Road crews to begin widening Hwy. 167 further - KAIT-Jonesboro, AR-News, weather, sports

Road crews to begin widening Hwy. 167 further

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BATESVILLE, AR (KAIT) – The drive from Bald Knob to Batesville has gotten a lot easier during the past few years thanks to some ongoing improvements.

The Arkansas State Highway & Transportation Department, or AHTD, has funded several projects that have widened Highway 167 from two lanes to five. Crews recently finished widening the roadway from Highway 69 north for about three miles to Highway 394 in Batesville, which took two years and $6.9 million to complete.

The work, however, is far from over. Crews are next set to widen the highway all the way to Cave City, but the work will cost millions more and take years to complete. The proposal, however, has excited people, like Lisa Wilhite, who drive up and down this highway every day.

"I'm back and forth every day at least once, maybe twice a day," Wilhite said.

She uses Highway 167 to commute from her home near Cave City to her job in Batesville. Most of the highway is still two lanes, but she's already noticed a big difference where road crews have finished expanding to road to five lanes near Batesville.

"It's just such a nice improvement," she said. "They look nice; they drive nice; and the traffic runs so much smoother."

During the past few years, AHTD has widened the highway piece by piece from Bald Knob all the way now to Batesville. Scott Bennett, the AHTD director, said crews have done all this work in small increments because of limited funding.

"Just like your home," Bennett said, "you'd like to remodel the whole house at one time, but you can only afford to do the kitchen right now. You have to come back later and do the other one – it's no different for us."

Plans still call for widening the highway to five lanes all the way to Cave City. That work would happen in two phases and would not likely be completed for three to four more years. Bennett, however, said there are concerns right now about federal funding for the project, which may cause the completion date to be pushed back.

"People have been driving less. They've been driving more fuel efficient vehicles, so there's less funding going into the federal highway trust fund," Bennett said. "We've committed a lot of that funding for a few years into the future. If we can't do something to increase revenue on the federal side, then we may very well be facing our own fiscal cliff for highway funding from the federal side in 2015. We're actually in danger of having to skip a year of federal highway funding to let the highway trust fund build back up, and that really could be detrimental to us since 70 percent of our funding does come from federal sources."

"We hoping [the lawmakers] do the right thing," he added, "and they keep highway funding at least at the same level it has been the last several years. We're going to develop the project just like we're going to have the money to do it."

Whenever the project starts up again, Wilhite knows the construction will cause delays for her commute, but she says they'll all be worth it in the end.

"We're super excited because it's such an improvement – the road itself is such an improvement," she said. "To have passing lanes and to be able to have traffic flowing a lot better is going to be very nice for us and make our time to work a lot quicker, so we're looking forward to it."

The highway department estimates that it will cost somewhere more than $30 million to finish widening the rest of the highway to Cave City.

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