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|Remember Interstate 69?|
Working closely with Arkansas Congressman Mike Ross, a coalition of southern Arkansas businessmen and government leaders wants to build an interstate spur from Pine Bluff to Monroe.
The spur would extend from Interstate 69, which is scheduled to be built through southern Arkansas, to Interstate 20 in the Monroe/West Monroe area. The proposed spur would be called Interstate 530.
According to Ross' communication's director, John Niven, the construction of I-530, as well as I-69, is a priority for the congressman, who chairs the I-69 Congressional Caucus.
"Congressman Ross is working to extend I-69 corridor south toward Monroe by bringing Interstate 530 into the Monroe area," Niven said. "He's working with the I-69 Congressional Caucus, and within the state, we are working on our end because we've still got a ways to go."
Niven pointed out the project was a "long-term goal" and not something residents should expect overnight.
"It is a goal and a priority but it is not something feasible in the short-term," Niven said.
I-530 is currently projected to run from Little Rock, Ark., south to Pine Bluff.
Officials from Monticello, Ark., and Crossett, Ark., are pressing to extend I-530 south to Crossett. Officials acted on that front after International Paper's operation in Crossett noted the difficulty of moving supplies into southeastern Arkansas.
Across southeastern Arkansas, business and community leaders have organized behind the I-530 initiative, said Reginald Glover, vice chairman of the Southeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority.
Glover said construction is currently underway on a number of segments of the highway between Little Rock and Pine Bluff.
"Right now, we're building it as Arkansas 530, but it'll be designated Interstate 530 when completed," Glover said.
Though current plans entail I-530 terminating at Highway 278 in Pine Bluff, Glover pointed out that the proposed route for I-69 was nearby. He said indications were the Hwy 278 interchange in Monticello would become a gateway to I-69.
"The I-69 route is just a short distance from Hwy 278," Glover said.
That's where I-530 to Monroe/West Monroe comes into play.
The proposed interstate spur would extend from I-69 at Pine Bluff to Monroe/West Monroe, creating a interstate highway from Monroe/West Monroe to Little Rock.
The Southeast Arkansas Regional Intermodal Authority is one of several economic development entities working to improve commerce along the I-69 route through south Arkansas.
That group is chaired by former Arkansas highway commissioner John Lipton, who said Arkansas officials decided to explore I-530/I-20 connector "because it just made sense."
"It's pretty much a straight shot from Crossett, south to I-20," Lipton said.
Currently, the proposed route of I-530 would extend the interstate to just west of Monroe, but Lipton was quick to point out an official corridor had not been proposed.
Though Lipton said the project is in its early stages of development, he said he was optimistic because I-69 was recently designated a "corridor of the future" by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Niven, of Congressman Ross' office, said the designation meant funding for projects within the I-69 corridor would be easier to come by.
"That should be real encouraging for the whole region," Lipton said.
Residents of northeastern Louisiana are no strangers to I-69.
In the 1990s, officials here pushed to have the proposed interstate routed through the region, connecting Monroe/West Monroe to Alexandria.
Eventually, federal officials, including then-U.S. Sen. J. Bennett Johnston, agreed on a route for the construction of I-69. That route calls for the new interstate to extend from Toronto, Canada, to Memphis, Tenn. From Memphis, I-69 would run across southern Arkansas to the Shreveport/Bossier City area and south to Waco, Texas. From Waco, I-69 would travel south into Mexico.
Ben Marshall, a former president of the Ouachita Parish Police Jury, recalled a number of trips he made to Washington, D.C. in the 1990s to discuss routing I-69 through Monroe to Alexandria. Marshall said officials in Washington weren't receptive to the idea.
"We went to several meetings around the state and also in Washington," Marshall said. "But it seemed like the fix was in even before we got to the table, as far as the routing of I-69 was concerned."
Marshall said it was encouraging to see the ideas presented by the people who made the first trip to Washington in 1992 are still being taken seriously today.
"An interstate highway connecting us to south Arkansas will be a tremendous boon to this economy," Marshall said. "It would put us on the trade route and connect us to the rest of the continent."
5th District Congressman Rodney Alexander said he was aware Ross had been working on projects for this area and looked forward to working on the I-530 connection.
"I know Rep. Ross is concerned about the region and interested in this project because the southern part of his district needs as much attention as our region does," Alexander said.
Alexander also noted Ross is not a stranger to the needs of the region because the Arkansas congressman is often in northeastern Louisiana, working on projects that are beneficial to both regions.
"He's a good guy to have on our side," Alexander said.