“Paving these last few miles is highly symbolic for a state which has traditionally had a reputation as hopelessly backward,” said Tom Dillard, an Arkansas historian.
Arkansas 220 is a one-lane dirt highway, with a smattering of gravel, through a remote section of the Ozark National Forest. Part of Arkansas 220 near Devil’s Den was still closed last week after heavy rains caused an earthen slide on December 29. Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said that section should be reopened soon.
Arkansas has 16,411 miles of highways. Throughout Arkansas’ history, said Dillard, “our state was viewed by much of America as lacking basic modern transportation infrastructure.”
The 3.87-mile paving project will include widening the highway to two lanes and building a bridge over Ellis Branch Creek. Pace Construction of St. Louis was awarded a contract to do the $7.7 million job. The work should be completed next year, said Straessle.
In Crawford County, work began last year to widen and grade a 3.56-mile section of Arkansas 220 before paving it. A $4.5 million contract was awarded in April to Nabholz Construction of Conway to pave that segment and build a bridge over Falls Creek. That work should be completed late this year or early in 2017.
Grants from the Federal Lands Access Program will pay $9.5 million of the construction costs for both projects, said Randy Ort, a spokesman for the Highway Department. “This was perfect,” Ort said. “You’ve got a highway through a national forest that qualifies for this grant program. I enjoyed driving the road when it was unpaved, and I’m sure I’ll enjoy it when it’s paved.”
Read more about the history of Ozark roadways here: