LAWRENCE COUNTY, AR (KAIT) - The latest stretch of Highway 67 to connect central Arkansas to east Missouri is now open.
The ribbon cutting ceremony for Highway 67 from Highway 226 to Walnut Ridge took place Thursday morning in Lawrence County.
Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Director Scott Bennett said the $160 million investment brings them one step closer to having a 4-lane highway from Little Rock to St. Louis.
"It's always good to break ground on one, to get started, but it's so much better to open up one," Bennett said. "This is what we do. Everything we do is to make it better for the people who travel our highways."
The last time a new section of Highway 67 opened was in 2009. The 18-mile stretch of road from Newport to Highway 226 cost $99 million dollars to complete.
"It takes a long time to plan, and design, and buy the right of way, and build a highway project," Bennett said.
Congressman Rick Crawford said the opening is good for the entire region.
"What we're trying to do really I think is accomplish a sort of an economic development zone from Little Rock to St. Louis," Crawford said. "Everybody in that area, mayors of towns along that route, they all understand how important it is to invest in that kind of infrastructure. It revs up the economy and facilitates economic development."
Initial work for Highway 67 started in the 1950s at I-40 in North Little Rock.
"Economic development takes place better on paved, 4-lane roads," Crawford said. "What we've seen here is the realization of decades of planning to make us a little more connected to the broader economy of the state."
Hours after the official opening of Highway 67, a dedication ceremony took place for the opening of the Highway 226 connection to Jonesboro.
"For all the students who go to Arkansas State University, it'll be a safer way for them to get here if they live in that area but more importantly it is economic development. It's also, in my opinion, the next step for regionalization. Connecting everything together," Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin said.
The project, that cost roughly $85 million total, happened over the course of seven construction projects.
As for Highway 67, a stretch of road from Walnut Ridge to Missouri still needs to be constructed.
Right now, the project is in the environmental stage. Alternative routes are still being considered for the project.
According to AHTD, the Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for Federal Fiscal Year 2016-2020 includes $5 million to fund the environmental process to identify that route.
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