EVANS

Westside Eagle-Observer - - NEWS - Dodie Evans is the former owner and long­time edi­tor of the Gravette News Herald. Opin­ions ex­pressed are those of the au­thor.

Ben­tonville. A few years later 71 in Gravette was moved south a block to what is now At­lanta Street, per­haps as an omen of a change to come. It hap­pened a few years later when old High­way 71, called the Prize Drive of the Ozarks, was rerouted east in Missouri through Pineville, and then south to the gen­tle com­mu­nity of Bella Vista. It then con­tin­ued south along an ex­ist­ing route which only changed when the four-lane high­way was con­structed through the hills south to­ward Fort Smith. I never thought I’d live to see that day. It was when High­way 71 left Gravette that the high­way through Gravette was re­named state num­ber 72.

Some time ago — was it in the ’70s or ’80s? — the area buzzed with a ru­mor that an in­ter­state-type high­way was head­ing south from Kansas, through the eastern edge of Ok­la­homa, then east to­ward Gravette. From the pro­posed lo­ca­tion, which was to be just south of town, it headed on a south­east­ern di­rec­tion to­ward Fayet­teville. A pro­posed draw­ing of that plan also ap­peared in the lo­cal paper. What hap­pened, you ask? You should have heard the whin­ing and belly­ach­ing and op­po­si­tion to such a project that would “ruin the area,” sim­i­lar to the up­roar that oc­curred when an air­port for north­west Arkansas was first pro­posed. The pro­posed high­way never ma­te­ri­al­ized but, for­tu­nately, the air­port be­came a re­al­ity.

It is great that mil­lions have been spent on the up­grad­ing of what even­tu­ally will be­come In­ter­state 49. The AHD, Arkansas High­way Depart­ment, indi­cates it has mil­lions re­served to com­plete 49 north to the Missouri line. It is a great project, one which I’m tempted to again say I’ll never live long enough to see com­pleted. So, why is my think­ing process all fired up con­cern­ing high­ways?

Let’s just use a sim­ple word, “shoul­ders,” and for good mea­sure add a men­tal pic­ture of the de­cay­ing, scary and dan­ger­ous bridge on High­way 59 at the north edge of De­catur. It is ru­mored that bridge is be­ing con­sid­ered for re­place­ment or up­grad­ing. Let’s hope ru­mor be­comes re­al­ity. That leaves the word shoul­ders.

It was in the late ‘80s that High­way 72 east from Gravette re­ceived an up­grad­ing project which added wide shoul­ders on both sides of the two lanes. Thank good­ness those shoul­ders are there; at least they al­low driv­ers to head for the shoul­der when they meet an ap­proach­ing ve­hi­cle, big truck or a cen­ter line-hug­ging mo­tor­cy­cle. Need­ing up­grad­ing and widen­ing are the nar­row or al­most nonex­is­tent shoul­ders on High­way 72 west from Gravette. And shoul­ders on the ma­jor north-south route need to be widened, to match the wide ones at Gen­try, north through De­catur, Gravette, Sul­phur Springs and fur­ther north to a mile from the Missouri state line. (The shoul­ders on the fi­nal mile to Missouri were widened ap­pro­pri­ately when bridges were up­graded sev­eral years ago).

Do we need to make 59 and 72 four-lan­ers? That would be nice but will prob­a­bly not be con­sid­ered for many years. But, dag­gum it, now that the mil­lions spent on multi-lanes along the mid-county strip are be­ing com­pleted, it’s time to bring the ma­jor routes on the west side of Ben­ton County into the 21st cen­tury, at least with wide shoul­ders. And don’t for­get that bridge.

What will it take to get th­ese im­prove­ments sched­uled? Will it take some fast think­ing and pro­gres­sive cit­i­zen climb­ing a util­ity pole to pro­mote the project? Do we have a vol­un­teer? Or vol­un­teers? And — who will call the Gov­er­nor?

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