August 17, 2016 Edition

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Lawrence County Chamber Board member John Householder (left) and Walnut Ridge Alderman Allen Smith (right) visit with Brad Smithee, district maintenance engineer with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department following the ribbon-cutting ceremony for Highway 67's connection to Highway 63 at Hoxie.
TD Photo ~ Megan Heyl

Ceremony marks historic
opening of Highway. 67

Dalton Sullivan
Star Herald

Fifteen years after the first contracts were let in 2001 for the expansion of Hwy. 67 north of Newport, the ribbon was cut Thursday to open up the highway, signifying the completion of the 34-mile, $160 million expansion from Newport to the Walnut Ridge/Hoxie area.

Less than an hour after the 10 a.m. ribbon cutting, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) had collected all the orange barrels and taken the covers off of the new signage, and traffic was zooming at 70-miles-per-hour on the new 16-mile section of four-lane freeway.

Civic leaders from Randolph, Lawrence and Craighead Counties were on hand for the ribbon cutting, as were numerous local and state politicians and First District Congressman Rick Crawford. AHTD Director Scott Bennett and the entire AHTD State Highway Commission were also on hand for the ceremony, which took place underneath one of the overpasses over the new four-lane highway, on a sunny, hot morning.

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp welcomed the 100 or so gathered for the ribbon cutting, and expressed the sentiment of many of those in attendance, saying, "there are a lot of people who didn't think this day would ever get here," referring to the lengthy time it took to get the new four-lane built from Newport to Hwy. 63 in Lawrence County.

Mayor Snapp was followed by AHTD Director Scott Bennett. Bennett echoed Snapp's remarks, but added the project could not have been completed without the release of more federal funds. Bennett complimented Cong. Crawford for his work on that as part of the Transportation Conference Committee.

He also added the Arkansas Highway Improvement Act of 2016 helped in the funding of the final section of the new four-lane and gave the state funds to match federal funding.

Aside from the funding aspect, Bennett said the new and improved Hwy. 67 is about economic development in Northeast Arkansas, saying the new roadway "opens up a lot of possibilities" for that development.

He concluded his remarks by saying there is still "a lot to do" regarding Hwy. 67, to get it north to the Missouri state line, but that "today (Aug. 11) we praise all of those who made this possible."

Pocahontas native and AHTD State Highway Commission Chair Dick Trammel followed Bennett. Trammel, who now lives in Rogers and represents Northwest Arkansas on the commission, talked about his Northeast Arkansas roots and the importance of the new highway to the entire region.

He singled out Rep. Crawford and Sen. John Boozman for their work in procuring federal funding for the project. He also recognized former Commission member John Ed Regenold of Armorel, who represented Northeast Arkansas on the Commission from 2005-15. Trammel said Regenold was also instrumental in the Hwy. 67 development.

He concluded his remarks by saying the opening of the newest stretch of Hwy. 67 was not just a great day for the citizens of Northeast Arkansas, but for all of Arkansas.

Alec Farmer of Jonesboro, who replaced Regenold on the Commission spoke next. Farmer read a letter from Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, in which the governor referred to the completion as a "major milestone." Gov. Hutchinson's letter also commended those who made it possible. It read, "I commend and thank all of those who made this possible, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, Northeast Arkansas leadership and especially the residents of Northeast Arkansas."

Nathan Davis, who is the field representative for Sen. Boozman in Northeast Arkansas, read a letter from the senator, who noted the importance of the highway, reading in part, "This is a great day for transportation, commerce and economic development in Arkansas."

Cong. Crawford was the final speaker of the morning, and his remarks were very brief, but they echoed the words of those who had spoken before him. "This is much bigger than Walnut Ridge or Lawrence County," he said. "This is much bigger than Northeast Arkansas. This is big for the state, and all of Arkansas will benefit. This is a vital part of the economic corridor from Little Rock to St. Louis."

With the completion of the last segment from Hwy. 226 to Hwy. 63, Hwy. 67 is now an interstate grade freeway for 121 miles from Interstate 40 in North Little Rock, all the way to the Hwy. 412 exit in Walnut Ridge.

Earlier this summer Sen. Boozman introduced legislation to make that stretch "Future Interstate 57."

Currently, I-57 runs from Chicago to just west of Sikeston, Mo. The designation as I-57 is dependent on the Missouri Department of Transportation (MODoT) and AHTD bringing the remaining roadway to interstate standards.

For the remainder of the Hwy. 67 corridor from Pocahontas to the Missouri state line, the planning phase of evaluating multiple routes that have been proposed is already underway. The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for 2016-2020 includes $5 million to fund the environmental impact process that will identify the preferred alternative.

Old highway
has new name

With the opening of the new Hwy. 67, the old highway has been designated by the AHTD as Hwy. 367.

Hwy. 367 will begin at the Main Street/Highway 34 stoplight in Walnut Ridge and continue south through Hoxie and into Jackson County.

The stretch of the old highway from Main Street north to the new Highway 67 toward Pocahontas will remain Highway 67B North.

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