Leader Blues

Saturday, February 23, 2008

TOP STORY > >Mayor hosts traffic summit

By JOAN MCCOY
Leader staff writer

Last year, when Cabot Mayor Eddie Joe Williams hosted a traffic summit, he took high ranking elected officials and bureaucrats on a tour of many of the problems in the city and asked their help in beginning to solve them.

Friday afternoon, many of those same people were again on a bus donated by the Church of Christ and driven by Realtor Bill O’Brien for a tour of some of the achievements of the past year as well as the areas the mayor would like help with in 2008.

“If you have to do it alone, it will overrun you pretty quick,” the mayor said.

From his spot at the front of the church bus, the mayor introduced Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, Sen. Bobby Glover, D-
Carlisle, and “the honorable” Charlie Troutman, Lonoke County judge.

Troutman partnered with the city on several projects in 2007 such as completing South Rockwood and replacing bridges on First Street, and he is helping widen Locust Street this year. Troutman says as Cabot grows, the county collects more in sales tax, so what’s good for Cabot is good for Lonoke County.

His teasing response to Williams’ introduction showed that he understands well the nature of their association.

“When you say honorable, I know you want something,” Troutman told the mayor.

As the bus rolled past the construction site for a $7.2 million railroad overpass connecting Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38, Williams was surprised to learn from Highway Department officials that the overpass might not be completed in the summer of 2008 as he believed it would be, but in the summer of 2009.

But when the summit was over, he called Southern Pavers, the contractors on the project and was told it is running behind because of the weather, but it should be completed this September.

On the Hwy. 38 end of the overpass, the bus rolled past Shadow Creek, a subdivision of large homes that were annexed into Austin, not Cabot. But Williams said all the homes in that area would eventually benefit from the overpass and the north interchange that he hopes will be built soon in connection with the overpass.

From the Hwy. 367 end of the overpass, he pointed to the route the proposed north interchange would take.

Continuing to Austin onramp to U.S. 67-167, the tour included a demonstration of the difficulty of left turns from the freeway to Hwy. 5, and the improvements on Hwy. 321, where re-striping has created a turn lane that keeps traffic from backing up.

Back at the community center where the rolling tour began, the mayor learned during the presentation phase of the summit that the Highway Department will allow the traffic light he wants at South Rockwood and Hwy. 5, which sees 10 or 12 wrecks a month, if the city will find the money to pay for it.

With 16,440 miles of highway to maintain, the state, like the city, is short of money.

The needs for the next 10 years are estimated to cost $19 billion, while the revenue to pay for those needs is estimated at only $4 billion.

Still, the first step in getting any project completed is to have a plan, Williams learned during the last summit.

This year, with the help of Metroplan, the city adopted a master street plan and a plan for controlling traffic on Hwy. 321, which is expected to be a major commercial area.

In addition to opening South Rockwood and replacing the First Street Bridges, the completed projects this year include revamping the exit 16 interchange, reconfiguring the intersection of Hwy. 89 and North Rockwood to allow two turn lanes into Wal-Mart and tweaking the timing of traffic lights so traffic flows smoother.

None of those projects were done without the help of those who attended the traffic summit.

“Without help, this city would go under,” the mayor told those who assembled for the summit.