Road crews to begin widening Hwy. 167 further

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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