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Northeast Arkansas mayors hail completed road projects as a boon to the region's economy

Motorist traveling on the newly constructed Highway 18 railroad overpass in Jonesboro as a train passes by. The project opened to traffic in April 2022 at a cost of $25 million.
Brandon Tabor
Motorist traveling on the newly constructed Highway 18 railroad overpass in Jonesboro as a train passes by. The project opened to traffic in April 2022 at a cost of $25 million.

Two major road projects in Northeast Arkansas have been marked as officially completed.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation on Friday held a ribbon cutting ceremony for the Highway 18 Railroad Overpass in Jonesboro and the Highway 412 road widening project in Paragould.

AR-DOT Director Lori Tudor told the crowd in Jonesboro that talks about the Highway 18 railroad overpass began as early as 2013. It was opened to traffic in April 2022 at a completion cost of $25 million.

City of Jonesboro Mayor Harold Copenhaver told KASU News that completion of the project is a great example of partnerships between local, state, and federal governments working together. He said the Highway 18 overpass project "was just the beginning".

"We're working with AR-DOT on additional projects all the way up through 2030. So we have to prepare in advance," Copenhaver said. "We have to put taxpayer dollars to good use. And this is what we do with joint partnerships such as this one."

AR-DOT said that officials determined that the at-grade rail crossing on Highway 18, which also serves as Highland Drive in Jonesboro, caused extraordinary delays for many motorist that used the road to travel to Lake City and beyond or to the Craighead County Industrial Park. The project also included constructing a second overpass at Watt Street.

Copenhaver said the city is looking at additional projects, including some kind of work on Airport Road, which is another dangerous at-grade railroad crossing. He said it's going to take more funding and coordination.

"It's very difficult," Copenhaver said about coordinating funds to tackle more infrastructure projects. "You don't get to move rail tracks, but we can go over them, but it's very costly to do so. So what's the best way we can provide that safeness to our community? And also, how do we expand with our partner at AR-DOT and the state of Arkansas on the state highway?"

Another project that billed as "the beginning" was the Highway 412 widening in Paragould. AR-DOT said construction on widening the 2 lane highway between Paragould and Walnut Ridge to a five lane road began in 2019 and opened earlier in 2022, just about 3.5 months ahead of schedule at a cost of $59 million. The project also included a five-lane bypass just south of the community of Light.

Paragould Mayor Josh Agee said the road will now provide a safer connection between his city and Walnut Ridge.

"Today brings Walnut Ridge and Paragould so much closer because of the ease and accessibility," Agee said. "Now, the citizens of Paragould can visit Walnut Ridge and have supper in the airplane or visit the Beatles Fest and do it in a safe Manner. And, in turn, the residents of Walnut Ridge can visit downtown Paragould, go to those festivals or eat at our restaurants."

Walnut Ridge Mayor Charles Snapp noted that while his city has already reaped some benefits from the project, he said all of Northeast Arkansas will see some economic growth. Snapp coined it as a "growth triangle" connecting his city to two other economic hubs: Jonesboro and Paragould.

"We have four lanes, everywhere," Snapp said. "We have a safe highway system and a growing region. It is Northeast, Arkansas time."

Snapp said that Walnut Ridge in Lawrence County has seen some economic growth in recent years because of the growing steel industry in Mississippi County.

A Northeast Arkansas native from Wynne, I’ve been involved with radio for about 15 years. I got my Bachelor of Arts degree from Henderson State University in Arkadelphia, where I also served as an award-winning News Director for 2 years at KSWH-LP.