|By: Mark Gregory, Associate editor
Water study halts highway progress
The Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department said
recently that the next leg of the King Expressway (U.S. Highway
70/270) is on hold pending the outcome of a federally funded thermal
"There's not a whole lot we could do right now until this study is
completed," said Randy Ort, highway department spokesman.
"We have to wait on the results of this study. That's it in a nutshell."
The Federal Highway Administration has agreed to fund a three-year,
$458,700 study of thermal waters found on private land east of Hot
Springs to determine whether it is somehow connected to Hot Springs
National Park's namesake hot springs.
A four-way Letter of Understanding was signed this week between the
U.S. Geological Survey Arkansas Water Science Center, the National
Park Service/Hot Springs National Park, the FHA and the state highway
The state highway department agrees in the L.O.U. to confer with the
Park Service on the results of the investigation, and on any
decisions about construction, and/or use of explosives, in the area.
A resident in the Bratton Drive area off Highway 70 east contacted
the Park Service on March 1 after a well on his property began
yielding water as high as 93 degrees. The well had never been
observed to produce warm water.
The well is about 5.5 miles east of the national park's spring
discharge zone on the west slope of Hot Springs Mountain, and
slightly more than a mile from the last phase of the expressway,
where blasting was used.
"There's not a known connection between the other thermal waters and
this well. And that's what needs to be determined. What, if anything,
is that connection? And, could the construction process in the area--what
impact would that have, if there is a connection?" Ort said.
Local officials consider completing the expressway one of the
community's top priorities, since it would provide the only
connection between the expressway and northern Garland County, and
allow a more direct route from Hot Springs Village to Hot Springs-
area businesses and medical facilities.
"This is still a good project. It's a needed project. It will provide
great benefits for the area. But, the thermal waters are very vital
to Hot Springs, as well. And we need to make sure that we're doing
the best thing so both can co-exist," Ort said.
"I think that it's very important that the Geological Survey do (its)
work for the National Park Service. That information will be used by
us to finalize plans for the extension of the arterial," Ort said.
Whether the design has to be reconfigured depends on the results of
the study, he said.
"We had already selected a line and were beginning to design along
that line, but we're going to hold off, now," Ort said.
The highway department estimates it will take $85 million to acquire
right of way and construct the initial two lanes of the roadway north
from the Morning Star area.
The project would construct a two-lane roadway, at least initially,
about 5.5 miles in length to extend the roadway north from the
intersection of Highway 70 east to the junction of Arkansas highways
5 and 7.
Potential explanations for the recent observation of thermal water in
the Bratton well include the possibility that the presence of hot
water has been overlooked during years of use of the well, the L.O.U.
Alternatively, some recent event could have altered the local
hydrology, introducing hot water into fracture sets intercepted by
the well, it said.
The recent highway and interchange construction provides a "high
visibility mark" in terms of an explanation, it said.
The study tasks include:
- Reconnaissance of other wells in the area to look for other hot water.
- Measurement of groundwater levels to look at direction of
- Collection of water samples to test for similarities between the
thermal water from the hot springs at Hot Springs National Park and
the water found east of the city of Hot Springs.
© Hot Springs Sentinel-Record 2006