POINSETT COUNTY, AR--We have all seen the signs along U.S. Highway 63 promoting the Future I-555. With construction wrapping up on the remaining overpasses, motorists are wondering when the future will be a reality.
At least 20 farmers in Poinsett County farm on both sides of the Future I-555 and are forced to use the roadway daily because it is the only way in the area across the St. Francis Floodway. The road department isn't ready make the highway an interstate until those farmers have a new route.
"This farm equipment runs 22 to 23 miles per hour and we do not want to be on a highway with someone going 70," said Poinsett County farmer Bud Bingham.
Bud Bingham travels along Future I-555 daily transporting crops, fertilizer and farm equipment to and from land that he farms on either side of the roadway. He feels farmers need a way to get across the St. Francis Floodway, Ritter Arnold the president of East Arkansas Good Roads says the federal government agrees.
"The highway department has told us they won't certify this project as an interstate until we get an access road built across the floodway," said Arnold.
By law farm equipment, gravel trucks and garbage trucks aren't allowed on interstates. That means farmers would have to find an alternate route.
Currently it takes a vehicle less than five minutes to make the simple trip from Marked Tree to Payneway. Without a frontage road, farm vehicles will be forced to make a detour as much an hour and a half for that very same trip.
"Without access across that floodway, you are going to split the number one rice producing county in half," said Bingham.
One option involves keeping the road status quo and never giving the interstate designation. That's something Arnold feels could hurt the economic growth in region.
"A lot of large industries won't look at you unless you are located on an interstate," said Arnold.
While industrial growth in Jonesboro, Trumann, and Marked Tree wouldn't have a huge impact on the agricultural industry, farmers like Bud Bingham feel a proposed frontage road could be a win-win for all parties.
"We need interstate status on that highway, we just need an access way to go along with it," said Bingham.
On a recent trip to Washington D.C. with the Jonesboro Chamber of Commerce, Arnold discussed the project with both state senators and Congressman Marion Berry.