Leader Blues

Monday, July 16, 2007

TOP STORY >>$6.4M bid for Cabot overpass accepted

IN SHORT: Pine Bluff company will build the project that has been in the works for 10 years.

Leader staff writer

The construction bids are in for a railroad overpass in Cabot that was planned about 10 years ago.

Southern Pavers Inc. of Pine Bluff is the apparent low bidder at $6.4 million. David Nilles, a spokesman for the state highway department which will oversee the project, said Friday that the overpass should be completed by late 2008. Construction is expected to begin within six to eight weeks, he said.

The city will pay 20 percent of the cost. The balance will be paid with federal money.

The overpass, which will connect Highway 367 to Highway 38, is the first phase of a three-phase plan to eventually connect Highway 5 to Highway 38 and add a north interchange on U.S. Highway 67-167. Phase two would connect the overpass to a north interchange and phase three would connect the overpass to Highway 5.

On Highway 367, the overpass will be inside Cabot city limits, but on Highway 38, it will be in Austinís.

Some opponents of the overpass say it will help Austin grow. Williams does not disagree, but he says growth anywhere in the area is good for business in Cabot. Several locations were considered 10 years ago when Mayor Eddie Joe Williams (then a city council member) and Alder-man Ed Long started working on the project that will eventually close the Polk Street railroad crossing that was the site of a fatality in 1988.

But Williams maintains that the location that was chosen near Polk Street is the best one because it leaves downtown intact.
Metroplan, which distributes federal money for road projects, estimates the overpass together with a north interchange will take 4,000 to 5,000 cars a day out of downtown Cabot.

The overpass alone will not relieve downtown traffic, but it will keep about 100 buses off the railroad track.

Williams said Friday that 10 years ago, Cabot was number 13 on the list in the state to get federal money for a railroad overpass.

But when the school district agreed to use the overpass instead of crossing the railroad tracks, the proposed project moved up in priority.

Former Mayor Joe Allman was instrumental in getting the city council to agree to set aside money for the cityís part of the construction costs.

But after he left office, the $260,000 in savings did not continue to grow.

In 2005, Williams, who had already announced his candidacy for mayor, addressed the city council about funding the project.
The council responded by including $800,000 for the overpass in a $28 million bond issue that is funded by a one-cent sales tax.

Union Pacific Railroad has agreed to pay 5 percent of the cost of the actual bridge over the railroad, an estimated $75,000.
But Williams said this week that he has written to railroad officials asking them to increase that amount.

A groundbreaking ceremony for the overpass was held in late February, but the bidding was delayed because the computer programs now in use could not read the engineering study for the project that was completed about eight years ago.

To date, the project has cost $237,000 -$40,000 for right-of-way acquisition and $197,000 for engineering.