Mart and the extension of Willie Ray Drive to Austin, for access to the interchange on U.S. Hwy. 67-167. The council was divided on the issue and former Mayor Stubby Stumbaugh was openly opposed to it.

He questioned Troutman’s motives for building the road, asking him during one council meeting if he owned property along the right-of-way.

Troutman said he didn’t, that his property was on the highway. Stumbaugh also said that since there had been no engineering on the First Street project, Troutman had no way of knowing if the culverts he proposed to install would be adequate, so Waymack paid Adam Whitlow to calculate the location, size and number of culverts needed.

Even with the report in hand, Waymack could not muster enough council support to allow Troutman to do the work. But last month, the new council voted unanimously to pay $250,000 for the road that will be called S. Rockwood. As for the culverts on First Street, the new mayor is paying for them as Troutman bills him. He doesn’t have to ask the council’s approval since the bills fall within his spending limit.

Crossing replaced
The railroad crossing on Hwy. 89 was closed much of Wednesday while workers replaced the worn concrete pads between the tracks. The timing was important because 20,000 vehicles use the crossing every day making it arguably the most used crossing between Little Rock and St. Louis.

Williams retired from driving trains to become Cabot’s mayor and although he doesn’t take full credit for the work on the tracks being scheduled for the week when school was out for spring break, he admits that having connections with the railroad didn’t hurt.

Jerrel Maxwell, the head of Cabot Public Works, said he has received some complaints that the ramp to the overhauled crossing is too short making crossing rough. But that problem should be fixed by the middle of the week, he said.

There are two tracks at the crossing. Only the track on the west side was repaired. Williams said the one on the east side will be repaired after school is out for the summer.

Highways 5 & 89
Although the roadwork continues on Hwy. 5, a permanent traffic light to replace the temporary light the county installed at the intersection of Hwy. 5 and Hwy. 89 is now up and running.

Work on Hwy. 5, which included installation of a traffic light, was already scheduled in 2004 when three teenaged girls were killed there when they turned into the path of an 18-wheeler. The three girls, Alicia Rix, 16, of North Little Rock, Jae Lynn Russell, 16, of 8226 Centennial Road and Taylor Hall, 15, of 128 Almond Cove, Sherwood. Rix and Hall were students at Sylvan Hills High School. Russell was transferring to Sylvan Hills from North Pulaski High School.

According to the state police report, Russell, the driver, and Rix died on the scene. Taylor was airlifted to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences Campus where she died from her injuries.

The driver of the truck, Clayton Brown, 47, of 1691 Windchime, suffered minor injuries. Based on state police and witness reports, the girls were at a stop sign eastbound on Hwy. 89 when a pickup ahead of them pulled out onto Hwy. 5. The girls followed and ended up in the path of Brown’s southbound truck.

At the time of the accident the intersection was equipped with flashing caution lights and a stop sign, but no traffic signals. State Rep. Sandra Prater, whose daughter was friends with the girls who were killed, led the effort to get a temporary traffic signal in place until the permanent one was installed.

Prater learned from the state Highway Department that Pulaski County, Lonoke County and Cabot would have to pay for the temporary signal, but Lonoke County picked up the whole bill. A permanent traffic signal is scheduled for July installation at the top of the hill on Hwy. 5 between the new commercial section of Greystone and the older residential part. But a temporary signal should go in with three or four weeks according to Cabot’s public works director.

“I won’t let them open that shopping center out there without those lights,” Maxwell said. “You’ve got people coming out of the shopping center and people coming out of Greystone and people coming off that hill both ways going 60 miles an hour. It would be a disaster waiting to happen.”

According to Ellen Hill with the state Highway Department, the focus now is on widening the highway not the Main Street-Redmond Road overpass. However, it is obvious that there are problems with widening the overpass because of “right-of-way issues.”

“It’s something our engineers will have to work on,” Hill said.

Currently there are two lanes on each side and no room for a third and no funds are available.

In other local work, the Rogers Group of Nashville, Tenn., has begun moving dirt for a new, safer northbound Hwy. 67-167 on-ramp at T.P. White Road just north of Vandenburg Blvd. The $2 million job should be completed by early next year.