Leader Blues

Friday, July 11, 2008

TOP STORY > >City will see relief from traffic jams

By JOAN McCOY
Leader staff writer

Several road projects in Cabot funded by a $2 million bond issue are taking shape and could be alleviating traffic problems soon.

Mayor Eddie Joe Williams said asphalt will likely be put down on Locust Street next week to widen that main thoroughfare to three lanes. The work should be completed by the time school starts, he said.

That street is important now, but Williams said it will be even more so when the new railroad overpass opens by the end of the year at the earliest.

The railroad overpass will connect Hwy. 367 to Hwy. 38. That $7.2 million project is not part of the $2 million voters approved for streets. However, it was part of the total $28 million bond issue that is supported by the same one-cent sales tax.

The city’s part of the mostly federally funded project was about $1 million.

“When the overpass opens, we feel the traffic will pick up significantly,” Williams said.

Gene Summers Construction has signed a letter of intent to start widening Hwy. 89 this week on either side of the traffic light at Rockwood, the mayor said. Going toward downtown Cabot, an extra lane will be added to the freeway. On the other side of the traffic light, a turn lane will be added as far as Northport.

That $150,000 project will be paid from the $2 million bond issue voters approved almost three years ago. The city has until the end of November to spend or substantially obligate the money or it must be used to pay down the debt. But the mayor says he foresees no problem.

Although bond money will pay for the work on Hwy. 89, Williams said as the area develops, the city will require new businesses area develops, the city will require new businesses to pay their portion, so the city will recoup most if not all of the funds.

On the other end of Rockwood where it intersects with Highway 5, the county is paying about $90,000 to have a traffic light installed so that left hand turns are not so treacherous.

Lonoke County Judge Charlie Troutman said this week that the great number of accidents there since S. Rockwood opened eighteen months ago is the reason the light is going up.

“The state police pushed for this,” Troutman said. “We’ve had about an accident a week there since it opened.”

The light should be operational in about two months,” he said.

At the end of 2007, more than two years after city voters approved $2 million in bonds supported by a one-cent tax to pay for street improvements, about $1.5 million of those funds still remained. At that time, the city had paid $175,000 for the right-of-way to extend Elm Street and $250,000 to complete S. Rockwood, which connects Highway 5 to Wal-Mart.

Earlier this year, the city council voted to sell the property the city took by eminent domain for the Elm Street right-of-way, and the road will be built instead on the right-of-way the city already owned.

Williams said so far there have been no offers to buy the four-tenths of an acre, but it will likely become more desirable when Elm Street is completed.

Williams said the street will be opened as soon as city workers build a gravel base. It will be paved as money becomes available, he said.

The city took the small parcel of land by eminent domain in 2006 and was court ordered in March 2007 to pay owner Larry Nipper $175,000, which was $90,000 more than he had offered to settle for without going to court.

Some of the council members who took office in 2007 referred to the judgment as “the nightmare on Elm Street.”

Stubby Stumbaugh, who was mayor when the council condemned the property, said it was needed because the platted right-of-way the city already owned for the street did not meet and to join them would create a dangerous “dog leg” curve about midway.

Two years later, a survey to determine where the street will eventually be built shows that only one-tenth of an acre is needed to build a street with a small curve.