By JOEL PHELPS | The Arkadelphian
Arkadelphia will look entirely different in just a matter of years.
Construction on a major infrastructure project in Arkadelphia will begin soon, and a celebratory groundbreaking was held Friday to commemorate an historic occasion. State and local officials took turns speaking at the event, which drew about 100 people to the Clark County Courthouse.
Once complete, the Arkadelphia Bypass will connect state Highway 51 to U.S. Highway 67 and is expected to divert truck traffic away from residential and commercial areas. Work on the bypass will begin once some utilities easements have been settled — likely within the next two to three months, according to officials familiar with the project.
Meanwhile, the widening of Pine Street is another major project that will be changing the landscape of Arkadelphia.
Lorie Tudor, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, commented that she witnessed firsthand why Arkadelphia needs a bypass as she drove into town from Little Rock and found herself behind an 18-wheeler. With roughly 500 commercial trucks using Pine Street each day, Tudor said commercial traffic will be reduced significantly once the bypass is open. “This is going to make Arkadelphia a safer place to live and for those who visit,” Tudor said.
Tudor added in her comments that Friday’s ceremony was also a celebration of partnership between ArDOT, the City of Arkadelphia, Clark County and the two universities. The citizens of Clark County opted to renew an economic development sales tax that funded an $8 million bond to expedite the $60 million project. The city will be responsible for maintaining a part of the new highway, as well as funding utility relocations. Finally, both colleges have yielded portions of their land for a right-of-way.
Community leader Wesley Kluck was also among those who spoke. The Arkadelphia native recounted the building of Interstate 30 and DeGray Lake in the 1960s, saying his family would spend their Sunday afternoons to see the progress of both projects. As for the bypass, Kluck said, “It is a big deal, one of the biggest deals in my lifetime.”
Addressing skepticism and pessimism on the bypass, Arkadelphia City Manager Gary Brinkley said traffic barrels “are going to be our friends for a few years, we’re going to have to get used to that. But I can’t wait until we do the ribbon cutting [once the bypass is finished] to hear people say, ‘You should have done this years ago!'”
County Judge Troy Tucker thanked the citizens of Clark County for supporting the 1/2-cent economic development sales tax. Referring to ArDOT’s $60 million pledge in exchange for $8 million from local funding, Tucker addressed the ArDOT officials present at the ceremony: “I will take that same proposition any day you want to offer it,” he joked.
“Our citizens wanted to see this happen,” Tucker continued. “They want to see growth and prosperity in our community.” With infrastructure being key to making those two things happen, Tucker said the bypass is a “very important part” of the infrastructure to help economic growth. “This will help us to safely and efficiently move traffic through downtown Arkadelphia at some of our busiest intersections — more specifically, log trucks. … Some [residents and businesses] gave up more than others,” he added. “But in the end, when the dust settles, we’re going to have a better community, a more attractive community, and we’re going to have a community that is positioned for growth.”
Arkansas Highway Commissioner Robert Moore, also an alumnus of Ouachita Baptist University, recounted several stories of his years spent in Arkadelphia, particularly when I-30 was under construction. Moore’s comments finished the speaking portion of the ceremony, before officials took turns posing for the groundbreaking.