Leader Blues

Friday, June 15, 2007

TOP STORY >>Interchange for Lonoke is not far off

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader staff writer

Lonoke-area residents could be using a second I-40 interchange, this one on the west side of town, by 2010, officials told about 30 residents and other interested persons in a meeting Thursday at the Old Lonoke Train Depot meeting room.

Lonoke officials unveiled their preferred alignment for the new Hwy. 89/I-40 interchange and three alternative variations.
Chris Wilbourn, project manager for Garver Engineers, said the preferred alignment avoided wetlands, would require purchase of minimal right-of-way and would be the most economical of the choices.

He estimated that if the project were bid today it could cost about $6,750,000. It could be ready for bids in about 18 months, and building-material inflation has been great in recent months. During construction, the existing Hwy. 89 overpass at I-40 would remain in use, Wilbourn said, but would be demolished when the project was completed.

On the preferred route, superimposed on an aerial photograph, Hwy. 89 northbound would veer slightly west of the existing Hwy. 89 as it nears I-40. A new overpass, built to modern standards and perhaps three lanes wide, would cross the interstate and make a gentler curve than the existing curve.

A three-lane overpass would allow for widening the overpass to four or more lanes in the future if local traffic or increased industrial use should require a widening, Wilbourn said.

Although not a cloverleaf, the interchange would allow the full range of east and west entrances to and exits from I-40.
Lonoke officials say they would already have a Toyota-related parts plant in Lonoke if they could have guaranteed the west interchange. The fields in the southwest quadrant of the proposed interchange have been designated as an industrial site.

While the city and its engineers must justify the interchange in terms of traffic, the real motivation is to encourage one or more manufacturing company to bring relatively high-paying jobs and revenues to the area.

A second interchange also would provide more retail opportunities for gas stations or restaurants, which would translate into additional revenues for the city and the county.

“We’re looking for an economic explosion,” said John Garner, the Lonoke Chamber director.
Agencies and officials will meet with Garver Engineers in July, and later, there will be a public hearing sponsored by the state Highway and Transportation Department, according to Bill Ryker, head of the town’s interchange committee.

While the notion of a west-side interchange is a decade old or more, it came of age during Thomas Privett’s administration as Lonoke mayor, and current Mayor Wayne McGee, along with Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, Gene Sullivan, Ryker and many others have continued to push the idea forward.

Berry, who was represented at the meeting by new aide Katherine AufderHeide, has secured $5.4 million in federal earmarks for the project so far.

The city of Lonoke will have to raise 20 percent of the cost in matching funds. Ryker said the Lonoke Industrial Development Commission has or could raise some of that money.

McGee said the funds would not come out of city road money.
Other officials in attendance included state Sen. Bobby Glover, County Judge Charlie Troutman and city Treasurer Walls McCrary.