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Politics pave the way.

Development Dollars Flow Along U.S. 412, the East-West Artery of North Arkansas Corridors

SOME VERY FAMILIAR faces are in positions of power in Washington, and things couldn't get much better for advocates of improving the state's highway network.

Rodney Slater, former director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Commission, is now administrator of the Federal Highway Administration.

As a division head, Slater answers directly to Federico Pena, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Both men were appointed to their key positions by President Clinton, the state's longtime governor and the prodigy of a place called Hope.

These political developments come on the heels of outgoing U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt of Harrison lavishing the 3rd Congressional District with a $323 million highway allocation.

Of course, there's a difference between allocation and appropriation. That distinction isn't lost on four-lane boosters, either.

"There's always a concern that appropriations will not match allocations," says Lee Zachary, executive director of the Springdale Chamber of Commerce.

So, Arkansas highway boosters have hit the lobbying trail armed with their newfound political connections and clout.

Among the top items on their list is the U.S. Highway 412 corridor that will link the Oklahoma border with the Missouri Bootheel.

It's a project that has brought forces together from both northwest and northeast Arkansas. The spirit of cooperation even extends to cities not directly served by U.S. 412.

"We're not on that route, but we see it as a very important link across northeast Arkansas," says Henry Jones, executive director of the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce. "We feel fortunate that Rodney Slater is in his new position."

Earlier this summer, chambers of commerce in the 3rd Congressional District sponsored a reception in Washington honoring Slater for his federal appointment.

The soiree, emceed by U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers of Charleston, attracted many other federal legislators who stopped by to offer their congratulations.

U.S. Sen. David Pryor of Camden also spoke, along with other members of the Arkansas congressional delegation.

In February, chambers of commerce from Bentonville, Rogers, Siloam Springs, Springdale and Fayetteville hosted a luncheon in Washington to continue discussion of the transportation needs of the entire region.

Members of the House Public Works and Transportation Committee attended at the invitation of U.S. Rep. Tim Hutchinson of Bentonville, who succeeded Hammerschmidt.

The get-together dovetailed with a meeting of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce where Clinton spoke.

Widening Roads

Five major contracts are in full swing to bridge a 16.5-mile gap in need of four-lane roadway between Springdale and Siloam Springs. That part of the overall U.S. 412 corridor should be completed by next year. It would make the 110 miles on U.S. 412 from U.S. 71 to Tulsa, Okla., fully four-laned.

Within Springdale, two portions of the existing four-lane will be realigned to do away with 90-degree turns.

From there, U.S. 412 will be widened to Huntsville, where a northern bypass will be constructed. From there the highway will be widened about 40 miles to the intersection with U.S. 65 near Harrison.

There's even a provision for extending four-lane traffic from north of Harrison 18 miles along U.S. 65 to the Missouri state line. That will help lighten the load of travel to Branson, Mo.

The four-lane process on U.S. 412 will resume again south of Harrison 22 miles to Yellville and another 22 miles to Mountain Home, where the highway will be rerouted to swing south of the city and finally connect up with the Lake Norfork Bridge.

Work will begin next spring on a four-mile stretch of the Yellville-Mountain Home segment, between Cotter and state Highway 126.

More passing lanes are planned for the Salem-Ash Flat segment. Four lanes already are under construction between Ash Flat and Highland. Five miles of widening between Highland and Hardy is nearing completion.

Four-lane work west from Paragould is planned to connect with a rerouted 412 that will loop around the east side of Walnut Ridge and south around Hoxie.

East of Paragould is a six-mile jaunt to the Missouri Bootheel.

So, when is all the work going to be completed?

"People have got to understand that it is a 14-year program, and we're only in our second year," says Randy Ort, spokesman for the AHTD.

Do All Roads Lead to Jonesboro?

In northeast Arkansas, it seems a chamber of commerce-backed corridor association has adopted every stretch of pavement.

The corridor interests are divided among U.S. 412, 63, 67 and state Highways 1 and 18. But it's not a competitive case of "us against them."

All of the efforts are interrelated to varying degrees, and everyone is pulling together to improve the entire region's road network.

At the hub of most of the planned corridors are about 50,000 residents, which make up the fifth largest city in the state.

"Jonesboro is the largest city in Arkansas without a four-lane highway to anywhere," says Jones of the Jonesboro chamber.

That will soon change when the final leg of U.S. 63 is converted to four-lane traffic south of Jonesboro. The 10.1-mile stretch from Bay to south of Trumann is scheduled for completion by the end of 1994 at a cost of $1 million per mile.

In the coming years, work will extend four-lane traffic 18 miles north on U.S. 63 to Hoxie (Lawrence County). There, four-lane traffic will converge with the juncture of two other four-lane projects, U.S. 67 and U.S. 412.

A southern bypass eventually will sweep around Hoxie, and an eastern bypass will do the same in neighboring Walnut Ridge.

"This will create a more convenient route for tourists heading from Memphis to the Ozarks," Jones says.

An $8.7 million contract was awarded for the first of three phases to widen U.S. 49 between Jonesboro and Paragould. The four-lane work, running south 5.2 miles from U.S. 412 to the Bethal community, is scheduled for completion by the summer of 1995.

Phase 2 will run about five miles between Jonesboro and state Highway 230. Phase 3 will cover the remaining six-mile gap.

Other four-lane projects are planned to fan out from Jonesboro along state Highway 1 south to Interstate 40 at Forrest City and east along Highway 18 to Interstate 55 at Blytheville.

Also on the drawing board is the conversion of about 18 miles of Highway 226 to four-lane traffic west of Jonesboro and its connection with the relocated, four-lane divided U.S. 67.

This route would become the shortest four-lane link between Jonesboro and Little Rock. Highway 226 lies about 13 miles north of the farthest extension of four-lane work on U.S. 67.

A 3.2-mile segment, costing $10.7 million, will swing U.S. 67 east of downtown Newport. It is scheduled to open next fall.

The exact route of the new U.S. 67 between Newport and Walnut Ridge is still under further study -- as are ways to secure more funding for Arkansas highways.
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Title Annotation:proposal to construct new US highway 412
Author:Waldon, George
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Sep 6, 1993
Previous Article:Something's got to give.
Next Article:Boyette realizes dream with AIDC nomination.

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