October 7, 2009 Edition

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Chamber of Commerce hears
update on road construction

Vanessa Wagner of Lawrence Health Services discusses future road developments with AHTD District Engineer Walter McMillan at the Chamber of Commerce quarterly meeting on Sept. 24.
TD Photo ~ Shantelle Prater
Shantelle Prater
Staff Writer

The Lawrence County Chamber of Commerce heard a presentation from Walter McMillan, Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department district engineer, at its quarterly meeting on Sept. 24.

McMillan discussed current and future road construction in Lawrence County.

The first topic discussed was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. According to McMillan, the act provided funds for the construction and maintenance of bridges and highways. District 10, which includes Clay, Craighead, Greene, Lawrence, Mississippi, Poinsett and Randolph counties, designated $5 million for rehab projects.

Included in those projects was the re-pavement of two city blocks on Main Street in Walnut Ridge at a cost of $118,000. That project was recently completed.

McMillan also discussed the construction of Highway 67 from Newport to Hoxie. According to McMillan, a ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place in Newport on Oct. 15 at 9 a.m., allowing motorists to travel as far north as Swifton on the new highway.

Although construction has been underway on Highway 67 for several years, McMillan said it will take another three years to complete dirt work and structures between Swifton and Hoxie.

Two grading and construction contracts have already been awarded for this work, which is underway.

The next phase, which will be paving the final stretch, will probably be awarded in two contracts. Funds are not yet available for the paving, which will cost over $40 million.

Construction on Highway 63 from Hoxie to Portia will begin next spring. McMillan said the money is there to five-lane the road to the edge of Portia. Plans regarding funding and the route of 63 through or around Portia are not known at this time.

The only other construction that is currently programmed is replacement of the Black River Bridge at Black Rock. Funding is not appropriated for the project at this time, though.

McMillan said the new bridge will be four lane and earthquake resistant. He said the location of the new bridge would have to be shifted so the existing bridge can remain open for traffic during construction.

Road construction is expensive, and funding is always an issue, according to McMillan.

Most projects are funded by the motor fuel tax, which is a per-gallon tax imposed on the sale of fuel used for transportation. The AHTD is now receiving money from taxes on natural gas, as well. Currently Arkansas has received $8 million from the natural gas tax this year.

McMillan said revenue has been affected by rising fuel costs. He said when the price goes up, the department sees a decrease because the tax is per gallon not per dollar, and when the price is up, individuals buy less.

The nationwide effort to improve fuel efficiency is having an impact on funding, as well. He said the governor has appointed a Blue Ribbon Committee to seek alternatives for funding the highway system.

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