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Arkansas board removes North Belt Freeway from plan

The Metroplan board of directors made the decision Wednesday after reviewing the study on the project, which would connect U.S. 67/167 and Interstate 40 west through parts of Sherwood, Camp Robinson and North Little Rock.

The Associated Press

3/20/2014

HEBER SPRINGS, Ark. — Central Arkansas' transportation planning board has voted to remove the proposed North Belt Freeway from its long-range plan after a study found it would cost $648 million to build it as a toll road.

The Metroplan board of directors made the decision Wednesday after reviewing the study on the project, which would connect U.S. 67/167 and Interstate 40 west through parts of Sherwood, Camp Robinson and North Little Rock.

Under federal rules, the project must be on the region's long-range transportation plan before it can be built. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Thursday (http://bit.ly/1epzyIa ) Metroplan expects a final vote in December after soliciting public comment on the long-term plan.

The study found that toll revenue would fall short by $500 million once all costs were added in — a gap that local officials say is too large to fill. But Metroplan's executive director Jim McKenzie said the project could still be revived.

"The North Belt Freeway is like the great zombie roadway project," McKenzie told the board, which includes mayors and county judges in Pulaski, Faulkner, Saline and Lonoke counties. "It's not really dead, but it's not alive, either."

The $500,000 study, paid for by Metroplan and the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, assumed that the freeway would be open to traffic by 2020. It put the cost of environmental clearance, obtaining rights of way, engineering and inspection and actual construction at $647.9 million, when inflation is taken into account.

The costs are higher than normal because of the location of the route, which goes through areas that are environmentally sensitive and in areas where there is little right of way, such as at the National Guard's Camp Robinson.

"I was surprised at the revised construction numbers," McKenzie said. "I think that took everybody aback."

Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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