A plan to make a 40-mile stretch of road in Northeast Arkansas an interstate highway cleared an important hurdle Wednesday night. The House voted to approve an amendment from U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, during debate of the Highway Bill.
The amendment, which will be part of the overall House Transportation Bill, would allow for the exemption of agricultural vehicles on the future I-555, Crawford said in a statement.
Economic development officials, along with mayors and county officials in Craighead and Poinsett counties, have pushed for the exemption for some time. Once the exemption is granted, U.S. 63 from Lake David in Crittenden County to Jonesboro will be renamed I-555.
The bill, H.R. 3763, with Crawford’s amendment included, will now proceed to the conferencing process with the Senate bill, to which Senator John Boozman has added similar exemption language. The Arkansas legislature also approved a bill during the 2015 session in support of the idea. After the amendment’s addition to the bill, Crawford said the interstate status will help the region.
“Jonesboro’s economic development director, Mark Young, has told me many times that when companies are looking for new locations one of the first criterion often assessed is proximity to an Interstate system. For years, Arkansas has sought interstate status for U.S. 63, but has been unable to bear the $30-$50 million expense needed to build an access road for agricultural vehicles across the St. Francis floodway. This amendment to the highway bill will allow for the interstate designation to move forward while at the same time allowing for traditional use of the floodway bridge (near Marked Tree),” Crawford said.
Crawford said state and federal officials have worked for some time to receive the interstate designation. Federal law mandates that if U.S. 63 were designated as an interstate, agricultural vehicles including cotton modules, dump trucks, and logging trucks would not be allowed to use certain bridges that they have used for years. Once the highway gains interstate status, the federal bridge formula for Interstates would apply, and many agricultural vehicles are non-compliant with those rules.
Supporters have said the vehicles would have to take a 90-mile detour around the floodway to deliver products to market, when vehicles have traveled the three-mile road for years. The exemption would allow agricultural vehicles to travel on the three-mile stretch, Crawford said.
Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce President Mark Young said the exemption will help the area’s economy.
“It is great news. We are very appreciative of all of the work that Rep. Crawford has done on the project,” Young said. “It is extremely important for our region.”