MANILA, AR (KAIT) - Another section of the Highway 18 corridor is now complete.
City and state representatives on Thursday gathered with community members and celebrated the opening of the Manila bypass.
As of Thursday, traffic is flowing down two lanes of the five.
District Engineer for District 10 of the Arkansas Department of Transportation Brad Smithee said he believes they have about six weeks left to complete the project and open all five lanes.
"18 corridor from Blytheville all the way to Jonesboro has been many years coming," Smithee said. "Each one of these steps is a milestone in getting it complete. When this area is complete they'll be only one section left to do and that's the small bridge section across Big Lake."
Director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation Scott Bennett said the completion of this bypass will be good for traffic and the community living nearby.
"This is a big day for the Highway 18 corridor," Bennett said. "A lot of the improvements have been along the existing alignment. This one, the part we're opening today, is a new location around Manila. This will help make things much more safer and much more efficient and even help things in Manila in the bypass sections."
Manila city councilman Wendell Poteet said he was thrilled to see cars on the road.
"It's a sight unseen for us around here," Poteet said. "We're so proud of it right now we're just jumping up and down with joy. We hope that all the traffic going through will bring a lot of visitors to us. That's what we're looking for."
"The feedback has been very positive," Smithee said. "Obviously it's a better transportation system. It's good for goods and services and the transportation of people and materials alike."
"Everybody's excited and that's always good," Bennett said. "When we're able to come out and actually dedicate something and see the fruits of our labor. All thanks to the citizens of Arkansas and Manila and Mississippi County and partnering with us on this job has helped to make this a reality sooner rather than later."
Bennett said the Manila section of the bypass was almost $15 million.
"This part of the project is about four miles," Bennett said. "Part of it is widening the existing highway and then this section, the new location. And that's really a key part of the overall corridor in Jonesboro and Blytheville. We will spend around in the neighborhood of $100 million or more to improve this corridor between Jonesboro and Blytheville."
The Big Lake project is a little over a mile and is under construction right now and is the last section of the road.
"That project won't finish in 2018," Smithee said. "We anticipate completing it in 2019. Of course, it's a very complicated section. We're working with the Wildlife Refuge, the Big Lake state lands and it's just some challenging construction."
Smithee said there are a number of techniques they're using for this section of the project that is uncommon in the Region 8 area.
"With seismic designs and all the added features, we have to deal with in today's construction world, those are some very difficult soils and lands to work in," Smithee said. "It's one of the more interesting projects I've ever been involved in. We're actually using timber piling in the roadway sections. Driving wooden timber piling actually looks like telephone poles, and we're using those to stabilize the soil. So, if we do have a seismic event, as is likely in this area, it's something that will stabilize it and hopefully keep the transportation system in a passable condition. So, there are a lot of different construction techniques that are being used over there. It's not unusual to the world. In New Orleans and some other swampy areas, this type of construction is utilized. But it's unusual for us. So, it's kind of fun and challenging."
This is all part of the Connecting Arkansas Program, which is one of the largest highway construction programs ever done by ARDOT.
In 2012, Arkansas passed a 10-year, half-cent sales tax to improve the state's intermodal transportation system.
All the work done on Highway 18 is a result of that vote.
For more information about ARDOT, click here.