Shared from the 2017-03-06 Arkansas Democrat-Gazette eEdition

I-49 backers praise House measure

The completion of Interstate 49 in western Arkansas will be vital to creating economic prosperity, according to an Arkansas resolution delivered to federal officials.

The state House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1018 on Feb. 17. The measure sponsored by state Rep. John Maddox, R-Mena, encourages the expansion of the I-49 northsouth corridor, which it says will improve accessibility and improve the economy for communities along the interstate.

The resolution states that “many of the communities in that area are experiencing a decline in economic prosperity that threatens to make those communities irrelevant as business and tourist destinations as a direct result of the limited commercial and recreational traffic through the area.”

A copy will be provided to the Arkansas congressional delegation with the intent to encourage support of federal funds for the completion of I-49.

“This resolution informs the federal government that the state of Arkansas deems the completion of I-49 from Fort Smith to Texarkana as vital for the economic viability and long-term growth of all of the communities on the I-49 corridor,” Maddox said.

The resolution brings attention to the project and helps the public to understand the need to complete the interstate, says Curt Green of Texarkana, president of the I-49 International Coalition.

“Everybody needs to be reminded what I-49 can do for the state. It’s easy to forget in central and eastern Arkansas, but the acknowledgment is important,” Green said.

He said 85 percent of the interstate is complete from New Orleans to Canada, and the biggest uncompleted gap is located in western Arkansas.

“We keep chipping away, and we’re trying to keep everyone’s eye on the ball. We’ve got to complete it before we realize the full economic benefits,” Green said.

“It’s so close. We will have dramatic potential coming out of Texas and Louisiana when it’s completed. It’s hard to grasp the growth when I-49 is complete,” he said.

“We’re doing our best as cheerleaders to help finish the thing,” Green said.

I-49 International Coalition Executive Director Gard Wayt commended Maddox and the state representatives who supported the resolution.

“We also commend him and his colleagues for recognizing the great economic benefit the completion of this north-south interstate through Arkansas will bring not only to the entire state of Arkansas but to all of Mid-America from Winnipeg, Canada, to New Orleans,” he said.

“The final pieces of a 1,700-mile trade and travel corridor open new opportunities for tourism, trade and travel through the heartland of America to and from everywhere in the world by way of the ports of the Gulf Coast and through the expanding Panama Canal,” Wayt told the Polk County Pulse News.

Slightly more than 200 miles of interstate highway development remain to complete the 1,700-mile corridor.

The highway, which supporters say will provide safer transportation and directly affect 12 states, is expected to expand economic development including jobs, business opportunities, and tourism development.

“Passage of HR1018 brings the important additional influence and prestige of the Arkansas Legislature to support the 100-plus members of the I-49 International Coalition in Arkansas, Missouri and Louisiana who are working to bring attention to the need to finish this ‘High Priority No. 1 Interstate’ from Kansas City to New Orleans,” Wayt said.

“We will publicize the passage of the resolution up and down the I-49 corridor among our members and supporters, and in all the states from Canada to the Gulf Coast who will benefit economically from the completion of I-49. It will be encouraging to all those involved to know they have the support of Arkansas’ political leaders,” Wayt said.

The resolution is crucial, said Gar Eisele, a business owner and board member of both the Arkansas Regional Coalition of the Ouachitas and the I-49 International Coalition.

“There’s nothing that can bring prosperity to this part of the state more than the completion of I-49,” Eisele said. “It’s time that all of these discussions actually turn in to results. Everyone acknowledges the need and the importance, but we need strong leaders like Maddox willing to push for the federal monies to complete this project and transform it from a vision to a reality for the people of west-central Arkansas.”

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