Lester Melton, chairman of the Jefferson County Industrial Foundation, addresses the crowd gathered at the U.S. 65 Widening dedication Thursday. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
Madison Murphy, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, speaks to the benefits of the widened stretch of U.S. 65 from Pine Bluff to Lake Village during the dedication ceremony Thursday. (Special to The Commercial/ William Harvey)
Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department, congratulates and thanks all those who made the widening of U.S. 65 from Pine Bluff to Lake Village possible during the dedication on Thursday. (Special to The Commercial/William Harvey)
An enhanced 85-mile stretch of U.S. 65 from Pine Bluff to Lake Village was dedicated Thursday afternoon at the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s District Two Headquarters here.
The 24-year, over $200-million venture resulted in the highway’s widening to four lanes, and area leaders believe the broader road provides a potential pathway to a brighter tomorrow.
“Community and industrial growth are key to Southeast Arkansas’ economic future,” said Jefferson County Industrial Foundation Chairman Lester Melton. “Good roads like this four-lane highway help to make that possible.”
County Judge Mike Holcomb said it was a great day for Jefferson County.
“Anytime you make it easier to get to Pine Bluff, we appreciate it,” he said.
Holcomb said the endeavor’s culmination was made possible in large part by a “great spirit of cooperation” enjoyed by state and local leaders and the public. “This new highway is good for everyone,” he said.
Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Madison Murphy of El Dorado said another important facet of the wider roadway is “improved safety.”
He boasted that the highway also has significance as “the first four-lane connector (to an interstate system) in Arkansas, that I’m aware of.”
The overall effort included 19 major projects that featured 12 different prime contractors. According to AHTD spokesman Glenn Bolick of White Hall, the first widening project was let to contract in March 1988 for five bridge structures between Lake Village and Highway 35. The $3.9-million mission was completed in March 1991.
Bolick said the second project was let in April 1992 for construction of the McGehee railroad overpass. The $4.2-million undertaking was finished in April 1994. The last two projects – in Gould and north of Dumas – were completed within the past couple of months at a combined cost of $31.2 million.
Project contractors included APAC-Tennessee, Chancellor and Son, Deon Construction, R.M. Courson, Graves and Associates, Angelo Iafrate Construction, Ideal Construction, T.L. James and Co., Johnsville, Key Constructors, Northern Improvement and Weaver-Bailey Contractors.
Bolick said daily traffic counts on U.S. 65 currently range from about 7,000 in Dumas and Lake Village, to approximately 13,000 in Pine Bluff.
Murphy said an associated widening of a 4.4-mile span of Highway 82 from Lake Village in Chicot County to the new Mississippi River Bridge is about a year away from completion. Combined with the Highway 82 widening and the $133-million Arkansas share of the new bridge, the total commitment to the corridor is nearly $350 million.
The bridge is officially known as the Greenville Bridge, but AHTD Director Scott Bennett suggested that since most of the structure is in Arkansas, it ought to be called the Lake Village Bridge.
Meanwhile, Murphy urged support for Issue 1 on Arkansas’ November general election ballot, which calls for a quarter-cent sales tax hike to finance four-lane highways throughout the state, a development he called “critical.”