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A $79.2 million project to widen a 4.6-mile section of U.S. 67/167 in Pulaski and Lonoke counties is far from finished, but the 2-year-old project reached a milestone of sorts Friday.

All six lanes were opened to traffic for the first time.

What are the "Freeway Boys" going to say now?

For the past year, Billy and Bubba have poked fun at the construction project in a series of radio advertisements and one television advertisement for Gwatney Chevrolet, the Jacksonville auto dealership.

"If I had an orange barrel for every truck Gwatney sells ...," Billy says in the television ad.

"Billy, we do have an orange barrel for every truck Gwatney sells," Bubba responds.

The characters are the brainchild of Scott Romine, media director for the dealership, which sets near the south end of the project that improved a stretch between Vandenberg Boulevard in Jacksonville and Arkansas 5 in Cabot.

The project began more than two years ago and resulted in multiple lane closings and lane shifts to accommodate the work, making it a vexing drive for commuters.

"I was just having fun in the situation we were in," Romine said Friday.

The project is to be completed before summer, but not before additional work that will close the lanes periodically between now and then.

A map showing U.S. 67/167 projects in the Jacksonville area

In fact, the same day the Arkansas Department of Transportation opened the lanes, it announced another round of overnight lane closings for next week to allow crews to stripe the pavement, pour concrete and hang overhead signs.

Beginning Sunday night, traffic will be reduced to one lane in both directions and, when the overhead signs are hung, all traffic in one direction will be stopped for 15-minute intervals.

Southbound traffic will be reduced to one open lane on various nights from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. daily through March 30, weather permitting. Northbound traffic will be reduced to one lane from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m. during the same period, also weather permitting.

Traffic will be controlled with construction barrels and signs, with assistance from the Arkansas State Police, the department said. Advance warning signs will be placed to notify traffic approaching the lane closings.

Additional work is needed on the adjoining frontage roads before the project will be complete, department spokesman Danny Straessle said Friday.

The wide-open thoroughfare brought immediate dividends when all six lanes opened Friday morning, he said.

A photograph the Transportation Department distributed on social media showed a vehicle disabled or abandoned on a shoulder in the newly widened section, which would've backed up traffic before the lanes were opened.

"Right off the bat we're seeing the benefits of an expanded facility," Straessle said.

Since 2014, sections of U.S. 67/167 in and around Jacksonville, population 29,000, have been under construction. Among them a section from Redmond Road to Main Street has been completed at a cost of $46.3 million.

The new mayor of Jacksonville, Bob Johnson, said he was "excited" about the work despite the upheaval to motorists.

"About every inch of that [work] is in my city," he said.

In addition to accommodating the increase in traffic and making it safer for travelers, the projects will help eventually qualify the route as part of Interstate 57, which Johnson said he championed as a member of the Arkansas House of Representatives.

Still to come is the last piece -- an estimated $89 million project to widen U.S. 67/167 between Main Street and Vandenberg Boulevard.

"I'm ready to get started," Johnson said.

Straessle said the project isn't scheduled to be awarded a contract until spring 2020.

"Motorists will have about a nine-month reprieve," he said.

Construction is scheduled to be completed in 2023, which guarantees more material for the "Freeway Boys."

"The 'Freeway Boys' will live on a for awhile," Romine said.

Metro on 03/23/2019

Print Headline: 4.6-mile section of U.S. 67/167 opens six lanes in state

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