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Cabot Hopes Interchange Spurs Growth

4 min read

A new $25.5 million U.S. Highway 67/167 interchange that Cabot residents helped pay for is set to open by the end of this year, and officials expect businesses to follow in its wake.

To put the project higher on the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s priority list, the city is contributing about $10.7 million, which includes the cost of a second ramp to Little Rock and lighting for the interchange. Lonoke County also contributed $100,000 toward lighting.

The North Cabot Interchange will be just south of Exit 22 and connect to state Highway 38 on the north side of the city. Eventually, like the rest of Highway 67/167, it will be part of Interstate 57. But there is no timeline or funding yet for the I-57 project.

Manhattan Road & Bridge Co. of Tulsa began construction in March 2017.

The interchange is part of a north loop around Cabot to north Lonoke County that will take 5,000-6,000 vehicles a day off Main Street, according to Mayor Bill Cypert. But reducing traffic congestion is not the only anticipated benefit to the city.

“People are looking at it; they’re already looking at property and the potential of parceling property and developing business settings, commercial settings,” Cypert said. “We’re expecting significant economic development to emanate from the interchange” over the next five to 10 years.

The city has partnered with the Cabot Chamber of Commerce on economic development. Executive Director Amy Williams said that partnership has been built over the last five years, and she agrees that the interchange will attract businesses.

She said a lot of land is available near it. And while she didn’t have data on the acreage, Williams said sites are suitable for development ranging from convenience stores to big-box retail stores.

The chamber has not assisted anyone interested in the area yet, but its staff is expecting to field calls when work is finished, Williams said.

The city, with a population above 26,000 and a school district serving 10,500 students, is “growing fast,” she added.

Mayor Cites History
Expectations for growth at the new interchange are based on Cabot’s history, Cypert said.

The mayor recalled when Exit 16 to Heber Springs was “nothing but trees” and Exit 19, which takes drivers to Main Street, was also “nothing but trees” from the exit to the old downtown. Now, several restaurants, mostly offering fast-food, greet drivers at Exit 16. A Walmart Supercenter, strip malls, restaurants and bank branches crowd the other exit.

City history also played a role in funding the interchange. In 1999, Cabot voters approved a 1 percent sales tax that repaid bonds the city issued to cover the cost of infrastructure projects. Cypert said city tax revenue paid those bonds off so fast that they’ve been refunded several times to pay for additional projects.

In 2013, voters agreed to continue paying the tax to issue bonds that would finance six projects, including the new interchange. Cabot’s plan then was to cover half the total cost — $9.5 million of the originally projected $19 million.

Construction costs increased over time, so the city is paying less than half the final cost. But Cabot upped its share from the original $9.5 million in order to add the second ramp and lighting.

Bonds for the project mature in 30 years, but the mayor said he expects them to be paid off in eight to 10 years.

The interchange was first discussed in Cabot in 2000, Cypert said. “It really didn’t get any legs as a project until, oh, 2010, when I took office. I recognized the extreme value of having a third crossing over U.S. 67/167 in a city that’s basically divided by that controlled-access facility.”

He said his team came up with the idea of paying for half the project. Educating voters, media coverage and City Council support brought that idea to fruition.

“My advice to any city or public entity that wants to get something from the Arkansas Department of Transportation is to simply hand them a check,” Cypert said. “That’s it. Don’t go with your hand out. Simply give them a check.”

‘They Stepped Up’
Cabot’s willingness to chip in is one reason the interchange is being done now rather than later, ArDOT spokesman Danny Straessle said.

“Let me just say that this interchange was not on our list of priorities, and the city, basically, for them it was. When I say not on the list of priorities, I simply mean that there is so much that we have to look at statewide.

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“Of course that’s a priority and it’s important to the community, but how do we weigh the cost of this $25.5 million against other needs across the state? And so, the city of Cabot, they stepped up. They pretty much put the money where their thoughts were, that good roads are important to Cabot.”

The state shares the city’s hopes for economic development, but that’s not the first thing on ArDOT’s list of advantages from the new construction.

“The hope is that it will even out the flow of traffic,” Straessle said. “The wear and tear on the roads is one thing, but also we factor in what we call the road user cost — how much does it cost the average Arkansan in wasted time sitting in a delay because of an accident or because you’ve got a highway that’s over capacity? … We can improve the quality of life of the residents by adding an interchange.

“And, of course, it spurs business and economic development as well.”

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