Years-long project making way to improve highway access

Published: Jun. 1, 2023 at 9:42 PM CDT
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BATESVILLE, Ark. (KAIT) - The community attended a showing of a proposed project to give their input.

This project has been in the works for years to help alleviate traffic issues on a busy highway in Independence County.

The City of Batesville, the City of Southside, and Independence County purchased land on Highway 167 in 2019. Leaders in those areas then went to the Arkansas Department of Transportation to ask for help with an issue on the highway causing hours of traffic when a crash occurs.

Highway 167, near Ramsey Mountain, is where people sometimes sit for up to four hours waiting to pass when a crash happens. This causes issues for not only drivers but first responders.

Ellen Coulter with ArDOT said this project would be the first of its kind in the state, having an emergency lane with a gate.

Thousands of cars and 18-wheelers travel up and down Ramsey Mountain on Highway 167 every day and sometimes within that heavy traffic crashes happen.

This causes people to not be able to get in and out of town and emergency personnel to not get to the crash site.

“When an accident happens and blocks Ramsey Mountain, which doesn’t happen super frequently, but enough that it’s a problem then that would allow traffic to continue to move,” said Damon Johnson.

Johnson is the City of Batesville, city engineer. He said this project is needed for the community, especially first responders.

“Makes it difficult for emergency personal to get to the site because traffic will back up for a very long way,” he said.

From 2015 to 2020, over 50% of crashes that caused the highway to be out of service were closed for more than an hour. A May 12 crash in 2016 caused a 12-hour shutdown.

RELATED: County proposes short-term fix

“Vitallink or our ambulance service needs to get up the mountain that has nothing to do with the car crash,” said Johnson. “That’s a problem they can’t get through.”

The project will create an emergency road on property bought by Batesville, Southside, and Independence County.

The road will have a gate that will open when traffic needs to be diverted.

“We’re not actually widening the road and adding additional lanes, this will strictly be for use if there is an accident, to keep traffic moving around the accident,” said Coulter.

RELATED: ArDOT Project design

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ArDOT proposes that the project will cost around $1 million dollars.

A couple from Southside said they are hoping this will help when there is a crash because it causes such a delay for them sometimes.

The next step in this process is a public comment period and then ArDOT will make any changes they see fit after going through the comments.

The proposed project is scheduled to be contracted out in November and work would begin early next year and is expected to be complete by the summer of 2024.