A1 A1
Eastern bypass slated for August

JONESBORO — A major road project that was planned for last year may finally get underway later this year.

Like many things, the coronavirus pandemic has slowed key parts of the work leading up to the northern extension of Martin Luther King Jr. Drive (formerly Commerce Drive) to U.S. 49 (East Johnson Avenue) at Clinton School Road, said Brad Smithee, district engineer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

“Right of way acquisition really did stall during the (early) pandemic times,” Smithee said Tuesday. “Those folks who do that for our part are in Little Rock. They were not allowed to travel for two or three months. To do an appraisal, they’ve got to look at properties. No. 2, once they get the appraisal, they’ve got to go negotiate with folks, and that’s pretty well got to be done in person. It’s hard to negotiate over the phone.”

Smithee said ArDOT hopes to open bids on the project in August.

Once completed, there will be a direct connection between Interstate 555 and Johnson Avenue, relieving motorists of the need to travel the heavily congested Red Wolf Boulevard. The project is expected to cost $34.5 million.

The extension, also known by many as the eastern bypass, is among many major projects identified in the Metropolitan Transportation Plan, which outlines goals for transportation and safety improvements through 2045. The Northeast Arkansas Regional Transportation Planning Commission approved the document Tuesday morning.

The commission’s planning area includes Jonesboro, Brookland, Bono, Bay and the unincorporated portions of Craighead County between those cities. The commission’s job is to recommend the best use for federal transportation funding.

Projects identified for the next five years will be included in ArDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (STIP).

The Arkansas State Highway Commission is scheduled to open bids today on one of the projects on the list. That’s a pavement preservation project that starts at the intersection of Arkansas 91 and Arkansas 349 at the Westside school campus and extends 8.18 miles east along Dan Avenue and Johnson Avenue to Red Wolf Boulevard. The cost has been estimated at $2.5 million.

Other projects proposed for federal fiscal year 2021:

Pavement preservation of 6.77 miles of U.S. 49 and 49B in Brookland, $4.3 million. (Opening bids Feb. 24).

Intersection improvements to Arkansas 351 (Old Greensboro Road) and Airport Road, $7.1 million.

Widening Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B) 0.33 miles south of Parker Road, $2.9 million.

Railroad overpass on Airport Road, $14.6 million (Opening bids May 19).

Pavement preservation of 6.77 miles of U.S. 49 and 49B in Brookland, $4.3 million.

Pavement preservation of 2.65 miles of U.S. 63 from Southwest Drive (U.S. 49) to Washington Avenue, $400,000.

Major pavement preservation and other improvements to 6.8 miles of U.S. 63 from Dan Avenue to Southwest Drive, $20 million.

Major projects in fiscal 2022, which begins Oct. 1, 2021:

Intersection improvements at Southwest Drive and Parker Road, $3.2 million.

Pavement preservation to 5.1 miles of Arkansas 1 from the Poinsett County line to Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B), $900,000.

Pavement preservation to 0.95 miles of Industrial Drive (Arkansas 351 from I-555 to Highland Drive (Arkansas 18), $200,000.

Cache River bridge replacement, Arkansas 230 near Bono, $7.9 million.

Major projects in fiscal 2023:

Whiteman Creek bridge replacement, Arkansas 158 near Bay, $1.6 million.

Widening of 1.24 miles of Stadium Boulevard(Arkansas 1) from I-555 to Fox Meadow Lane, $6.9 million.

Major projects in fiscal 2024:

Widening of Old Greensboro Road (Arkansas 351) from Pleasant View Drive to Peachtree Avenue, $2.5 million.

Widening of Stadium Boulevard to Harrisburg Road (Arkansas 1B), $5 million.

Several other major projects are listed for the next five years, but no specific start date is indicated. Those projects include reconditioning 14.3 miles of U.S. 49 between Arkansas 226 and Arkansas 14 in Craighead and Poinsett counties, with an estimated cost of $3.5 million.

Other pavement preserving projects are scheduled on other sections of Arkansas 351 toward Greene County and U.S. 49 south of the Greene County line.

The Metropolitan Transportation Plan also includes earmarks for walking trails.

