As Little Rock’s suburbs grow, so does the need to find new ways to connect them.

Planners are considering a project that would better link Conway, Cabot and Jacksonville.

Members of Metroplan and ARDoT hosted an open house to show some of the possibilities for a renovation of Highway 89 between Highway 67/167 and Interstate 40.

“Because of, particularly, the elimination of the north belt freeway and the need for east-west connectivity in central Arkansas, this is a project that…the Metroplan board saw that was important,” said Casey Covington, the deputy director of Metroplan.

But planners at the state and regional level do not know if the people who use it agree, so they are holding meetings this week to ask neighbors for their comments.

“Most people are excited about the project,” Covington said. “They want to know a little more about it. We’ve heard a lot of concerns about the Air Force base; everybody realizes its importance within the region, so they don’t want to do anything that would harm its operations, but they see it as an opportunity to improve connectivity and really provide alternatives for central Arkansans.”

Covington said a handful of drivers use Highway 89 to commute between Cabot and Conway, though many drive from those cities to the Little Rock Air Force Base. He said traffic improvements are important because the base contributes so much to the economies of the nearby cities.

The neighbors and drivers who spoke with THV11 preferred to comment off the record, but none were excited about the project. Some mentioned that there are too many other construction projects right now, including the work on Highway 67/167. Others worried about the cost of the project, and said it would likely not be worth the money.

Covington said the consultants who are engaged in the study will also consider whether doing the work piecemeal would bring down the cost.

“Identifying an ultimate solution” is part of their charge, he said, “but also individual steps that can be taken, likely over 10 or 20 years to build this type of project, or longer depending on what available funding is for its construction.”

The population of Cabot has doubled in the last two decades, and Conway has grown almost as quickly. Doing nothing will make commutes even longer in the years to come. Covington mentioned that this project is being considered in part because of the failed attempt to complete the north part of a freeway loop between Interstate 440 in Jacksonville and Interstate 430 in Maumelle. He said he thinks turning the disjointed Highway 89 into a continuous artery might be better than some other ideas, but the principals are not committed to it.

“There’s been no recommendation in regards to an alternative, or ultimately even if an alternative will be recommended,” Covington stated.

Another open house-style meeting is scheduled for Thursday from 4-7 p.m. at Mayflower City Hall. Covington said the planners and consultants will likely take 12 months to come up with a preferred option, if there even is one.