Area landowners look closely at the Highway 18 improvement map to see how their farming operation will be affected.
(Town Crier photo/Nan Snider)
Monette residents filled the community building last Monday to gather information concerning the widening of Arkansas Highway 18, from Lake City to Manila, from two-lanes to four-lanes. Personnel from the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department and consultants from Carter and Burgess, of Little Rock, were on hand to answer questions from area residents, and to discuss several potential routes being considered. Visitors were encouraged to fill out a citizen comment form, giving their opinions about which route would be most dvantageous to the area. Highway 18 alignments choices included the existing route (A), a Black Oak curve cut-off (B), iversion south of Monette which cut back into Highway 18 on the east side of town (C), diversion north of Monette crossing Highway 139 and re-entering Highway 18 east of town (D), a straight line eastward from Highway 18, south of Monette to the curve south of Manila (E), a southward diversion from Highway 18 at Manila to Big Lake (F), a closer diversion off Highway 18 in Manila, from the southwest entrance described in Plan E (G), and a shorter diversion from Highway 18, east of Manila into plan F and G (H). Plans F, G and H all call for a new bridge at Big Lake. "Our whole reason for being here is to see what the people have to say, then go back and assess their comments," said John Harris, AHTD assessment section head. "We have not decided which direction to go, as yet. There has been no in-depth cost analysis done and no environmental study. All these things will take place after our public meetings in Monette and Manila." Consultant David Penn related the next step in the Highway 18 environmental assessment of the project included analyzing comments gleaned from the public meeting, analyzing existing and future traffic conditions, analyzing environmental data, looking at reasonable alternatives, preparing the environmental assessment document, distributing for public review, presenting findings at a public hearing and receive comments, then preparing the final decision document. "This has been an excellent turn out," said consultant Kris Kyzer. "I can tell that people are really concerned. We had a large road project in Conway, one of the fastest growing cities in Arkansas, and we didn't have this large of a turnout there. This is what we were hoping for." Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department personnel present include: John Harris, Section Head-Assessments; Mike Webb, Section Head-Public Involvement; John Fleming, Senior Environmental Scientist; Meredith Aven, Administrative Assistant; James Moore, E.E.O.; Randy Lewis, Right-Of-Way; Rex Boothe, Right-Of-Way; and Walter McMillan, District #10.Project engineering firm Carter and Burgess, of Little Rock, consultant personnel present included James Arbuckle, David Penn, Jeanette Lostracco and Kris Kyzer. Following a Monday night meeting in the Monette community, officials with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department and consultants for the project's engineering firm, Carter and Burgess, met with Manila area residents at the Airport Center on Tuesday evening. The purpose of the meeting was to introduce the public to the project, present the evaluation criteria, listen to citizens' suggestions, and identify public issues to be considered. "We have looked at a number of alternatives," James Arbuckle, Highway 18 Environmental Assessment project manager, said. "Some of those goals include having a safer facility, having a facility that has better capacity and generally increases mobility with east/west traffic from Blytheville to Jonesboro."
Arbuckle said although the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, the communities involved have to be considered. "We look at the social and economic impact on the towns," Arbuckle said. Among the topics studied include land use, social, environmental justice, economic, pedestrian and bicycles, visual resources, ight-of-way, parks and recreation, hazardous waste, noise, water resources/quality, wetlands, wildlife/fisheries, food plains, construction impacts, endangered species, historical and archaeological resources, farm land. The alternatives had been narrowed down and maps depicting different routes were viewed by a large number of interested residents attending the meeting. Citizens were asked to complete questionnaires giving each the opportunity to mark a preference with an explanation, add comments, and explain the impacts the proposed roject would have. "The lines have not been set in concrete, so they can shift north, south, east or west," Arbuckle said. "There are a number of things that can happen. The line isn't set in concrete until the design phase of the roject and even then we will come back to the public and show them the line and get their comments." Arbuckle said another meeting will be held in the spring. Manila Mayor Clifford Veach viewed the different plans and asked for another alternative plan that does not bypass Manila Bypass businesses. His suggestion was to stay on the existing road to Highway 77 in front of Brandon's Restaurant and then go south out of the city limits and east to Big Lake behind Farmer's Addition. "We don't want our merchants on the existing bypass to be missed," Veach said. "Manila will suffer if the businesses are bypassed." "If anyone proposes to bypass Manila completely, they do not have the best interest of Manila in mind," Freddie Fleeman, Manila businessman said. Arbuckle said the reason the highway may go toward the south around the Manila area is the Big Lake Wildlife Refuge. Alternatives don't include rehabilitating the existing bridge in that area. The possibility of a land swap in the area was proposed. Arbuckle said it was unlikely. Arbuckle said all of the comments and preferences submitted by residents will be documented. "Their comments are important," he said.