Emily Hope, Arkansas State University student activities board assistant director, and Keyon Atkins, president of student activities, pass out a free T-shirts Tuesday to freshman nursing student Brianna Harris and Lexie Rice, a sophomore studying radiology.

A-State welcomes back students

Bay High School senior Hazel Russell works on a recipe for her family and consumer science class.

Preparing the food

Bay schools prepare for growth

BAY — While COVID-19 is at the forefront of most preparedness plans for school districts, Bay School District is also planning for the future.

Superintendent Luke Lovins said the district has a particular goal in mind for the future.

“For Bay, our goal is to make sure we are prepared for growth,” Lovins said. “Prior to the pandemic, we had seen growth, and we were about to run out of classroom space.”

Lovins said the school district is currently having those key conversations to determine how many additional classrooms are needed and what areas would best be suited to utilize the space.

“We started the preliminary conversations to see what they need,” Lovins said. “Whether that be labs, occupational therapy or physical therapy.”

Principal Jodi Cobb said the high school has several areas where additional space could be utilized.

“It would be nice if the district had that space,” she said. “We have a nice musical complex for the music teacher, but the art teacher has a small classroom and small storage space. ... It would be nice to have a bigger space for her, that would be centrally located and a bigger space for her students to have individual spaces.”

Cobb said the high school science department could also use an extra science classroom. Currently, a science teacher is using the lab as a classroom, she said.

Lovins said at some point as plans begin to take shape, the district will employ a construction manager to assist with developing the new additions. The district has recently completed some much-needed HVAC upgrades to the elementary school also, he said.

Lovins said the school now sees about a $2,500 decrease in utility bills because of the upgrade.

“The teachers say the air runs less, but the room stays cooler,” he said. “Our share for the (HVAC project) was about 34 percent. The wealth index has gone down, so we can expect to pay 29 percent. ... We hope to get approved for partnership funding.”

The school has also made adjustments that are pandemic-related. Lovins said communal devices such as water fountains and high school microwaves have been temporarily shut down.

“We did small projects like installing hand sanitizer stations, and we put purple dots on the floor in the elementary so students know where to walk and how far to stay apart,” he said. “All students have individual water bottles at their desks.”

An upgrade is planned at the high school, as well as a new roof, he said.

Cobb said the projects are “long overdue.” She said there have been puddles of water accumulating on the roof during inclement weather.

“My roof is the old rock type – polyurethane. It’s been the same roof since the building was built,” she said.

Lovins said as the school prepares for the future, he encourages developers to look at Bay as a potential building location.

“I think we are a place primed for growth,” he said. “We are a great community with great people – just 10 minutes from Jonesboro and one hour from Memphis. Tell them to build houses in Bay and we would buy them.”

Cobb commended Lovins on his accomplishments in his first year as district superintendent.

“He has done a great job making sure everything is budgeted,” she said. “He has done a great job talking about buildings and including administration in those discussions.”

Teachers, seniors become eligible for vaccine

JONESBORO — With only 3 percent of the state’s population vaccinated so far, Arkansas is expanding its distribution of the coronavirus vaccine to teachers and people aged 70 and older, Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced Tuesday.

Starting Monday, Hutchinson said the state will move into part of its next phase of the vaccine distribution, which will also include workers in child care and higher education. Hutchinson said this will cover more than 443,000 additional Arkansans.

“These vaccines are going to be available through your community pharmacies, and the hospitals are participating in this when they have the doses available”

Hutchinson said residents should be able to call ahead for an appointment.

“We want to continue to increase, as fast as we can, getting these doses into the arms of Arkansans while at the same time being able to manage the limited supply that we’re given,” Hutchinson said during his weekly coronavirus update.

The additional groups were initially part of a second phase of vaccinations that the state hoped to begin in February. That phase will include essential workers such as food and manufacturing workers and essential government employees.

Arkansas last week adjusted its vaccine rollout, moving police, firefighters and other first responders to the first phase of the vaccine’s distribution.

The latest forecast released Tuesday by the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Fay W. Boozman College of Public Health warned that the vaccine’s impact on the state won’t be seen in the short or mid-term.

“We should expect to see large numbers of new cases, new hospitalizations, and deaths for at least the next two months, particularly among the age groups that are less likely to be currently eligible for the vaccine,” the report said.

