PARAGOULD, AR (KAIT) - You might notice some changes the next time you drive down Highways 49 and 412 in Paragould. Traffic lights have gone up in anticipation of the Eastern Bypass opening next week.
It's a project more than 20 years in the making. The first section of the bypass is expected to divert some traffic from the center of town but city leaders hope it'll only be positive change for the city.
The traffic lights are up and will soon be fully functioning at the new intersections on Highways 49 and 412. The stoplights are in place for the eastern bypass around Paragould.
The five mile route will make bypassing Paragould easier and safer, especially for semi-truck drivers.
"Just as soon as we get that open, hopefully that's what we'll see. We'll see some relief in the 18-wheeler traffic is what we're looking for the most," Paragould Mayor Mike Gaskill said.
Gaskill was elected into office one month after a study was completed on a Paragould bypass. That was 18 years ago.
Even decades ago, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department noted how difficult it was for semis to navigate through Paragould.
In their report, they noted that several high volume intersections contribute to turning conflicts for 18-wheelers. They also anticipated growth in Paragould would worsen the problems.
Now, nearly 20 years later, Paragould has grown and traffic is worse.
Though this will equate to less traffic in Paragould, Gaskill doesn't think Paragould's economy will be negatively impacted.
"Most of the 18 wheelers that are coming through, they're driving through to get somewhere else. They're not coming up here so they can pull into one of the local restaurants or one of the local gas stations."
Gaskill said the bypass might equal more business as Paragould continues to grow southward.
Already, multiple for sale signs are up along Highway 49 south in the area of the bypass.
"There could be some negative impact but I like to think that our growth is going to continue to keep us in a good position," Gaskill said.
Though the bypass will change things, Gaskill said there is one ultimate goal, "We want to make it a safer place to be when people are here."
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department told Region 8 News Thursday afternoon that the lights on the intersection must blink for five days before they can open the bypass.
Though you'll be able to drive on the eastern bypass soon, it'll be awhile before you can drive on the western bypass.
The highway department is still looking at the route. In October, AHTD held a hearing after public outcry about the proposed route. However, in that meeting, they said the general route of the western bypass likely won't be changed, just an interchange along the bypass at Highway 358.