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End possibly in sight for 'never-ending' road project on Highway 9

Thursday, September 1, 2011

(Photo)
Photo by Richard Irby After years of construction, new pavement is finally going down on Highway 9 between Brockwell and Melbourne, as passing lanes and shoulders are added to improve traffic safety. Despite the progress, the section of highway will remain a construction zone until work is completed next summer.

Many Izard County residents call it "the never-ending project." Others say they've gotten used to the "continual inconvenience."

But years of work to improve traffic safety on State Highway 9 in the Brockwell-Melbourne area may finally wrap up...next summer.

That is good news for motorists who regularly travel the narrow, winding road from Salem to Melbourne, including many Ozarka College students.

"We're making progress," said Kenny Bowren, a state highway engineer overseeing the work. "On the southern section of the project, we just moved traffic to the new pavement and over the new bridge, That allows us to begin working on the other side of the road."

The project, which runs from just south of Brockwell to near the Melbourne city limits, began with construction of a bridge and two, large box culverts.

Then came the continuing job of preparing property purchased along the existing road for use as new lanes and shoulders.

"When this job was let, the contractor had 250 days in the contract to complete it," said Bowren. "That is working days, with good weather, which usually equals about three construction seasons."

The aim of the project is to make most of the four mile section three lanes, creating one passing lane area for north bound traffic, and another for south bound traffic. The whole route, including a section that will remain two lanes, will have eight foot shoulders.

Last year, two related safety projects were completed.

A new bridge and new, wider driving lanes and shoulders eliminated a dangerous curve north of Brockwell.

At Brockwell, several old steel bridges were replaced with box culverts to improve drainage, and a sharp, narrow "S" curve was removed, by routing traffic to a new, wider section of roadway with a much gentler curve.

All of the work is part of a Highway 9 improvement project that Senator Paul Miller proposed when he was elected to office in 2000.

State highway engineers who surveyed Highway 9 identified areas between Brockwell and Melbourne that were especially dangerous.

The state obtained an estimated $10 million in federal funds designated to improve dangerous roads to finance the projects.

As the Brockwell work was being finished last August, Miller told The News obtaining approval for the work and getting construction underway took the whole ten years he served in office.

"I thought it would be done a lot quicker but I am proud it is finally being done," said Miller, who left office last year.

Highway engineer Bowren said there is nothing particularly unusual about the final stage of the project; it just takes time and good weather to replace bridges and culverts and build new lanes and shoulders.

Bowren believes years of driving through work zones and dodging construction barrels in the Brockwell-Melbourne area will be worth it.

"Motorists will have wide passing lanes. There will be shoulders along the roads and steep slopes in the roadway will be flattened out," said Bowren. "The roadway will be much safer when we are done."

While the Highway 9 improvements are being completed, work is underway on similar improvements on State

Road 177 from Pineville, in Izard County, through the Lake Norfork area to Henderson.

A $3.1 million dollar project is straightening curves and adding passing lanes on two sections of Highway 177, north and south of Jordan, in Baxter County.

The work will make it easier and safer for Izard County residents to travel to Mountain Home, since Highway 177 is a popular route to the Baxter County city.

"The two areas were chosen for improvements because safety data showed higher than normal vehicle crashes in those areas," said Mitchell Archer, a construction engineer who works in the Harrison state highway office, which is overseeing the project.

The estimated completion date for the Highway 177 work is May of 2012.



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