Town Crier News Staff
Several hundred people turned out for the location public hearing at Buffalo Island Central West Elementary, in Monette, on Monday to discuss plans for improvements to the original Highway 18 project running from Jonesboro to Blytheville.
Those in attendance viewed displays of the alternate routes, asked project personnel questions and in turn offered comments on the project.
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD), in co-operation with the Federal Highway Administration, has completed an environmental assessment of location alternatives for the proposed widening of Highway 18 to four lanes between the St. Francis River at Lake City and Highway 181 South.
The purpose of the meetings held in Monette on Monday, and Manila on Tuesday afternoon from 4-7 p.m., is to update the public on the project, present the alternatives considered in the Environmental Assessment and to obtain input.
Area residents from Monette, Black Oak, Caraway and Leachville were out in force to discuss ideas concerning connecting alignments.
James E. Arbuckle, Sr. with Carter and Burgess Engineering drew large crowds to the two tables where ariel overview maps were located. Each person viewing the maps was quick to point out the piece of property that concerned them and their families. Views of potential routes ranged from A to I, running east and west across Buffalo Island.
"Statements and comments made tonight will be summarized in about 15 days and will then go to committee," Arbuckle said. "They will be studied carefully, and a possible announcement to the chosen alignment will be announced in about two and a half months. The public will be notified and working out details for completion will begin.
"These public meetings give us some idea about historic places, environmental concerns, relocation possibilities and comparative analysis," Arbuckle said.
"People were talking about need to widen Highway 18 when I came into office 24 years ago," said Joe Barnett, District AHTD District engineer. "We have been talking seriously with cities about the project for the last 10 years. Building the new St. Francis River Bridge, at Lake City, was the first step in widening Highway 18.
"It all depends on financing," Barnett said. "The building alternative cost and impact comparison tables list the total project cost at 81.6 to 132.6 million dollars."
"No matter which route Highway 18 takes, it needs to be what is best for the people who live on Buffalo Island, not just one town," said Gilda Hultquist of Leachville. "It's not about me or mine mentality, but rather what is best for all of us."
"No matter which way it goes the towns will build out to it," said Pat Hawkins. "We are all going to benefit."
"People come to Monette already for the businesses that are already there, and they are going to come if the road goes south," said Carolyn Moore.
"Businesses are not going to be hurting more than they are already hurting, and this might just help," said JoAnn Boyd.
"We have large volumes of information to compare and evaluate," said John Harris, assistant AHTD Division head. "We should know something by the early spring. We are as anxious to move on with this project and get it completed as you are."