LONOKE (KTHV) - Business leaders are calling it the future of Lonoke as the wheels finally start turning this month on a new highway interchange for the community.
The state recently awarded the construction bid for this project, giving it the final green light to move forward. The state highway department reported the contractor could start some work during the winter months but activity will definitely pick up this spring on Lonoke's second interchange of Interstate 40.
Right now, drivers can go over I-40 along Highway 89, but that won't be the only option down the road with a new, full-service interchange on the way.
"The people of Lonoke have been waiting for this for I can't say how many years," Ryker said.
Bill Ryker is with the Lonoke Chamber of Commerce. He showed THV 11 a diagram of the project on Thursday, detailing a project first discussed in 1992. Now that it's coming, boosting economic development should be easier.
"There were two businesses, large industrial that looked at this interchange but because it wasn't completed, the businesses moved other places," Ryker said.
Ryker said the area lost out on more than 500 auto parts manufacturing jobs because of that. Now there's 328 acres zoned industrial here getting "prepped" for move-in.
"There are plans already in effect for the City of Lonoke to enhance the water, the utilities have already been moved," Ryker said.
The project will also replace an aging highway overpass and prevent flooding around the area. Drivers, like Jason Grady, add one more bonus.
"I live over on that side of town. It will help me a bunch going to work and coming home because I work in North Little Rock," Grady said.
It's an easier path to the highway instead of the current interchange at Arkansas 31. Ryker said growth and traffic there also pushed the need for a second interchange to the west, and it's turning that Highway 89 overpass into new days ahead for Lonoke.
THV 11 did talk with two people in town who didn't want to speak on camera, but they didn't think it made sense to have another interchange so close to the current one.
As for costs, the state highway department said the interchange is coming in at just under $8 million and it's a combination of local, state and federal funds.