June 19, 2013 Edition

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Shelton spearheads
effort to shift highway

Robert Shelton stands at the spot where his property line would have ended in front of his service station in Portia had he not circulated the petition to have the Highway 63 widening plans changed. Had the plans not shifted the new lanes to the north, his station would have been unusable.
Megan Heyl
Staff Writer

The plans to widen a 1.5-mile stretch of Highway 63 through Portia and continuing to Black Rock were set in 2009. However the plans changed substantially about a month after the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department met with citizens of Portia on Feb. 2, 2012.

"The original design placed the new construction centerline essentially where the center of the highway is today," AHTD District Engineer Walter McMillan said.

After hearing several public comments and receiving a petition, the centerline was shifted to the north side towards the tracks.

The outcry came because the plans as they were would have caused several businesses and homes to be displaced.

"They were going to destroy the town," citizen Robert Shelton said. "My business would have been shut down."

The night of the Feb. 2 meeting, Shelton, owner of Robert's Service Station, was one of many citizens in attendance concerned about the ill effects of the highway plan. He spoke with Judge Dale Freeman, former mayor of Portia, about the possibility of a petition.

"I told him I'd pay for it, if he carried it," Judge Freeman said. Shelton was more than happy to accept the offer.

"I walked door-to-door after work and on Sunday afternoon," he said. "I went to 95 percent of the houses."

His diligence yielded him 468 signatures in about 10 days. The petition was then handed over to Judge Freeman.

"He took it to Little Rock and made sure it was in the right hands," Shelton said.

After about two weeks, State Rep. James Ratliff received notification that the plans had changed and the road would shift to the north.

"It goes to show you, when people speak up for themselves, the state will listen," Ratliff said.

Shelton regretted that the property on the north side would be more affected but said that this was the best plan overall for Portia. Judge Freeman echoed the remorse but said that since residential property was only on the south side it was the greater concern.

Had the road plans remained unchanged, there would have been houses with the right-of-way within 10 feet of their front door according to Shelton.

The properties that would have been affected had the plans not changed were seven displaced businesses, one partially displaced business, 13 personal properties and one displaced landlord business.

"If it hadn't been for Robert, the petition wouldn't have been carried," Judge Freeman said. "It saved people in Portia a lot of grief."

The highway widening bids will be let this fall, and work is anticipated to be complete in 2015.

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