Construction of a railroad overpass that will ease daily traffic snarls in Marion is one of several projects that will be underway soon in the Crittenden County town.
Plans also call for building a fire station in a growing part of town, improvements to city parks and the police and water departments, and an addition to the county's library.
Voters approved seven bond issues in a special election Tuesday, continuing refinancing bonds for 30 more years. Each of the measures passed by at least 76 percent. The city of 12,327 has collected a 1 percent sales tax since the mid-1980s to fund improvements.
"I think this is a good indication of how the town felt about this," Mayor Frank Fogleman said.
The largest project is a $12 million bridge over the BNSF Railway tracks that divide Marion. The tracks run parallel to Arkansas 77 through downtown, separating City Hall from the Crittenden County Courthouse and much of the residential area from businesses.
At least 30 to 40 trains pass through the town daily. At times there have been more than 60 a day, Fogleman said. Traffic backs up at Arkansas 77 and East Military Road daily while trains creep through, creating long lines that back up from the tracks to a nearby elementary school.
The overpass will be built south of that intersection near an area that has seen rapid commercial growth, the mayor said.
Sirretta Davis, the manager of Amazing Grace 2, a Christian thrift shop at Arkansas 77 and Old Military Road, said she sees traffic stop constantly.
"Traffic is always backing up," she said. "I saw an ambulance with its lights on having to wait for a train recently."
She said despite the traffic tie-ups, it's good for business.
"When a train stops on the tracks, people pull in our parking lot to wait instead of sitting on the road," Davis said. "We get a lot of business that way."
Fogleman said emergency response times hindered by the trains were a motivation to build the overpass.
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department will begin conducting environmental impact studies soon and develop plans for building the overpass.
The Marion Volunteer Fire Department will use some of the bond revenue to build a fire station west of Interstate 55 in an area known as Angelo's Grove. The section is framed by U.S. 64, North Airport Road and Interstate 55 and features apartment complexes, several businesses, restaurants and hotels.
Fire Chief Woody Wheeless said the station is needed west of downtown to help quicken response times. He said several of the department's volunteer firefighters live in Angelo's Grove. By building a fire station there, it would reduce the time it takes for them to get equipment at the station and then respond to fire calls.
The station will cost $2.38 million.
The department also will buy new breathing apparatus, Fogleman added.
Bond revenue also will fund improvements to city parks and fund construction of a new Water Department.
The city plans to widen East Military Road to three lanes from the interstate to the train crossing to accommodate more traffic. Widening the road, though, will eliminate parking at the city's Water Department, forcing officials to locate elsewhere.
The Woolfolk Public Library, named after Marion attorney and writer Margaret E. Woolfolk, will add a 25-foot-by-50-foot workroom on its building on Currie Street.
The library processes new books for its seven branches in the Crittenden County Library system, said director Debbe Davenport. The library will spend $220,000 on the addition.
A long-term plan calls for building a new children's section and moving computers into the existing children's library, Davenport said.
"There's lots of changes coming," she said.
State Desk on 03/18/2017
Print Headline: Marion revs up for improvements