The city council had an informative (though admittedly not productive) special session last night. The entirety of the meeting was devoted to a discussion of the proposed bypass as well as ways to fund the city’s portion of the costs associated with the bypass. Mr. John Burkhalter of the state highway commission and Mr. Randy Ort of the AHTD were on hand to discuss the current situation and answer questions from Searcy citizens and their elected officials.
The major points made during the presentation and the ensuing question and answer session included the following:
- The city needs to commit to a $3M local match by January 31, 2012 or the portion of the bypass between Highway 16 and Highway 36 will not be completed and the state/federal funds currently designated for this project will be allocated elsewhere. The $3M will need to be available and paid to the state before work can begin, and this project is expected to be bid in 2013.
- The route for that portion of the bypass has not yet been determined. There are currently 3 routes under consideration and the final route selection will be determined by looking at a combination of factors including economic impact, cost, environmental impact and safety among other things.
- Citizens who wish to have a say in the final route of the proposed bypass should put their comments in writing and send them to the AHTD. The route will be more likely to be influenced by comments regarding impact on safety (such as comments about the number of students/children who travel along Holmes Road and whose safety will be endangered by increased traffic on that route). The more the AHTD hears regarding this from the citizens of Searcy, the more likely they are to pay attention to it.
- The AHTD will be holding a meeting on October 4th at 4:00 p.m. at Valley Baptist church to discuss the southern portion of the bypass (from McRae to Highway 36).
After this, the gentlemen from the state left and the mayor and city council discussed what to do going forward and took some questions and comments from the crowd. Some key points from that included the following:
- The mayor and council agreed that they will do this as frugally as possible.
- The mayor and council agreed that in addition to the $3M for the bypass, they needed to provide funding for improving North Main Street out to the bypass and Davis Drive out to the bypass.
- The city’s current estimates are that a 1% sales tax would generate $6M per year.
- The mayor and city council agreed that they will put forth a proposal for a 1% sales tax that sets a hard sunset (the length of which is yet to be determined, but they discussed 12 or 15 months which would mean $3M to $4.5M would be available for the work on North Main and Davis Drive) and is dedicated in the language of the ordinance to be used for the following:
- The city’s match for the bypass
- The proposed improvements to North Main Street and Davis Drive
- Any revenue generated by the tax beyond what was needed for those two purposes would go into the city’s street fund for use improving city streets.
- Cost estimates for the work on North Main and Davis Drive have been done by the city engineer, but he was unavoidably out of town at a meeting concerning flood plain planning/management and was unable to provide that information last night. As a result, the city council will meet again Thursday at 5:00 to discuss a specific proposal once they have the city engineer’s estimates. The mayor thought that the estimates for the work were somewhere between $3M (for minimal work being done on those arteries) and $5M (for a significant amount of improvement to those arteries.
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