Road crews are busy in Northeast Arkansas

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - Road crews are out across Northeast Arkansas.

District Engineer with the Arkansas Department of Transportation Brad Smithee said there's a good reason why so many workers are out and about.

"There are a couple of reasons for that," Smithee said. "This year we were very blessed across Arkansas to enter into a pavement preservation program. And that's a little different than anything we've seen in recent years. In the past years we had an overlay program. And that overlay program divided about $50 million around the state. $5 million for each of ten districts. This year we will have done something in the $29 million or $30 million worth of work in Northeast Arkansas in District 10. And so, that's a considerable change to what we've been seeing with that type of work. Some dollars got refocused toward pavement preservation projects. Each of those projects exclusively involves asphalt of some sort. And so, with each region of the state, there are limited asphalt contractors. We're glad to say we have three in Northeast Arkansas. But still, with that amount of increase in work it did two or three things. It increased what they have to do. Who got what projects in the open bid process. But it also gave them a lot of work to do. Which means there's still work that's ongoing. Every job has its own contract requirements of time completions and begins and things like that. But some of those projects have extended on into the fall that we might have been able to finish had we not had so much work to do. So, we're still working on many of them. We've been blessed with a lot of road improvements in Northeast Arkansas. The second side of that is we've had a great fall as far as weather goes. It's been dry. It's remained fairly warm. And we've been able to continue that work. Often, we're just trying to get the last few things done before Christmas at this time of year. The cool days are limiting the work day. But for asphalt requirements, we can place asphalt as long as the surface temperature is 40 degrees and rising. And we've been getting those days frequently. So, the combination of all of this has allowed us to continue working much deeper into the year than we normally would see. Plus, we still have work to do. So, we're taking advantage of those days as they present themselves."

You can see people working on Highway 49 in Jonesboro.

"We've been working on Highway 49 in Jonesboro," Smithee said. "Not everyone has been pleased to see us on the road for that project. It's a busy time of the year. It is Christmas season. There is never not a busy time of year on that section of highway. Traffic counts are through the roof out there. We understand and we're sorry folks are inconvenienced. But just timing in all of these projects, it wasn't a planned thing. The timing of that particular project worked out like it did. We've been asked why don't you work on it at night. Part of that is we can't right now. The nighttime limitations are the temperatures too low. We can't work below 40 degrees. We are getting freezing temperatures at night. The rollers for asphalt placement require water and water freezes. And it's a very fine mist so it's just not conducive to what we can do out there right now. In order to accomplish the work, we're proceeding. We feel like it's worth it. We're going to have much improved roads. It looks good out there. It's a big delay and we understand that. We're glad our media partners are sharing this information because one of the tougher things on that project are there are not easy routes around. Folks that are in the area of it are starting to see and choose other ways between Jonesboro and Paragould. You can use 141 or 351. You can use Rogers Chapel and Nestle Road. So, we're seeing some improvement in traffic as the days move on. 20 to 30 minute delays of traffic are pretty much expected out there right now. But we ask that folks just be patient with that project. And I think most people are. I realize some are frustrated when they don't know what's going on. But we have seen some kind folks that are letting people move in and out of traffic. And we're glad folks are using good, common sense and patience and most of all being polite to one another in that area."

Smithee said that work was originally supposed to be underway on Harrisburg Road in Jonesboro, but the contractor is finishing up work on another project and will start the Harrisburg Road project when that job is complete.

"We are going to do work on Highway 1B," Smithee said. "But the when is slightly up in the air right now. We did a news release a little earlier today, but the schedule changed as the day progressed. It was the contractor's intent to be on Highway 1B, locally known in Jonesboro as Harrisburg Road, to begin placement of the asphalt overlay work that's going to happen soon. You can call it scheduling conflict or scheduling opportunities presented themselves as the day moved forward. Recently we opened the Monette bypass, or partially opened it. The two connectors on the ends were not available for complete construction at that point. We had to move traffic off the old roads. So, those two connectors are rapidly being completed as far as the earth work and the base course. So, the opportunity to complete that work and connect the two ends of Monette on Highway 18 has presented itself due to good weather. That's a little conflict with the same contractor doing both projects. And so, we learned through the day that that's going to be available Thursday, Friday, and Monday. And so, the contractor has elected to change his schedule and instead of being on Highway 1B starting tomorrow, he's going to continue some work in the Manila area until he's available to move to Monette. Lots of pieces to that puzzle kind of developed with the available weather and the available work today."

Smithee said while traffic is certainly down during the overnight hours, the cooler temperatures prevent them from getting work done.

"The best day to lay asphalt is the hottest day of the year," Smithee said. "It's not easy on the workers involved because that's tough, difficult work. That asphalt mixture is 250 to 300 degrees, depending on the type of mix it is. It's very hot, hard work. The asphalt remains workable and pliable and gathers really well when it's hot. As the temperatures get cooler it's harder to work with because it cools quicker. And as it cools it doesn't allow pliability. And so, there are limitations as to what you can do during cool season weather. It doesn't mean you can't work throughout the winter. But if it cools too quickly you can't get compaction and you don't get a good product."

Smithee said they're trying to keep the public informed of their projects, but sometimes things come up like the weather that force them to change their intended schedule.

"We try to keep everybody as informed as we can," Smithee said. "But opportunities arise that may change those schedules. So, we apologize for any misdirection. It's always a dual edge sword to give information when it may change."

Smithee said they're trying to work when the temperature is warmer and there's less traffic on the road.

"We have short work days right now," Smithee said. "To get the temperature limitation requirements, the contractor is not beginning work until after 7:00 in the morning. That lets some morning traffic get through. He's trying to be out of the way before 4:30. Before it starts getting dusky, dark. And so, we're really trying to condense that and stay out of the busiest times of late afternoon to five o'clock rush hour traffic. But in limiting our day, we get less done. So, it's a catch 22. A lot of things are factored in and we're trying to find the best compromise for all."

Smithee asked that motorists be patient and careful of those who are working out on the roadways.

"We do have a lane closure in place," Smithee said. "But that's just a small wall of plastic. And when you're driving down the road that little piece of plastic, nobody wants that to rub their car. They don't want to have that little mark on their car that it can cause. But there are humans out there. And we would certainly ask folks to be patient and understand it's just work. The road is going to be better in a few days. And it's going to be improved. And so, know that there is a great goal at the end. Just use some patience and be courteous to all. And most of all, be aware that those folks that are out there, they are on foot and unprotected. They're observant, but they're trying to work also. Please pay extra attention. Don't be on your cell phone. So many drive by texting or talking and that's just a distraction you can't afford. So please be patient and use good judgement."

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