Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

TOP STORY > >Traffic summit set for Cabot

Leader staff writer

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams started his first year in office with a traffic summit that brought county, state and national leaders to Cabot for a tour of areas with the worst traffic congestion.

Since then, the state has widened and re-striped some congested areas; the city has helped the county complete South Rockwood from Hwy. 5 to Wal-Mart; and a new traffic light has gone up on Hwy. 5 to help get evening rush-hour traffic off the freeway.

The mayor says his first attempt at fostering goodwill and bringing attention to the city’s needs was such a success that he’s doing it again Friday afternoon with a second annual traffic summit, starting with a tour at noon and a meeting at 1 p.m. at the community center.

His invited guests include Cong. Marion Berry, D-Gillett, Arkansas Highway commissioner Carl Rosenbaum, State Sen. Bobby Glover, D- Carlisle, and Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman.

Discussion will include three projects: The first is a reconfiguration of the Hwy. 5 interchange that would include installing a traffic light at Hwy. 5 and S. Rockwood, exiting freeway traffic onto South Rockwood instead of Hwy. 5 and turning the exit ramp into an entrance ramp. The second will be adding center turn lanes and widening Hwy. 89. The last will be building a north interchange in connection with the $6.4 million overpass that is now under construction in Cabot and expected to be completed this year.

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 tracks.

The overpass, which will connect Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38, is the first phase of a three-phase plan to eventually connect Hwy. 5 to Hwy. 38. Phase two would connect the overpass to a north interchange and phase three would connect the overpass to Hwy. 5.

Asked this week if he truly believes the north interchange will be funded in the near future, Williams said, “I’m hanging my hat on that.”Williams said the state only agreed to build the overpass if the plans also included a third interchange.

Metroplan has identified $200 million in work that needs to be done in Cabot, including widening Hwy. 89, which has been identified as the third most congested street in central Arkansas, at a cost of about $20 million.

When that Metroplan study was released last year, Cabot had about $2 million in bond money for streets, much of which is being spent for repairs. A growing population gets the city a bigger cut of state tax money for streets, but Williams says the only way Cabot’s needs can be met is through partnering with the state and county so that city money goes farther.