Leader Blues

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

TOP STORY >>North Belt changes sought

Leader senior staff writer

The ink was hardly dry on Metroplan’s July approval of the state Highway Department’s new preferred route through Sherwood for the North Belt Loop, when new Mayor Virginia Hillman and City Engineer Michael Clayton began lobbying to tweak the alignment.

What unsettles them is the amount of the property that would be unavailable for commercial development at the planned I-440/Brockington Road interchange, Hillman said Wednesday, following the September board meeting.

“We don’t want to kill the project,” said Hillman, the former Sherwood City Clerk elected mayor in July after Danny Stedman stepped down for health reasons. “We were blamed for that in 1995. We just want the (interchange) loops a little tighter.”

She said the interchange loops are on the northeast and northwest quadrants of the intersections of Hwy. 107 and Brockington Road and also Hwy. 107 and Oakdale.

“They are willing to work with us,” she said of the state Highway Department.

“We’re pushing on with the survey and trying to get a record of decision (from the Federal Highway Administration),” said Scott Bennett, the department’s representative on the Metroplan board of directors.

Bennett said Sherwood had a couple of planned developments that conflicted with the preferred alignment, but that the changes Sherwood wanted wouldn’t necessarily require an amended environmental assessment.
He said if it could be done, “it’s fine with us.”

The North Belt Loop, a three-decades-old concept, has suffered setbacks through the years over the issue of the Sherwood alignment. It is intended to complete a northern loop around Little Rock to alleviate some congestion, primarily on I-40.

To be designated when completed as I-440, the completed section runs from I-40 east of Little Rock to Hwy. 67-167 in south Jacksonville.

When finished, it will continue through north Sherwood and Camp Robinson and meet up with I-40 and I-430 near Crystal Hill at a cost of about $200 million.

Design work and purchase of some important right-of-way could begin by the end of the year, but no money is available to begin construction at least through 2011, according to Glenn Bolick, department spokesman.

At Wednesday’s Metroplan board meeting, a proposal to amend the long-range transportation plan to add the proposed $130 million I-630/I-430 interchange and highway widening in West Little Rock was tabled upon a motion by North Little Rock Mayor Pat Hays, so there could be more public comment about the project.

The project has a $4 million earmark in the U.S. Senate’s 2008 federal highway appropriation, but to be considered for construction money, it would have to be included in that long-range, financially constrained, highway and transportation plan by December 11.

Hays said he wanted to know whether or not Little Rock was going to have its share of the $10 million to $15 million needed for road work—particularly on University Avenue—to accommodate increased traffic.

The city’s share would be about $2 million to $3 million.

“I want to have feedback from the citizens,” said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola. “Let them know what’s coming down the pike.”

Bennett told board members that a “fax blitz” circulated earlier this month was incorrect when it said money for the interchange would be diverted from money available for the North Belt Loop or for completion of the widening of Hwy. 67/167.

“We’re not going to get into funds currently available,” he said.

“I’m comfortable with the assurances of the Highway Department,” said Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Swaim.