‘Triple Nickel’ becomes reality, connects Jonesboro metro to Interstate 55

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 905 views 

Arkansas Highway Commissioner Alec Farmer said Friday (March 11) that it took a lot of hard work and $250 million in funding over 40 years to make U.S. 63 from Jonesboro to Lake David an interstate highway.

On Friday (March 11), the work became a reality as U.S. 63 became I-555.

Nearly 200 people gathered at St. Bernard’s Auditorium in Jonesboro to formally dedicate the highway, a main road through Northeast Arkansas. During the event, officials said the work on the highway began in 1968 as a series of two lane roads through Craighead and Poinsett counties were replaced with four lane highways in Marked Tree and Jonesboro.

A four lane highway and overpasses were built from Payneway to Jonesboro in the 1990’s, while overpasses were built in the Tyronza and Lake David areas, linking U.S. 63 with I-55, during the 2000s. However, construction slowed in 2012 as discussion over a frontage road across the St. Francis Sunken Lands bogged down, Farmer said.

The road, which would allow agricultural vehicles to cross the floodway, was estimated at $32 million and officials began looking for another way, Farmer said. Congress and the Arkansas Legislature approved an exemption last year to allow the farm traffic to travel on the interstate, clearing the way.

“We have a lot to celebrate today,” Farmer said. “It bogged down at the floodway and literally took an act of Congress for this to happen.”

The group heard from Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), and U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., and U.S. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, about the new interstate. Hutchinson and Boozman said they were seniors in high school – Hutchinson at Rogers and Boozman at Fort Smith Northside – when construction on the four lane began. Hutchinson said the interstate designation opens the door for new opportunities in the region.

“The significance is important. Very simply, it gives every community along the road a calling card for economic development. With this, you have strengthened your case,” Hutchinson said.

Boozman said the people in Northeast Arkansas, especially business leaders in Jonesboro, helped make the designation a reality.

“None of this would have been done without you working on this project,” Boozman said.

Crawford said he met with the business leaders in Jonesboro in 2010, soon before taking office. The mood involved a lot of skepticism that day, but Crawford said having an interstate can help towns like Turrell (Crittenden County) and Marked Tree.

Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department director Scott Bennett said the $32 million set aside for the frontage road can now be used for other projects in the region.

The 32,000 vehicles a day and the people driving on I-555 will start seeing some differences immediately. Highway crews will begin replacing the 740 U.S. 63 signs from Lake David to Jonesboro on Monday (March 14).

A series of highway signs warning of agricultural vehicles have already been installed, along with new 65 mile per hour signs in the Marked Tree and Payneway areas. Highway Department spokesman Danny Straessle said preliminary plans call for the highway to see increased maintenance next year.