Businessman Marvin Rooks often travels to his many rental properties in Jackson and Lawrence counties.
For more than 30 years he’s had to drive down Arkansas 226, the main highway that links Jonesboro with Little Rock and other parts of eastern Arkansas. The curvy road has two lanes in many spots that slow drivers, and it can be treacherous.
That will change this summer.
The Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department has spent at least $83 million to expand the highway. The road was divided into seven separate expansion projects and four of them are completed, AHTD District 10 Engineer Walter McMillan told Arkansas Business.
"We should have those last three sections done by mid-July," McMillan said. "Once the whole project is complete, it should reduce the drive time from Jonesboro to Little Rock by 20 to 30 minutes."
After it’s done, Arkansas 226 will have four lanes from the U.S. 49 turnoff in Jonesboro to U.S. 67 in Jackson County. Work on the project began in spring 2010.
Tens of thousands of drivers and trucks traverse this highway each month, according to official estimates.
Rooks noticed a significant change since the work began.
"It’s like night and day ... It’s already a lot better," he said.
Jonesboro is Arkansas’ fifth largest city with a population of about 71,000, and there are more than 126,000 people in the surrounding region.
The transportation of goods and road trips by residents from northeast Arkansas’ hub city and the state capital have been a problem for many years, Jonesboro Regional Chamber of Commerce Vice President Cari White said. The expansion should save truck companies and regular drivers time and money.
The economic impact is hard to determine, but White said the expansion will likely add millions of dollars to the region’s economy in the coming years and provide a higher level of convenience.
Another major highway project linking northeast Arkansas to Little Rock should also be completed this year. McMillan said workers should finish a 16-mile stretch of the new U.S. 67 from rural Jackson County to U.S. 63 by this fall.
For many years the former U.S. 67 has been part of a major transportation route linking St. Louis to other parts of the South, including Little Rock. But large trucks often bog down as they meander through small towns with speed limits. And from Walnut Ridge to Newport, the route has only two lanes.
"When we get 67 finished it should significantly help with those drive times," McMillan said.
Rooks is pleased the new highway will save him time and money, but it’s not his most important concern.
Two lane roads are extremely dangerous, and the 65-year-old said he’ll feel more comfortable on a broader, safer road.
"If one car or truck veers off on a road like that ... you’re in a head-on collision," he said. "A lot of people don’t survive collisions like that."