The Highway Department will "defer additional preliminary engineering and environmental analysis on the proposed U.S. 62 improvements within the City of Green Forest to a future date," officials said in a press release.
At an informational meeting in June, the city's residents spoke out in broad opposition to several different proposals by the AHTD to either expand U.S. 62 to four lanes through the center of town or re-route it altogether either north or south of the downtown area, bypassing the center of town and the businesses there.
In their press release Thursday, AHTD acknowledged that widening U.S. 62 through downtown is "not feasible, mainly because of the number of relocatees, including several historic buildings."
"However, the community's local and state elected officials and some business owners have continued to express concern over the possible impact of a bypass on the local economy, which has factored into the decision to defer action on this project," Highway officials said.
Mayor Charles Reece is one who had been an outspoken opponent of bypassing downtown by re-routing U.S. 62, and he said late Thursday he is pleased with the Highway Department's announcement.
"Obviously, I think it's good for the city and our business owners," Reece said.
He added that most Green Forest residents had been opposed to the project. The Carroll County News obtained copies of residents' comment forms that were filled out at the June public hearing held by the Highway Department. About half were opposed to AHTD's plans; the rest were mixed or supported one or the other of the bypass proposals. The forms can be downloaded and viewed online at http://www.carrollconews.com/files/comme....
"My thoughts are, 'Are we gonna need it one day? Yeah.' But now is not the right time," Reece said.
He said that, given the current economic climate, the city needs time to strengthen its economy before a bypass is implemented.
The Highway Depart-ment said in its press release that it will now turn its focus toward other segments of U.S. 62 that local officials and the department's staff have identified as being a high priority for needing improvements.
"Improvements to Highway 62 are needed in numerous locations within this highway corridor," AHTD Director Scott Bennett said. "Therefore, the department will now redirect its efforts and funding to areas that warrant improvement from a safety and capacity standpoint."
Reece said he hoped that would include installing turn lanes on U.S. 62 through Green Forest, helping alleviate congestion, particularly on the segment of highway around the cattle sale barn, but he acknowledged this might be a long shot with the Highway Department.
Don McNeely, who represents Green Forest's District 9 on the Carroll County Quorum Court, said he was pleased with the news as well, because many of his constituents had opposed the bypass proposals.
He added that he had thought AHTD might back down, but he hadn't known for sure of course.
County Judge Sam Barr declined to comment because he said he had not yet read the press release Thursday afternoon.
AHTD officials said they will keep area residents informed of any new U.S. 62 improvement projects that will be developed and evaluated to address the identified needs within this corridor, the press release stated.