Jonesboro has received preliminary approval for at least $90 million from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, and the city will have to provide a $7.8 million match, Mayor Harold Perrin told Talk Business & Politics.
A key player in securing the funding was Arkansas Highway and Transportation Commissioner Alec Farmer Jr. Farmer, a Jonesboro native, was selected by Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2015 to serve a 10-year term on the commission.
“We are very fortunate … Alec Farmer had a lot of input to get this kind of money for Jonesboro,” Perrin said.
Road congestion is a problem in many parts of Jonesboro, and it also has the potential to morph into serious safety concerns. To help address the problems, there will be at least 11 projects considered, and the construction phases will run through 2020. The city will use reserve funds to cover its match. Two projects have already received tentative approval and are scheduled to begin next year.
The city hopes to build a $15 million overpass on Arkansas 18 or Highland Drive where it meets Nettleton Avenue. The highway is a major traffic artery that connects the Nettleton School District and the industrial park with the rest of the city. A railroad crossing obstructs traffic on the highway just passed Turtle Creek Mall.
If there a traffic accident or another emergency it can be extremely difficult for emergency crews to respond in a timely manner, Perrin said. About 90% of this project has been designed and utility and right of way work could begin in the coming months, he said. It could be finished in 2018 if construction goes well, he said. This project has been a priority for the city because of safety concerns and the potential traffic relief it could provide.
Another road construction project under consideration is an expansion of Commerce Drive that would connect Interstate 555 with U.S. 49. The expansion would bypass Red Wolf Boulevard, one of the most congested streets in the entire city. When Red Wolf was built, planners estimated traffic counts at 31,000 vehicles per day. Those counts have surpassed 41,000 per day and continue to increase, according to the city.
The cost to expand Red Wolf into a six-lane highway was studied, but the costs would be too much, Perrin said. It would cost $60 million to expand the road, and move the utilities and businesses.
“We can’t do that,” the mayor said.
The Commerce Drive expansion will cost about $10 million. Designs for the project will have to be rendered, and construction is likely to begin in 2020, Perrin said. The city won’t receive a lump sum for the road projects, meaning they will have to be staggered, the mayor said.
Several other smaller projects are under consideration in 2017.
The city hopes to spend about $1 million add a right turn lane along Southwest Drive not far from where it meets Arkansas 226. The highway is near the Valley View School District, and is heavily traveled, especially in the mornings and afternoons. At least 32,450 vehicles travel this section of the highway each day, according to the city. A turn lane onto I-555 would help alleviate traffic, Perrin said.
“It’s going to improve traffic flow, dramatically,” he said.
On the other end of the highway where Southwest meets Highland, city leaders hope to expand the highway leading onto Main Street near the Jonesboro School District. Traffic flow in that area can be heavy and at times, dangerous, he said.
Other road projects likely to begin next year are expansions along Parker Road and Forrest Hill Road. These routes have been inundated with increased vehicle flow in recent years and need to be expanded, Perrin said.
Timetables and exact costs for all projects under consideration will be released once final design plans have been approved, Perrin said.