An annual spring trip taken by officials with the Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce with city and county officials for nearly two decades has brought dividends back to the region, an official with the chamber said Wednesday.
Cari White, executive vice president for the chamber, said the April 22-24 trip to Washington, D.C. will allow the 43 people who will take the trip to make their case on several transportation related projects.
Among the projects include completing work linking U.S. 67 and Arkansas 226 west of Jonesboro; upgrading U.S. 63 from Jonesboro to Lake David to I-555; building an eastern bypass to link U.S. 63 and U.S. 49; as well as building an overpass across Highland Drive and Nettleton Avenue.
White said the work by chamber officials on the Arkansas 226 project helped get the project mostly done.
Before the 226 project was done, people who traveled in the region from Jonesboro had to take U.S. 49 to Waldenburg, then Arkansas 14 east of Newport in order to travel on U.S. 67 to Little Rock.
White said the project is nearly done with work still needed to be done on the Cash bypass.
The future I-555 project has been a main focus for Northeast Arkansas residents for nearly two decades.
Work has been done to upgrade the highway, with new overpasses built in Marked Tree and Tyronza as well as a major interchange near Turrell, in recent years.
However, the highway cannot become an interstate unless an access road is built across the St. Francis River Floodway near Marked Tree.
Earlier this month, Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, said he plans to introduce legislation that would exempt certain vehicles from some of the weight limit restrictions that are implemented if a highway becomes an interstate.
“Presently, there is a three-mile stretch of road that spans the St. Francis Floodway (in Poinsett County near Payneway) that requires an access road. Without it, cotton modules, agriculture equipment and some heavy vehicles like dump trucks would be forced to take a 90-mile detour,” Crawford said on April 2. “The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has indicated that an access road could cost as much as $50 million.”
White said the chamber would support the idea pushed by Crawford and would stress the idea with other members of the state’s congressional delegation.
“It would be a great fix for it. … the signs (marking the Future I-555) have been up for 15 years,” White said.
The eastern bypass around Jonesboro is a future goal, White said.
The bypass, which would link U.S. 63 at the Nestle Road exit to Rogers Chapel Road, would help alleviate traffic problems on Red Wolf Boulevard. White said the project is probably the “least costly” of the ideas brought up to address the concerns.
“We will talk about it and keep it on their radar screen,” White said.
The overpass idea came after a visit by Jonesboro city officials to the nation’s capital.
Earlier this year, the city received a $1.2 million federal grant to do an environmental study for the project.
At the time, officials cited safety concerns as an issue for the need for the overpass.
White said the chamber delegation will be meeting with Crawford and Sens. John Boozman, R-Ark., and Tom Cotton, R-Ark., next week.
The meetings will also include talking with staffers about different issues, like agriculture, education and highways.
White said the meetings give officials an opportunity to provide staff members with information about the region and its needs.
The group is expected to return back to Arkansas April 25.