JACKSONVILLE, Ark. (KTHV) -- The expansion of US 67/167 through Jacksonville could become a political story complete with a proposed wall and infrastructure improvements. It has nothing to do with the Trump Administration.
The highway department has been working for years on the expansion to six lanes. The latest phase requires a local environmental review and so project engineers held an invitation-only meeting Thursday to outline plans to put up a noise abatement wall. At least one homeowner left with concerns and asked us to help get him some answers.
“They weren't prepared to answer any questions,” said Patrick Thomas, retired from the Air Force and a Jacksonville resident since 1960.
He's lived under the flight path for C-130's all that time and saw the freeway being built. He knows about noise, but surprisingly he has problems with a wall to lower the noise as 67/167 expands.
“I am for the wall. I am just not for their concept of the right of way,” Thomas said.
Thomas owns two properties that butt up against the service road. Highway officials told him and others at a meeting they want to build a wall, but also want to leave enough space to maintain the wall. To Thomas, that will lead the right-of-way to become an overgrown mess.
“When I asked them can I put my fence up against that wall they said "no you can't even go near it,’” he said.
Thomas left without signaling his approval to the engineers who asked invitees for their feedback and a tally of their support. Also in attendance, Jacksonville mayor Gary Fletcher, who is also not happy with the first draft and shares Thomas's mowing concerns.
“The city's not going to be able to mow it,” he said. “The state's not going to mow it. So it creates some other problems. This whole process needs to be thought out a lot better than what it's been so far.”
Fletcher is also bothered that business owners with frontage along the stretch did not get invited to the meeting. He says the new wall will affect commercial lots as well.
“There are several businesses on there that right now are facing 50 or 60,000 cars a day,” Fletcher said. “In two or three years when this wall is built, they will be facing nothing but the back of a concrete wall.”
Or a fiberglass wall. Highway department spokesman Danny Straessle spoke by phone with Thomas to hear some of his concerns. He said that while Thursday’s meeting had drawings that featured concrete walls, fiberglass materials are cheaper. That is why the engineers are keeping a wider right-of-way in their plans. But Straessle stressed this was the first of likely several meetings that the highway department will have.
“We got input last night and it's my understanding that the engineering team is going back to the drawing board,” Straessle said, who added commercial property owners will likely be included in the next meeting. “What was presented [Thursday] was certainly not written in stone.”