Carol Fleming, president of the Arkansas Education Association, said the updated timeline for school employees is welcome news for the educators serving on the frontlines of the public health crisis.

“Providing quality learning opportunities for Arkansas’s students while also creating as safe an environment as possible, has placed our educators in an extremely demanding situation,” Fleming said in a news release “The return to in-person education has resulted in the deaths of more than two dozen educators and, unfortunately, continues to put children and families at risk. Vaccinations will begin to help educators feel more comfortable as they continue working to provide the face-to-face connection for which there is no replacement.”

The state’s virus cases on Tuesday rose by 3,209 confirmed and probable cases, which Hutchinson said is actually about 1,000 fewer cases than a week earlier. Forty more people died from COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, including one person each in Poinsett, Jackson, Randolph and Cross counties. That brings the state’s total fatalities since the pandemic began to 4,121.

The state’s COVID-19 hospitalizations dropped by 17 to 1,354, the day after the state hit a new high for patients in the hospital due to the virus. However, the number of patients who were in intensive care rose by 11 to 452. Statewide, 251 patients were on ventilators, a reduction of 17.

In Northeast Arkansas, 183 were hospitalized, down two; 43 were in ICUs, down one; and 21 were on ventilators, down five.

Craighead – 9,873 confirmed (up 74 since Monday) , 1,296 probable (up 35), 880 active cases (down 24); 132 confirmed deaths, 14 probable.

Greene – 3,967 confirmed (up 27), 956 probable (up 13); 375 active (down 23); 49 confirmed deaths, 10 probable.

Lawrence – 1,452 confirmed (up 24), 301 probable (unchanged); 134 active (up 2); 36 confirmed deaths, 3 probable.

Poinsett – 2,360 confirmed (up 20), 292 probable (up 9); 214 active (up 3); 54 confirmed deaths, 13 probable.

Mississippi – 4,310 confirmed (up 28), 461 probable (up 2); 261 active cases (down 28); 85 confirmed deaths, 15 probable.

Jackson – 2,334 confirmed (up 4), 628 probable (up 15); 80 active cases (down 10); 20 confirmed deaths, 7 probable.

Randolph – 1,294 confirmed (up 9), 352 probable (up 7); 139 active cases (down 4); 32 confirmed deaths, 12 probable.

Cross – 1,292 confirmed (up 7), 326 probable (up 6); 173 active cases (down 3); 36 confirmed deaths (unchanged), 2 probable, unchanged).

Clay – 1,107 confirmed (up 5), 330 probable (up 7); 112 active cases (down 2); 26 confirmed deaths, 10 probable.

Victim stable, probe ongoing in shooting

JONESBORO — A man was hospitalized Monday night following a shooting at the Wolf Creek Apartments, police say.

The Jonesboro Police Department responded to a woman’s call “regarding an unwanted person” at the apartment complex, 500 N. Caraway Road, it announced early Tuesday morning. When officers arrived, they found the victim afflicted with a gunshot wound.

The department’s Criminal Investigation Division is probing the shooting. The victim was transported to a local hospital for medical treatment.

“As of this morning, the victim in last night’s shooting is listed in stable condition,” said Sally Smith, JPD public information specialist.

Its report log notes that detectives initially probed first-degree domestic battering causing serious physical injury. The incident report filed for the shooting will be released today, as investigators plan to amend criminal charges, Smith said.

In JPD’s Facebook post, the department didn’t disclose where the man was shot. A suspect had not been arrested as of press time, Smith said.

JPD is also investigating an armed robbery in which shots were fired Monday at a residence in the 900 block of West Oak Street. Two unknown suspects demanded money from the male victim, 38, according to the incident report.

No property was reported stolen and the victim was unharmed, the report indicates. Smith said no arrests had been made and the probe was ongoing.

A 19-year-old suspect is sought by police following a Sunday domestic dispute that resulted in gunfire in the 600 block of Marshall Street, according to an incident report.

Police noted that the suspect forced himself into a woman’s home and pointed a firearm at her. The teen’s white 2006 Dodge Charger was towed away from the scene.

If arrested, he faces charges of aggravated residential burglary, aggravated assault, committing a terroristic act and third-degree domestic battering, the report suggests.