Hwy. 67 effort ongoing

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

While it was referred to as a progress meeting, a recent gathering of the Highway 67 Corridor Coalition in Corning essentially showed no progress on the planned highway. In many ways, the project appears to be at the same stage as during the last coalition meeting nearly a year ago.

The project began years ago as a way to connect the heart of Arkansas with Missouri in an effort to increase traffic flow and commerce. The planned highway improvements would run from Little Rock to Missouri, traveling through Arkansas cities such as Newport, Walnut Ridge and Pocahontas along its way.

However, the construction has run into a number of difficulties. While the stretch of highway from Little Rock to Newport is essentially finished, development has been halted just north of Newport, outside Tuckerman. The reason for slowing at this point falls heavily upon the layout of Tuckerman. The small town has several sharp turns, limiting the accessibility options available to large vehicles such as trailer trucks. Current plans project the new route connecting to existing state highway 226 and bypassing the Tuckerman congestion.

This change could be implemented soon. According to committee member Joe Barnett, this plan could go into effect in 2009.

Another large factor in the ongoing battle to complete the project is the cost of asphalt. Higher fuel costs have led to a premium value on asphalt, with the price nearly doubling from a year ago. The added cost has now put the project nearly out of reach in the eyes of many.

"We believe that it's going to take more than a generation to get a highway built from Walnut Ridge to the Missouri line that is going to meet interstate specs," said committee member Don House, a business leader in Walnut Ridge. "We simply feel like we can't wait that long."

To combat this, the committee agreed to alter its short-term plans to include the construction of a five-lane super rural highway from Pocahontas to the Missouri line. A similar road already exists from Walnut Ridge to Pocahontas. The advantage of a super rural highway is in the difference of cost and construction time. According to House, the five-lane highway could be built much faster and for half the cost of an interstate.

Though the current focus may have shifted, the commission does not want to abandon its interstate proposal.

"We feel like this is the best way to move forward for right now," House said. "It doesn't change our long-term goals."

House said the five-lane highway would allow the committee to make some of the desired improvements, while showing its commitment to making future plans a reality.

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