Congress has passed a comprehensive highway bill. The five year piece of legislation is fully funded and is worth over $300 billion. Arkansas is expected to receive $2.5 billion in those five years, which is expected to help the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department finish existing projects, and start looking at new projects. US Representative Rick Crawford says overall, Arkansas came out of the deal pretty good.
“It’s an increase of about 245 million dollars over what that five year level might have been. Considering that large amounts of highway dollars went to states, such as California and Texas, I think Arkansas fared pretty well.”
Tucked into the legislation is a designation for the new I-555. US highway 63 will become the next year, after Crawford put an exemption for agricultural vehicles on a three mile stretch of the highway between Payneway and Marked Tree.
Without the exemption, the highway would not be an interstate because there is no access road for agricultural vehicles to go, which would force famers to go at least 90 miles out of the way to cross the St. Francis Floodway. Crawford says the exemption saves the state $30-40 million by not building a road that would be hardly used. He explains how the exemption will work.
“What you will see now is that agricultural traffic will be confined to a three-mile stretch of highway, between Payneway and Marked Tree. There will be signs letting motorists know that they are approaching an area in which they may see slow-moving vehicles.”
The move to make US 63 the new I-555 has been in the works for at least 20 years. Crawford says the Arkansas Highway Commission will officially approve the designation and will hold an official celebration in February. He says this is a huge economic development boost for the region. He says towns along the highway and near it will benefit. He tells why:
“If you are going to attract new business, one of the first boxes they want to check off is Interstate highways. They don’t care that U-S Highway 63 is an interstate quality road that allows unimpeded access from Jonesboro to West Memphis. All they care about is whether cities have an Interstate. That designation will bring in more businesses.”
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department says after the highway bill becomes law, the state will approve the designation, and then will start the process of re-logging all 44 miles of Highway 63 to the new I-555.
New Interstate shields will be placed on the highway, and then mapping companies will be notified about the change. This would include those that make paper maps, as well as Google Maps, Mapquest, and others. Then, a formal dedication is expected to take place in February in Jonesboro.