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Metroplan eyes options for North Belt

Results of a study into alternatives to the North Belt Freeway do not bode well for those looking for a better way to connect with Interstate 30 from U.S. Highway 67-167. The alternative study results were presented to a Metroplan committee after the regular board of directors meeting May 29.

Even though his own house lies in the path of one of the proposed alternatives, Jacksonville Mayor Gary Fletcher said there is too much to consider to make a decision yet.

Cabot mayor Bill Cypert, however, was more direct. “Cabot can’t afford this,” he said.

Cypert is chairman of the committee, formed in December at his request. In December, Cypert called on Metroplan members to abandon the planned freeway, saying it had become a distraction from other transportation needs.

If built, the North Belt Freeway would connect U.S. Highway 67/167 with Interstate 30 at the Interstate 630 junction.

There are currently no funds obligated to the North Belt Freeway project, though it remains on the “vision plan.”

In a March 27 meeting, the committee developed five alternatives to the North Belt project for study by Metroplan planners. Planner Casey Covington presented the results in a committee meeting that followed the May 29 board of directors meeting.

In all the alternatives, the section of roadway through Camp Robinson remains unchanged. All roads leading to that section would be arterial, with raised medians, restricted access and limited traffic control to improve travel times.

The alternatives include extending the Jacksonville cutoff and Main Street; building a road from the Coffelt Road area; extending Batesville Pike through Republican Road.

Extending the Jacksonville Cutoff poses problems in that the needed right-of-way “would result in significant business and residential relocations.” The study estimated at least 50 relocations in the extension.

Covington said that in all the alternatives, the section of roadway through Camp Robinson remains a freeway. The alternative roadways that would lead to the freeway section would be arterial roads, he said.

The study estimated that by 2030 there would be between 13,000 to 15,000 trips on the alternatives, and that the only option that provides consistent travel time savings over using Highway 67/167 and 1-40 is the full North Belt Freeway as currently envisioned.

Each of the alternatives would require substantial local funding, Covington said. Estimates of needed local funding range from $125 million to $225 million.

Each alternative was evaluated for its effect on travel time, potential use, traffic reductions on other roadways, overall cost, and right-of-way costs.

Estimates are that it would cast about $380 million to build the North Belt Freeway, Covington said.

Extending the Jacksonville Cutoff would cost about $340 million, while the options for the Coffelt Road and/or Republican Road alternatives are estimated at $470 million. Much of the cost is right-of-way acquisition, he said.

The “Full Build” of the North Belt Freeway has the advantages of giving consistent travel-time savings; completing the “circumferential” freeway system around Little Rock; making the most use of the roadway; and is the only alternative that can be successfully tolled.

Charging tolls is becoming an important part of financial considerations, Covington said.

While the Jacksonville cut-off extension would need less land, it has a much greater impact on existing structures and businesses, Covington said.

The report ended, saying that each alternative “has merit as a means to improve access to the North Belt by residents of Pulaski and Lonoke Counties.”

In other matters, the obligation of funds for the Arkansas Highway 367/Highway 38 traffic signal and intersection improvements, with a bid letting date of July 13, and the design of the U.S. Highway 67/167 north terminal interchange, are in the project obligations.

Improvements of the Arkansas Highway 367/38 junction is a forerunner for the north interchange on U.S. Highway 67/167. When completed, the interchange and a new road will connect with Highway 38 at the railroad overpass.

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