Area mayors get update on highway projects

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

MANILA -- John Ed Regenold of Armorel, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, addressed Mississippi County mayors Tuesday at their quarterly county-wide meeting, held at the Manila Depot.

Regenold described Arkansas' situation as unique, in that it has more roads to manage than many larger states with higher population density.

"In Arkansas, we have too many roads with too few people," he said. "We have more roads to manage than California, New York or Florida with a bigger financial responsibility, because we don't have tolls."

In response to a question about whether or not Arkansas may ever have toll roads, Regenold said it is not likely in the near future, but may be possible after 10 years or more, and that he would like to see a toll on Interstate 40 which would make adding another lane to the congested road possible.

"The day will come when they will let us toll the interstates in Arkansas because the federal government won't be able to keep funding our state road maintenance," he said.

Regenold also addressed the Highway 18 expansion project, saying that all of the money needed to fund the project is now available. The project, which will provide a 5-lane highway linking Blytheville and Jonesboro, is an expensive one, however, especially when it comes to bridging natural reserve areas such as Big Lake. He said in a rural area, the cost of turning a two-lane highway into into a five-lane highway is $3.5 million per mile. In the Big Lake area, he said it is likely to be more expensive because of environmental regulations and the necessary construction of a new bridge. All told, Regenold projected the Highway 18 expansion project will be completed in 2016.

Part of the funding for the project will come from the Garvey Bond Issue, which was passed in the 2012 statewide election along with federal funds.

Another highway project which Regenold said would be funded by the bond issue is the resurfacing of Interstate 55 all the way from Interstate 40 to the Arkansas-Missouri state line. This information came in response to a question raised by Osceola Mayor Dickie Kennemore about the stretch of Interstate 55 from Keiser to Blytheville, which was left out in recent resurfacing projects.

One of the reasons that the bond issue so easily passed, according to Regenold, was that "everyone gets something." The cities of Mississippi County alone will receive approximately $11 million in turnback funds as a result of the revenue generated by the bond issue's sales tax.