Editor’s note: As 2011 draws to a close, Seark Today has selected the top 10 regional stories of the year. The criteria used to select these stories were impact, widespread interest, and/or prominence of those involved.

I-69 Ground-breaking

I-69 Ground-breaking

Ground-breaking for the first construction project for Interstate 69 in Arkansas was selected as number six in the top 10 stories in Southeast Arkansas in 2011. Because it was a ground-breaking rather than project completion and is still not connected, it did not rank in the top 5 on the top 10 list.

The $13 million project, which will stretch nearly 20 miles from U.S. 278 East to U.S. 425 South, is a tiny portion of what will be a 2,700-mile highway from the Canadian border to the Mexican border. Small sections are already open in Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana and Michigan but nothing is connected yet.

The entire corridor from border to border will cost about $30 billion while Arkansas’ 185-mile portion will cost about $3.6 billion.

“Once completed, I-69 will be a national freight corridor linking manufacturing and agriculture centers throughout the country,” U.S. Rep. Mike Ross said at a November ground-breaking ceremony. “Connecting these commercial links will help stimulate economic growth throughout the I-69 corridor, in particular, here in the Delta region.”

Construction of I-69 is expected to create thousands of jobs and provide billions of dollars in wages over the next couple of decades, according to Ross.

The I-69 route from Canada to Mexico is one of six “Corridors of the Future” designated by federal highway officials in 1993.

“That is a huge designation for future federal funding that will potentially help us in our funding endeavors,” said Arkansas Highway Commission chairman Madison Murphy, one of two state highway commissioners attending the ground-breaking ceremony.

Scott Bennett, director of the state Highway and Transportation Department, said awarding the construction contract and the ground breaking is evidence that work is ongoing in the I-69 project in Arkansas.

“I know a lot of you think we’ve just been sitting here not doing anything with I-69 but I think this is evidence that there’s been a lot of work going on,” Bennett said.

Ross, who announced in July that he would not seek another term, said breaking ground on the first I-69 project in Arkansas during his term is one of his proudest accomplishments.