February 08, 2012 Edition

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AHTD holds highway
meeting at Portia




State Rep. James Ratliff (from left), Colbert Gill, who has farming interests near Portia, and Arkansas Highway District Engineer Walter McMillan look over the proposed design for the five-lane highway that is to be built through Portia and on towards Black Rock, where it will eventually tie into a new bridge over Black River.
Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

At a meeting in Portia on Thursday, representatives from the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department met with citizens from Portia who will be impacted by the widening of Highway 63 along a 1.5-mile stretch of road through Portia and to Black Rock.

Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman and State Rep. James Ratliff were also in attendance.

The meeting was held to present the highway department's current design for the stretch of highway that will tie into a new bridge across Black River in the future and the construction work being completed east of town on Hwy. 63.

Input was requested from citizens as to what impact the proposed roadway might have on farmlands and wetlands, as well as their businesses and homes.

The proposal would create four driving lanes and a turning lane through the town of Portia and would require work on two bridges, impacting several property owners if the road is built according to preliminary plans. Twenty feet on either side of the current road will be needed if the design is adopted.

The $10.5 million job would be let in 2013 and would be completed within two years, depending on the weather, according to Ruby Jordan, AHTD public involvement specialist.

"This is a design hearing to show what we have planned," said Brad Smithee, AHTD district construction engineer. "Our staff is here to answer any questions people may have for us. Once we define where we will build, if land is needed from property owners, we will then do appraisals, negotiations and acquisitions. We're here to see what comments we get about the current design."

The proposed design would affect property owners on both sides of the highway, but fewer on the north side (Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad side), according to Greg Duckworth of Portia.

The highway department would install a three-foot-high retainer wall on the south side of the road with a sidewalk outside the wall. In essence, the highway would be just a sidewalk away from the front door of businesses located on that side.

Many citizens feel the design would wipe out the town of Portia.

Petition

Citizens attending were presented with questionnaires to fill out and return to highway representatives, listing any limitations or constraints they know of in the project area, as well as to make comments about the planned highway.

Lawrence County Judge Dale Freeman is preparing a petition asking that the AHTD move the proposed highway just north of the existing road (between the road and the BNSF Railroad) where fewer businesses would be impacted and the railroad's easement would not be encroached upon.

"Few property owners on the south side of the street would receive any monetary compensation for their businesses since the property the highway would be taking is easement to the current highway," Freeman said.

"This design would take away entrances to the businesses located along the highway. Customers would have to turn off onto a street and park behind the buildings to have access to the businesses," he added.

City employees are also handing out comment forms so citizens can voice their objections and suggestions to the AHTD.

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