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Prairie Grove requests control of U.S. 62B

by Lynn Kutter | February 28, 2021 at 1:00 a.m.

PRAIRIE GROVE -- City officials are proposing a plan for U.S. 62B that runs through the middle of town to become a city-owned and city-maintained street.

In a letter to Arkansas Department of Transportation Director Lori Tudor, Mayor Sonny Hudson said the city would like to partner with the transportation department to remove or decommission Highway 62B from the state highway system, so it can become part of the Prairie Grove street system.

"Highway 62B is the central corridor leading to and through the heart of our community," Hudson told Tudor.

In exchange for taking ownership of the corridor, the city is asking the transportation department to provide about $3.3 million in funds to address improvements needed for this section of highway.

Improvements include overlay of the travel lanes and shoulders for 3.5 miles, upsizing an existing box culvert near the Post Office, installing a new box culvert, and replacing the storm drainage system from North Pittman Street west to bring this section up to current drainage design standards and address historical flooding issues.

In the letter, Hudson notes the city has made a commitment to improve the downtown infrastructure if voters approved plans for new construction projects in a Feb. 9 special election, which voters did with an 80% approval rate.

Hudson said the city would perform the engineering, utility relocations and provide right-of-way as needed for the drainage improvements that are part of the bond program.

Hudson asks that the city and state come to an agreement on the necessary improvements and costs, and these funds would be transferred from the department of transportation to the city. The city would use the money for drainage improvements for Highway 62B that are part of the bond program.

Hudson's letter is dated Aug. 25, 2020. Tudor replied to Hudson in a letter dated Oct. 12, 2020, and said department staff is reviewing the proposal.

"We will respond upon completion of our evaluation," Tudor wrote.

Hudson last week said he believes the proposal is a "win-win" for both the city and the state. The state would not have to continue to maintain the highway, and the city would be able to make improvements in the future without going through the state to seek required permits.

Hudson said Prairie Grove is proposing to the state, "If you'll pay for these items, we'll take it over."

Larry Oelrich, the city's former director of public works and administrative services, said he believes the state seems to have some interest in the city's proposition.

"From what I've heard, they are very interested," Oelrich said.

Oelrich said any recommendation to decommission U.S. 62B would have to be approved by the Arkansas Highway Commission.

Shannon Stearman, vice president of Prairie Grove Chamber of Commerce and owner of Crescent Store in downtown Prairie Grove, said she believes the proposal for the city to take ownership of U.S. 62B would benefit small businesses in the downtown area because the city and chamber would have more leeway during downtown events.

"How fun would it be to have a street dance or to close it during a downtown evening shopping event," Stearman said. "What an opportunity for a small town to create a new atmosphere. I think it would be exciting."

Rick Ault, director of Main Street Prairie Grove and owner of the Prairie Grove Town Center, said having local control of U.S. 62B would have "positive, economic and safety impacts for our Main Street."

Ault notes that having a state highway divide the middle of the community's historic shopping district presents challenges because any changes to the flow of traffic must be coordinated with the state.

"Having local control can provide opportunities for additional downtown community events, provide options to slow traffic down through the business district, and can help with the ongoing revitalization of our historic commercial district," Ault said. "Local control of our Main Street would be another good step in preserving the charm and character of our historic downtown, even with the significant population growth over the last few years."

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