MacArthur Drive Construction and History

MacArthur Drive is an 8-mile long multilane bypass around the western side of Alexandria, Louisiana. Throughout its length it bears the designation of US Highway 71, and in places the additional road numbers for US 165, US 167, and LA 28.

In Alexandria, the main part of MacArthur drive (U.S. 71) south of the traffic circle at the intersection of Business 165, 165, and 71 is also called Jefferson Highway. The Jefferson Highway was the first north-south transcontinental road to traverse North America. Dedicated in 1919, it stretched from Winnipeg, Canada to New Orleans. 

Background and Rationale for Construction

Sign for MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle, Alexandria, Louisiana Sign for MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle

World War II resulted in a major build up of military activity in Central Louisiana. Within a 30-miles radius of Alexandria, the military constructed Camp Livingston, Camp Claiborne, Esler Field, Alexandria Army Air Base (later England Air Force Base), and reactivated Camp Beauregard. Camp Polk was located further west of Alexandria near Leesville.

To speed military vehicles around the area, a new four lane bypass named MacArthur Drive was constructed through what was farms and pastures on the western outskirts of Alexandria.

The highway incorporated the most advanced highway design techniques of the time. It included two "circles," an interchange, and limited access main lanes. Louisiana Highway 28, the Gardner Highway, running west from MacArthur Drive, was a straight paved highway, rumored to be an emergency military airplane runway.

The new Alexandria bypass would be called "MacArthur Drive," in honor of the famous Army General Douglas MacArthur who served during the 1930s and World War II.

MacArthur Drive Project Initiation

The eight-lane MacArthur Dirve construction project got underway in 1942, and was designed to divert incoming and outgoing traffic on major highways around Alexandria. Federal highway officials acqured title to 86 parcels of land along the right of way, and teams of 200 men worked day and night to construct earthworks, grade, and pave.

When the bypass opened in the spring of 1944, only military vehicles could use the four central lanes. On either side of those roadways, smaller dual-lane roads accommodated civilian cars and trucks. The project cost over $1 million and successfully relieved congestion in Alexandria's central busines district.

Major Design Features

MacArthur Drive Exit 80 from I-49 in Alexandria MacArthur Drive Exit 80 from I-49 in Alexandria

At the north end of MacArthur where it connected with North Bolton Avenue (LA-1) was the "North Traffic Circle". This was a relatively small, tight circle (or roundabout in today's terminology), and was demolished during construction of ramps leading to/from I-49.

Towards the south, where MacArthur Drive intersects with Masonic Drive, is the larger "South Traffic Circle". This circle is still in use, although the State DOTD has had plans for years to replace it. The circle is full of trees, low lying swampy areas, and palmettos.

There is also an interchange at MacArthur and Louisiana Highway 28 (Gardner Highway), with sweeping, steeply banked curves and entrance/exit ramps.

Service roads were part of the design to ease traffic volumes on the main arteries. Also, an overpass over Jackson Street was added in the early 1970s.

Today, both the north and south ends of MacArthur Drive intersect with Interstate Highway I-49.

MacArthur Drive Lakes

At least three lakes existed along MacArthur Drive. One (now filled) was located just north of Elliott Street behind present day Sonic and Dairy Queen, and a second (filled) just south of Jackson Street. Both were still filled with water, and neighborhood fishing spots, around 1960, and possibly beyond.

MacArthur Drive Airport hangar Baker/Howell Houseboat Project ... hangar can be seen in the background of the photo submitted by Rusty Baker

A third lake (still in existence) was just north of Shirley Park Place and MacArthur, near the South Traffic Circle. The lakes were actually borrow pits used in building up the MacArthur roadway and curve embankments across the virtually flat farmland on which the highway was constructed.

MacArthur Drive Airport

Gordon Baker and his brother Ben H. Baker, Jr., acquired a strip of land on the southwest corner of the intersection of MacArthur Drive and Highway 28. They then opened Hub City Air Service on the grass field, on which they also kept milk cows.

It was transformed into an airport for private planes and crop dusters. Hangars were located on the west side of the airfield as seen in the aerial photo below taken in the 1950s.

The site today is occupied by Super-One supermarket and other businesses.

Aerial view of the MacArthur Drive Airport circa 1950s
Aerial view of the MacArthur Drive Airport circa 1950s

 


Commercial Growth Along MacArthur Drive

While the roadway was initially through uninhabited, undeveloped farm and pasture land, over the years commercial activity grew. Motels like the Holiday Inn and the Southerner, restaurants such as Effie's, retail establishments, and shopping centers such as MacArthur Village Shopping Center at Jackson Street were built.

Other early busineeses included Mat Matherne's By-Pass ESSO, Reed & Bell Drive-In, Cotton Brothers Bakery, Brister's Marine, the Cowboy Store, Burger Chef, Plantation Manor, and the Fleur de Lis Motel. There was also the Showtown Twin Drive-in near the North Traffic Circle, and the Joy Drive-In at the current site of Office Depot.

In 1968 Louisiana State Police Troop E Headquarters was relocated to North MacArthur Drive near the old North Traffic Circle. This location served as Troop E Headquarters until 2000 and was nicknamed "Fort Wagner" after the current Troop Commander, at that time, Charles E. Wagner.


MacArthur Drive Maps

Overview of MacArthur Drive Showing Major Features
Overview of MacArthur Drive in Alexandria Louisiana showing major design features such as traffic circles and interchangs
Map of MacArthur Drive Interchange with LA Highway 28
Map of MacArthur Drive Interchange with LA Highway 28 in Alexandria Louisiana
MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle Aerial View
MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle Aerial View in Alexandria, Louisiana
Map of Alexandria Area WWII Military Camps
World War II military camps in the Alexandria Louisiana area Camp Livingston Esler Field Camp Beauregard Alexandria Army Air Base, later known as England Air Force Base Camp Claiborne Pollock Army Air Field

Present Day Google Map of MacArthur Drive in Alexandria Louisiana

MacArthur Drive Photographs

MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle, Alexandria, Louisiana - Present Day
MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle, Alexandria, Louisiana - Present Day
South Traffic Circle traffic, at junction with US71 and US165 - Present Day
MacArthur Drive South Traffic Circle sign, Alexandria Louisiana
South Traffic Circle swamp scene with Palmettos
South Traffic Circle Landscape with Palmettos