The Arkansas Department of Transportation has been awarded a $40 million competitive federal grant that will be used to widen the two sections of U.S. 67 in Jacksonville and Conway.
The grant, the largest awarded the department in recent memory, will allow the agency to complete essentially two projects as one to widen U.S. 67 in both cities at an estimated cost of $150 million to $160 million.
Under a project that won't be awarded a bid until late next year, a 2.5-mile section of U.S. 67 between Main Street and Vandenberg Boulevard in Jacksonville and a 2.8-mile section of the route between Arkansas 5 and Arkansas 89 in Cabot will be widened to six lanes from four.
Doing both together will have at least two immediate benefits when the project begins, said Lorie Tudor, the department director.
"That will save money and it will decrease the overall impact to the motoring public," she said in a prepared statement.
The grant was awarded under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America grant program under the U.S. Department of Transportation. The Arkansas Transportation Department routinely applies for the grants.
The grant program was established in the 2015 federal highway bill and was designed to rebuild the nation's aging infrastructure. Selection criteria included projects that promote national and regional vitality goals while leveraging non-federal funding, according to the U.S. Transportation Department.
Tudor and Robert Moore Jr., chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, credited the state's congressional delegation in helping pursue the grant award.
"The delegation has been very attentive to our needs here in Arkansas, and this is a great example of the success we can achieve when leaders at all levels of government work together towards a common goal," Moore said.
The commission's newest member, Marie Holder of Little Rock, represents the area.
"I may be new to the Commission, but I'm not new to Central Arkansas and I know the problems we face on that corridor," Holder said. "The economic growth we've seen along Highway 67 has been tremendous, and improvements to the infrastructure are needed to support this growth."
Jacksonville, population 28,253, and Cabot, population, 26,352, are close to Little Rock Air Force Base, a major economic generator in the region. The base is home to the world's largest fleet of Lockheed C-130 Hercules, a tactical airlift aircraft. Up to 80,000 vehicles daily travel through the corridor.
Word of the grant award comes during a pause in what has been years of construction to widen other parts of the corridor dating to 2014.
The most recent was a $79.2 million project to widen a 4.6-mile section of U.S. 67 between Vandenberg Boulevard in Jacksonville and Arkansas 5 in Cabot, which was completed last year. In 2018, the section from Redmond Road to Main Street in Jacksonville was completed at a cost of $46.3 million.
The project for which the grant was awarded also includes building an overpass, converting the frontage roads to one-way operation and reconstructing interchanges.
Other money available for the project includes proceeds from the statewide 1/2% sales tax voters approved in 2012 as part of the $1.8 billion Connecting Arkansas Program, which focuses on regionally significant projects. It will be the last project to be built under the program.
"Our ultimate goal has been to widen U.S. Highway 67 up to Highway 89 but we've not had the funding needed to go that full distance," Tudor said.