NEA leaders update on I-57 possibilities

by George Jared ([email protected]) 1,054 views 

Generations of civic and business leaders in Northeast Arkansas have dreamed of U.S. 67 being transformed into a complete, four-lane interstate highway stretching to the Missouri border. If the route were completely four-laned, it would become the primary thoroughfare connecting Chicago to large cities in Texas.

A group of civic leaders recently met to discuss finishing this project which started back in the 1950s. Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp told Talk Business & Politics he thinks completing the highway could become one of the most significant economic events in the region – ever.

“Once that road system is complete, Northeast Arkansas would become the halfway point between Chicago and the big city markets in Texas,” Snapp said.

Most of the route which stretches in Arkansas from Texarkana to Corning is already interstate grade, but the 30 or so miles on the northern end of the route from Pocahontas to Corning remains a two-lane. Once complete, it would become part of the recently created I-57 system.

Nearly $32 million has been allocated for preliminary engineering and studies, Arkansas Highway Commission Vice Chairman Alec Farmer said. Three options to complete the highway are under consideration at this time, he said.

The price range to complete the project could cost anywhere from $490 million to $600 million, Farmer said. An environmental impact study is expected to be completed by the end of 2022. It’s part of a planning project study that was launched in 2015.

Once an option is selected and it passes environmental muster, it will be time to find funding, he added.

Work on U.S. 67 connecting the region with Little Rock began in 1956. That first 16 miles cost $6.4 million and was finished in 1962. Through the years, the highway was four-laned to Bald Knob and then to Newport in 1994. A few years ago, the final expanded connector between Newport and Walnut Ridge was finished.

The 123 miles that stretch from North Little Rock into Northeast Arkansas has cost $700 million so far, and if it were done today, it would cost more than $1 billion, Farmer said.

Landowners along the U.S. 67 in the area of the proposed expansion have seen teams of surveyors and engineers in the field collecting data, Arkansas Department of Transportation District 10 engineer Brad Smithee said. One proposal is along the current highway and two alternate routes are under consideration.

Cost, how many motorists will use each route, environmental impacts, engineering viability and other factors will be considered when making a final determination, he said.

U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said he’s optimistic that federal dollars will be allocated towards the project. When complete, it will provide an economic boon to all the cities and towns along the route.

“Business owners, civic leaders and travelers all understand the importance of connecting Northeast and Central Arkansas to this major interstate because it creates economic growth and development opportunities and allows for increased ease of movement,” Boozman said.

“I am pleased to have been updated on the latest developments with the effort to plan and complete the construction of an interstate-quality highway and bring I-57 from the Missouri border all the way to North Little Rock. I look forward to further helping make this vision a reality,” he added.