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Arkansas DOT Widens US 82 Between El Dorado and Texarkana

by: Larry Bernstein
Crews spread concrete on a section of the U.S. 82 widening in southwest Arkansas.
Crews spread concrete on a section of the U.S. 82 widening in southwest Arkansas.
U.S. Highway 82, an east-west highway, covers more than 1600 miles between New Mexico and Georgia. The highway passes through southern Arkansas and is a major artery in the area. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) is widening a section of U.S. 82 in the southwestern part of the state.
The Purpose of CAP
In 2012, Arkansas voters voted in favor of a constitutional amendment to finance the widening of state highways. To fund the widening projects, a 10-year, half-cent sales tax was implemented. The tax runs through 2023. According to the state, the $1.8 billion program, known as Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP), was estimated to support over 40,000 jobs.

Thirty-six projects and approximately 200 highway and interstate miles are being funded. The projects were selected based on a few factors, including estimated construction schedules and cost. The ultimate aim is to widen two-lane highways to four-lane highways in vital corridors to make areas throughout the state more economically desirable for companies.

The project, which is part of CAP, covers a section of U.S. 82 and is in Columbia County. It’s between two cities – El Dorado and Texarkana – which are considered large for the area of Arkansas they occupy. Some people commute between the cities, and the highway is congested. It has an average daily traffic count of 5,200 to 6,300 vehicles. The amount varies based on the section.

Along the Highway
The project covers approximately 5.5 miles of U.S. 82. Along the route, the highway will be widened from two to four lanes. There’s an additional 11-foot turning lane in city areas and other places that have more activity.

Other project elements include constructing two box culverts, which are extensions of culverts that are already there. “The extensions are needed as the existing drainage pipes were not adequate for the water that accumulates during a large rain event,” says Dalton Champagne, the ARDOT Resident Engineer on the project.

Along the east side of the job, there’s a railroad crossing of Patriot Rail, which operates short lines and regional freight railroads and rail services companies throughout the United States.

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Another part of the project is a 432-foot-long bridge that crosses Big Creek. The bridge, which was built in 1969, is being taken down and replaced by a new one to accommodate the expansion. The new bridge is being built off the eastbound lane off the current bridge. Upon completion of the new bridge, the existing bridge will be taken down.

On Firm Ground
Champagne notes that the team has run into the typical challenges that are part of a highway project, including maintaining traffic and guiding commuters through the new construction as they get used to a new route.

It’s an active area. There’s a college – Southern Arkansas University, with a student body of approximately 4,700 students – on the east end of the job. Businesses are located along the route as well.

Other issues have become typical these days, including supply issues and price increases. “Various construction supplies have been difficult to get,” Champagne says. “The striping contractors have not had supplies for paint.”

The skyrocketing price increase in fuel has led the contractor to ask for extra funds. “Their sub is driving an hour to haul gravel and they can’t afford to do it with the elevated gas rates,” Champagne says.

The terrain in the area is relatively flat and does not offer much in the way of fill. The subgrade requires fill since it is unable to support the new road. “We’ve done some soil stabilization to generate the support needed to build a road on top of the soil,” Champagne says. Because of the lack of fill, the team has used lime or cement to help stabilize the soil. However, this is not the preferred method, Champagne notes, since it’s expensive.

Adaptations and Changes
JB James Construction, headquartered in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, is the prime contractor on the project. This is the first time Champagne has worked with them and he has been impressed.
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“They understand the needs in staffing a job and the importance of providing adequate equipment to get the job done,” says Champagne. However, he’s particularly pleased with the contractor’s communication. “When they have a concern that something could arise and slow progress, they let us know immediately, and we talk about it rather than wait till the problem happens and slows progress.”

Several change orders have occurred – including one related to the soil stabilization – and the contractor has been flexible and helped keep things moving forward. Therefore, the project, which began in the spring of 2020, is scheduled to be complete on time in June.

Unfortunately, the issues have impacted the budget. The original contract price was $34.2 million, but the total has risen to $38 million. Most of the funds are being drawn from CAP, while the remainder is from the federal government.

Upon completion of the project, one more section of U.S. 82 between El Dorado and Texarkana will be four lanes. The added capacity will improve safety, reduce congestion, and increase connectivity in Arkansas.

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