May 08, 2013 Edition

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Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department District Engineer Walter McMillan (right) and Junior Briner of Walnut Ridge discuss the new bridge being built over Black River following a presentation by McMillan at the local Rotary Club meeting on Tuesday.
TD Photo ~ Gretchen Hunt

McMillan gives highway update

Gretchen Hunt

Walter McMillan, Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department district engineer, updated those at Tuesday's Rotary Club meeting on progress with highway projects in the Lawrence County area.

Several projects are underway and others will be starting soon, according to McMillan. A summary of the updates follows:

Highway 412 - As part of the November General Election, voters adopted a half-cent sales tax for highway construction. One project funded by that will be five-laning approximately 15 miles of Highway 412 from Highway 67 in Walnut Ridge to the existing five-lane highway, near Paragould.

Highway 67 - Work is underway on Highway 67 from the interchange with Highway 226 (between Swifton and Cash), northward to the Highway 63 interchange at Hoxie. McMillan said there are four different construction projects underway on the six-mile stretch from Highway 226 north to Highway 230.

Work has also begun on the 10-mile stretch from Highway 230 to Highway 63. Much of the grading and structure work is completed and the paving contract will be let in December.

"If things go really well, in another two to two-and-a-half years we will probably be done with that section of 67," McMillan said. "It's coming; it's just a matter of finishing up."

He did report that none of the final 16 miles will be opened until it is all complete, stating that Highway 230 would not be able to withstand the traffic if the first six miles were opened.

"So, when the two open it will be all the way up to 63," he said.

Highway 63 - The project to five-lane Highway 63 through Portia to the Black River bridge is scheduled to be let in September. McMillan said some bridge work will probably begin in 2013, with most of the work set to begin in 2014.

He reported that the highway will be widened toward the railroad side, not to both sides as originally planned. The project is expected to take two years.

Black River bridge - Construction is underway on the new Black River bridge as the company has begun setting the 108 shafts that will form the foundation of the bridge.

Each shaft will be set seven feet into rock, which has been problematic in some cases.

"In one place they have gone 25 feet lower than we expected to have to go and still haven't hit rock," he said. "We expect them to work out any problems and move along."

He estimated completion of the new bridge in approximately two years, after which the old bridge will be removed.

McMillan also addressed the future of Highway 67, north from Highway 63, reporting that the department anticipated the study regarding the route for the highway to be completed this fall.

He said that 50 percent of the people who selected a route chose the one that would follow the existing highway.

"If the commission decides to go with a five-lane highway, there is more of a chance to follow the existing route," he said. "If it is interstate standard, it would be somewhere else possibly."

Five-laning would also be less expensive, though both options will be costly.

The last estimate I heard it was $500 million to do interstate and $300 million to do five-lane highway," McMillan said.

He said in both Paragould and Portia response from the public swayed the decision on how the highways would be constructed.

"It all comes into play," he said. "They will look at the most economical option and take public opinion into account. When the study is complete, the commission will select a route."

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