More Traffic Equals Wider Road

JANUARY 8, 2007 -- POSTED AT 10:00 P.M. CST

MONETTE, AR -- Plans are in the works to widen Highway 18 between Lake City and Dell. A public hearing was held in Monette Monday to hear what residents have to say on the matter. The stretch of Highway 18 from the St. Francis River in Lake City to Highway 181 in Dell equals about 25 miles and it's essentially all 2-lane.

"If you're trying to turn onto a side street at 7:00 in the morning in Monette, Arkansas, you're going to wait a while. In the evening, the traffic is flowing again and you don't realize it till you live on that road," says Jerry Qualos, the Mayor of Monette.

Highway 18 connects 2 major cities in Northeast Arkansas: Jonesboro and Blytheville. Highway 18 from Jonesboro to Lake City is almost complete with an expansion to 5 lanes, along with the stretch of 18 from Blytheville to Dell. The proposed project is located in Craighead and Mississippi Counties and consists of widening Highway 18 from the current 2 lanes to 4 or 5 lanes, with possible bypasses around the towns of Black Oak, Monette, and Manila.

Eighty percent of the project's funding will come from federal highway dollars, with the state covering the remaining costs. For that reason, the state was required to conduct an environmental assessment for the alternative routes and get the public's input.

"This is a farming area and farm land is pretty high and sometimes it divides the farm land up," says Qualos.

As with most highway expansion projects, additional land must first be purchased to construct the new road and that's where some controversy comes into play.

"In addition to relocation of individuals and the impact to farm lands, there are a number of things that we have to be concerned with," says John Harris with the Arkansas State Highway Department.

Wetlands, National Wildlife Refuges and historical sites are also considered when deciding the location of the expanded highway. And with such a lengthy process to the project, many are wondering when the actual groundwork will begin.

"To have an alternative selected by early spring and to go forward with trying to acquire right of way for at least a part of the project sometime by the end of the year," says Harris.

Harris added as the federal dollars move in, the projects can start to move forward. The proposed routes for the projects range in costs from $9 million to $48 million dollars. Another public forum will be held Tuesday at 4:00 P.M. in Manila.