LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) - The Metroplan Board wants the Arkansas Highway Commission to begin buying property for the North Belt Freeway as early as next year. It's a project that's slipped through the cracks for more than 50 years and now officials say it's now or never.
The proposed North Belt Freeway would stretch from Hwy 67/440 in Jacksonville to I-430/I-40 in North Little Rock. The proposed freeway is a little more than 12 miles. Both project planners and land owners believe it could spark strong economic gains.
Carol and David Henry survey their family land in North Little Rock. They believe if the State Highway Commission moves forward with the North Belt Freeway, this property could be sold. "I'd be willing to sell if the price is right," says Carol Henry.
The Henrys have owned the property near I-40 and I-430 since the 1930's. "Yeah my dad and mother owned 30 acres in here," says Henry.
The state bought much of the land to clear the way for I-40, now Carol Henry believes construction of the North Belt Freeway could buy up the rest. Metroplan executive director, Jim McKenzie sees a great need for the freeway.
"Projections show that by 2030 it will carry 60,000 trips a day," says McKenzie.
This week the Metroplan board decided to ask the state highway commission to begin the land acquisition phase in 2013.
"We do $6 million of land acquisition next year, between 2016 and 2019 another $36 million of right of way acquisition to complete the right of way, with construction starting in 2020," says McKenzie.
McKenzie wants to get started with land acquisition soon. Time could prove costly.
"Instead of buying land by the acre, you'll be buying it by the lot with a $250,000-$350,000 house on it," says McKenzie.
Henry sees both the traffic and economic benefits.
"More business will set up in this area and it will also help with traffic. I think it'll be good for Little Rock, North Little Rock," says Henry.
Metroplan estimates the total project could cost $720 million. The group hopes to hear the State Highway Commission's decision on whether to move forward sometime this summer.
Metroplan officials tell Today's THV that if the project is approved, 80 percent of the funding will come from the federal level and the remaining 20 percent from the Arkansas Highway Commission.