May 29, 2013 Edition

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NEARIFA hears update
on highways, railsroads

Gloria Wilkerson
Staff Writer

The Northeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Facilities met at the Hoxie Service Center on May 23, with discussion centered on highways, railways and shipping docks and how this area will be impacted by all types of transportation in the future.

Among guests attending the meeting were Nathan Davis of Rep. John Boozman's office and Rebecca Bryant from Cong. Rick Crawford's office.

Board member Dalton Sullivan informed the board that Highway 67 between here and the Missouri state line is foremost in everyone's eyes because it dissects the communities in this area.

According to Sullivan, there are three choices in selecting the path of an improved and upgraded highway that will connect us to Missouri.

"One route would connect us through Jonesboro, one would run along Highway 34, and the last one would be farther west and closest to Pocahontas," he said. Pocahontas and Corning residents held separate public meetings and chose the route they would most like to see be chosen.

"Fifty percent of those responding by questionnaires would prefer to see the route closest to Pocahontas chosen, 40 percent chose the middle ground along Highway 34, and 10 percent chose the Jonesboro corridor," Sullivan said.

The highway committee is expected to make a decision this fall.

The board members received a brief update on the ongoing work on the Black River Bridge at Black Rock. Equipment is being brought in from Iowa to dig through bedrock for the 108 shafts planned for the bridge, deeper than what had originally been expected. The bridge is expected to be completed by 2015 or early 2016, and work continues on the five-laned road from Hoxie to Black Rock.

Highway 412 from Light to Walnut Ridge is on the four-lane list, and work will begin to replace the old bridge at Pocahontas in 2016.

Cliff McKinney of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department informed the board that a task force will be created to look at Intermodals across the state.

"We have to look at our interstates, our rivers and railroads - all methods of transporting freight," he said. "Most of the United States imports come through Pacific Ocean ports, and the ships are huge and carry big containers. Those docks have to be deep enough for the ships, and their cargo will affect our trucking business and bring more rail traffic through here. These are some of the reasons our transportation system is so important to the future."

He also added that the AHTD has initiated two rail planning studies. One will provide an assessment of the issues, economic benefits, capacity constraints and infrastructure needs of Arkansas' railroads. The plan will include performance measures, long-range development strategies, an inventory of freight railroad facilities and identification of the major commodities shipped by rail.

The second study will be an evaluation of passenger rails and the feasibility of extending service between Little Rock and Memphis and whether or not a Little Rock to Memphis corridor is feasible. A service development plan for the South Central High Speed Rail Corridor from Little Rock to the Arkansas/Texas state line at Texarkana is under consideration. This could include infrastructure improvements, suggested train sets and schedules and new passenger rail services.

NEARIFA board president Wayne Gearhart told members that the Intermodal Authority continues to look at various sites. Lots of good things are in play, and he will have more information as it becomes available.

Steve Jones, site coordinator, told the board that they have to look at residential and commercial sites carefully.

"We look at prospects, look at sites for market and would like to have 1,000 to 1,500 acres for sites," he said. "As highways improve, our population will grow and we will have more here to work with. The foundation of each community is so important."

Instead of a regular NEARIFA meeting in June, Jones will teach a class for board membersabout what is needed for an Intermodal site.

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