State delays plans for Military Road expansion

Project to widen Marion thoroughfare put on back- burner by ARDOT until 2020


Plans to widen Military Road will have to wait until at least another year.

Arkansas Department of Transportation notified the city that they have moved the project off the list from 2019 to 2020.

The state was planning to widen the road from five lanes from the intersection of I-55 to the railroad tracks where Military Road meets Highway 77, but agreed to scale it down from five lanes to three to accommodate Marion’s desire to add landscape features to beautify the entranceway into the city.

“They had sent out a draft of the 2019-2022 statewide transportation master plan and it showed the Military Road project being moved to 2020,” said city planner Ed Cain.

Cain said the state did not give any reason for the change, but it was likely due to the limited availability of funding.

“They have to program their cash flow,” Cain said.

“So there is a limited number of projects they can do each year. So it’s a juggling contest.”

City Councilman David Bigger asked Cain if the city’s request to change the design plans was a factor.

“Is there a reason for it?”

Bigger asked.

Cain said he doesn’t believe that was the main reason, but admitted the city probably did lose its place in line because of the changes.

“I’m not sure that’s the case,” Cain said. “They have a lot of projects already (lined) up and they have to jump through the same hoops we have to if they are using federal money. So it’s a juggling contest. But we probably lost our line in the (line) a little bit.”

The city met with ARDOT last August to ask them to consider an alternate design that had three lanes with a raised median, turn lanes onto the side streets, decorative lighting, landscaping, and bike lanes and sidewalks on each side.

The ideas were part of a series of suggested improvements by a landscape and design architect hired by the city to look at ways to enhance the attractiveness of that roadway as part of downtown revitalization plans.

In March, ARDOT told the city they would go along with the city’s wishes to scale it down from five lanes to three, and to include the raise median with bike and turn lanes at no cost to the city.

However, the state will only pay for a three foot section of grass on either side of the highway behind the sidewalk instead of the seven feet the city asked for.

Marion planned to pay for the landscaping improvements anyway, but the state also agreed to install the conduit for the street lighting and the rough end plumbing for the irrigation.

Cain said the West Memphis Metropolitan Planning Organization will be asked to formally vote on the new highway funding list at its July meeting.

Cain also noted that the city has also lost funding that was earmarked to help build the railroad overpass.

The state is still in the design process, but the proposed overpass will most likely be built next to the Walmart Neighborhood Grocery from L.H. Polk and Hwy. 77 to Military Road and is expected to cost about $11 to $12 million.

The federal government had earmarked $5 million for the project. Marion voters approved refinancing some old municipal bonds which will generate $12 million for street improvements — $10 million of which is set to be used for the overpass.

“Another cloud on the horizon,” said Mayor Frank Fogleman.

Cain said the transportation spending plan still has to be voted on by Congress, but the earmark for the overpass did not make the list.

“That’s not final yet,” Cain said. “But we did make that list. It was an earmark. The funding was approved back in 2009. But it hadn’t been obligated. I’m sure there will be a lot of ‘you save my funding, I’ll save yours.’”

By Mark Randall