Jonesboro road projects taking some shape, officials say

by Michael Wilkey ([email protected]) 230 views 

Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said this week that road construction projects in and around the city have created a long and winding road, going from start to finish.

Perrin spoke this week to Talk Business & Politics about several road projects under construction or in the planning stages throughout Jonesboro.

A $12.1 million project to build an overpass at the intersection of Nettleton Avenue and Highland Drive has been years in the making. However, Perrin said the work on the project has been slow and could see a delay.

“The Highway 18 overpass, about 60% of the design plan is done. We had hoped to bid in September (2016), but it is likely not going to happen,” Perrin said, citing right of way issues. “It looks like August 2017 will be the new bid date.”

Supporters of the project have said the overpass is needed to address traffic concerns at a busy intersection, which links the town’s industrial park to the Mall at Turtle Creek and Arkansas State University.

At the other end of town, a plan to upgrade an intersection at Southwest and Highland Drives, is starting to take shape.

The Jonesboro City Council voted June 7 to approve a $133,627 contract with Memphis-based Fisher/Arnold to begin engineering studies on the intersection.

At least $2.4 million – funding from the State Transportation Improvement Program – will be used to build a dedicated right turn lane going back into Jonesboro, a left turn lane going out of town and other improvements. The work is expected to start in 2019, officials have said.

However, a third project is about to be done. A roundabout is being built on Airport Road and should be done by August. Perrin said city officials plan to work with Nettleton school officials to help parents learn the traffic patterns in the area.

At the council’s June 7 meeting, Jonesboro Finance Director Suzanne Allen spoke to council members about the city budget and transportation projects.

Allen said at the meeting that the city has set aside $11 million for transportation projects including $8.5 million for so-called “STIP” projects.

The STIP, or State Transportation Improvement Program, will set aside funding from 2016 to 2020 to complete highway and road projects around the state.

Allen said Tuesday that the local portion of the funding are basically estimates, at least until a complete funding bill is approved by Congress.

As of Tuesday, the projects for 2016 and 2017 under consideration with the overall funding and city funding and when the contract is scheduled to be bid out are as follows:

* Arkansas 18 overpass project – $12.1 million, with $3.3 million set aside by the city, 2017.
* Parker Road extension project – $1.4 million, with $203,000 set aside by the city, 2016.
* University Loop extension project – $2.5 million, with $2.097 million set aside by the city, 2016.

Two other projects – funded entirely through federal and state funding – are also part of the STIP project list.

At least $48 million is set aside to be spent on system preservation on different sections of I-555 in 2017 and 2018. The work, which will be based on pavement studies to determine need, is scheduled to be done from Jonesboro to the I-55/I-555 intersection in Gilmore (Crittenden County).

The entire state project list can be seen here.

Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department spokesman Danny Straessle said the STIP list was approved by state highway commissioners June 1, with the list now going through a federal review. Officials are hopeful that the list will be approved by October 1, which is the start of the new federal fiscal year.

City officials applied in April for a $15.6 million federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, or TIGER grant, to build an overpass on Patrick Street in Jonesboro.

Under the proposal, the overpass would seek to connect North and South Patrick Streets in downtown Jonesboro. A longtime overpass on Bridge Street would be used as a walking/bicycle route and a railroad crossing on Fisher Street would be closed.

If approved, the funding would be an 80/20% match with the city of Jonesboro paying the 20%. Perrin said this week that the overpass was needed to address congestion problems in downtown Jonesboro.

State highway officials have also applied for a $88.8 million TIGER grant to upgrade I-555 through Craighead, Poinsett and Crittenden counties. In the application, state highway officials cited deteriorating pavement quality as well as the area’s economic role as reasons for the request.

“This corridor is a lifeline for trade and commerce in the region. The agrarian economy literally puts food on people’s tables. In 2013, 2.0 million tons of agricultural freight began its journey on I-555 and traveled not only nationally, but globally. Northeast Arkansas is also benefited by a healthy industrial and manufacturing sector that is growing rapidly. Over 6.6 million tons of nonagricultural freight was trucked along this route in 2013. This number is expected to double by 2040. As industry and manufacturing in the region continues to grow, the infrastructure needs of the region will continue to grow as well, which will only accelerate the decline of the condition of I-555,” the report from the AHTD noted.

“The current pavement condition along I-555 is rated predominantly as fair to poor. Several segments of I-555 experience higher crash rates than other similar facilities of the same type in the State. Interstate 555 from the City of Jonesboro to Interstate 55 is in need of repairs ranging from minor preventive maintenance to full depth reconstruction.”

Federal transportation officials announced in April that at least $500 million would be set aside for the projects, which help with infrastructure needs, throughout the United States.