Jonesboro residents get first look at highway projects, offer input

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 374 views 

Jonesboro Metropolitan Planning Organization director Erica Tait said Tuesday (March 29) that a plan to build roads can often take many twists and turns. On Tuesday, about a dozen people had their turn to sound off and learn about the road projects expected to be done in Jonesboro through 2020.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department recently released its draft State Transportation Improvement Program, or STIP, plan for future highway projects. The STIP plan, based on a statewide list, is built from local lists, Tait said after the meeting.

The MPO’s Transportation Policy Committee approved its plan through 2040 in February, while its Policy Advisory Board will take up the local project April 19 in Jonesboro. Tait said the projects can have several things in mind.

“Short term, it is seen as getting things done. But it can add capacity to a roadway, add to the quality of life or add to economic enhancement of an area,” Tait said.

The list released Tuesday includes projects for Jonesboro, Craighead County and the cities of Bay, Bono and Brookland.

Following are the major projects identified for upcoming fiscal years.
Fiscal Year 2016
• University Loop Extension (new location): $2.5 million. The project will be funded with $2,097,000 from the city of Jonesboro and $403,000 from the federal government.

• Parker Road Extension from Strawfloor Drive to Washington Avenue: $1.471 million. The project will be funded with $1.268 million from the federal government and $203,000 from the city of Jonesboro.

Fiscal Year 2017
• Arkansas 18 overpass at the Nettleton Avenue and Highland Drive intersection from Cain Street to Watt Street: $9.6 million. The project, which will be let out for bid in 2018, will be funded by $6.3 million in federal funding and $3.3 million in funding from the city of Jonesboro.

Fiscal Year 2018
• Interstate 555 through Craighead, Poinsett and Crittenden counties: $47.8 million ($38.24 million in federal funding and $9.56 million in state funding). The project will work on several sections of the interstate with locations determined by a pavement study.

Fiscal Year 2019
• Widening U.S. 48 from Arkansas 91 to Arkansas 351 South: $10.4 million ($8.32 million in federal funding and $2.08 million in state funding).

• A major widening of Arkansas 351 from U.S. 49 to Pleasant View Drive: $7 million. ($5.6 million in federal funding and $1.4 million in state funding.)

• Arkansas 351 overpass at Airport Road: $7 million ($5.6 million in federal funding and $1.4 million in state funding).

Fiscal Year 2020
• Extension of Commerce Drive from Arkansas 18 to U.S. 49: $10 million ($8 million in federal and $2 million in state funding.)

Tait told the group that any of the projects can be amended or even changed after input from the public. Tait also said dates listed in the report are preliminary, with issues like right of way and property easements possibly delaying any construction.

The I-555 project has already drawn interest in nearby Poinsett County. According to content partner KAIT, a group of Poinsett County officials and area mayors met Monday (March 28) to discuss problems with the interstate near the St. Francis River Floodway. The problems have centered around a four-mile area from Payneway to Marked Tree, in which local officials said is in horrible shape.

“The bigger trucks, they pull asphalt up where it’s been patched,” Poinsett County Judge Bob Cantrell said. “It puts it in the windshields in vehicles and people hit those potholes and they lose control of their vehicle.”

The plan to widen Arkansas 351 from U.S. 49 to Pleasant View Drive in northeast Jonesboro also drew Rick Cheshier to the meeting. Cheshier said he would like to see a flyover built at the intersection of Red Wolf and Johnson to alleviate traffic problems. In recent years, there has been bottlenecks at several intersections on U.S. 49, which links Jonesboro to Paragould. Cheshier said the flyover idea, which he does not know how much it would cost, could help.

“It is going to grow,” Cheshier said of the area along U.S. 49. “But for it to grow, we have to have the infrastructure for it to grow.”

Looking at a map, Cheshier said the area along Arkansas 351 has grown in recent years with banks, churches and stores opening in the area.

“With everything there, it is going to be tight,” Cheshier said, noting property values in the area are also likely to grow exponentially in the next few years.