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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing the preferred alignment for Mayflower railroad overpass

The Arkansas 89 railroad overpass project in Mayflower reached a milestone this week with the identification of a preferred alignment through the Faulkner County town of 2,200.

It is scheduled to be built in 2019. Central Arkansas leaders also remain on course to have nearly a dozen railroad overpasses completed or under construction by 2020.

Overpasses eliminate the danger of train-vehicle collisions at at-grade crossings.

Just as important for many communities is the traffic problems the railroad tracks can create, officials say. A passing train can hold up road traffic, isolating one part of a city from another, which is especially a problem when emergency vehicles are involved.

Identifying the overpass preferred alignment is a "big development," said Casey Covington, deputy director for Metroplan, the long-range transportation planning agency for central Arkansas. "We've been working on that for several years."

The preferred route for the Arkansas 89 overpass was chosen from three alternatives after a review of their potential impacts on Mayflower and after comments received at an April 6 meeting to discuss the project, the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said.

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Another hearing will be held to provide more detailed information and provide area residents another opportunity to comment on the project.

The project will take Arkansas 89 over the Union Pacific Railroad line on the north side of town.

"Metroplan, the city and AHTD all concluded that's the optimal alignment," Covington said.

It is estimated to cost $15 million, according to the state.

The cost will be split among four entities. The lion's share will be $8 million from federal congestion mitigation and air quality funds. Metroplan will kick in $4 million from its share of money from the federal surface transportation block grant program. The state will provide $2 million, and Mayflower's and Faulkner County's share will be $1 million.

"It's a pretty big project," Covington said.

Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland said he was pleased with the route selected.

"That's what most of our people wanted," he said.

In addition to reducing safety concerns and delays for emergency vehicle response times in the city, the project will open up the northern part of Mayflower for additional development and include an interchange with Interstate 40.

"This can only help the city," Holland said.

Jim Baker, county judge for Faulkner County, said building the overpass project also will address regional mobility issues.

The railroad overpass is on a route that is part of a study to develop Arkansas 89 as a major east-west corridor between Cabot and Mayflower and beyond.

"It would extend through the overpass at Mayflower and go all the way to Cabot," Baker said.

The route mostly crosses northern Pulaski County and would serve as an alternative for the ill-fated North Belt Freeway, which was removed from the region's long-range transportation because at more than $600 million, it was deemed too costly to build.

The railroad overpass initiative dates to the mid-1990s. Metroplan studied 300 railroad crossings in central Arkansas and identified 152 as eligible for federal programs money. The agency then pared those to a dozen high-priority projects after analyzing delay times, accessibility, how they fit into the overall highway network, their geographic distribution and safety.

The first railroad overpass under the initiative -- a four-lane overpass on East Main Street in Jacksonville -- was completed in 2003 at a cost of $3.1 million.

It is among seven that have been completed in the years since. They include two in Little Rock -- one on Baseline Road and another on South Loop. Work is expected to start on a third -- on Geyer Springs Road -- later this year, according to Metroplan.

Overpass projects also have been completed in Benton, Cabot and Conway under the initiative. An overpass on McCain Boulevard in North Little Rock is nearing completion.

A second Jacksonville overpass, on J.P. Wright Loop, is scheduled to start construction in 2019, according to Metroplan.

Another Little Rock overpass project on Springer Boulevard was canceled after railroad traffic decreased on the tracks Springer crosses, and planners concluded that the project would have too much of an impact on a nearby community center, Covington said.

Metro on 06/23/2017

Print Headline: Route picked for Mayflower railroad overpass

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