With a population on the brink of 500,000, Benton and Washington counties grew beyond their infrastructure long ago. More than a dozen major road projects are underway in Benton County, which means the growing pains will exist for a few more years, said Steve Lawrence, chief engineer for District 9 of the Arkansas Highway & Transportation Department.
Lawrence recently spoke at the Bentonville-Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce Business Matters breakfast meeting sharing the timelines and costs of these projects throughout Benton County.
After more than a decade of planning, the first section of the Bella Vista Bypass opened for traffic on Tuesday (April 22). This three miles section connects U.S. 72S and U.S. 72N bypassing the small town of Hiwasse. The section cost was $20 million. The next phase is slated to open this fall which connects U.S. 72N to C.R. 34, a $13 million project. The biggest stretch of bypass construction began in February from U.S. 71 to U.S. 72, a $53 million project slated for completion in the fall of 2016, Lawrence said.
Two more phases of the Bella Vista Bypass have been put on hold until Missouri can come up with the funds to build their portion of the highway. Lawrence said it will take $10 million to connect C.R. 34 to the Missouri line and there is also $30 million tagged to build the interchange at the southern entrance of the bypass at Highway 71 between Bentonville and Bella Vista.
In the meantime, the state is building a roundabout to provide connectivity between the bypass and U.S. 71 and junction to Interstate 540, now called I-49. The roundabout is an interim cure so cars and trucks can travel the finished portions of the bypass, Lawrence said.
One of the more visible projects is the widening of the new I-49 to six lanes from U.S. 62 to U.S. 72 — a 26-mile stretch taking place over the next two and half years. The widening of I-49 will take place over the next three years. The first phase from Wagon Wheel to Highway 264 it is a $15 million job with completion slated for this fall.
The next phase expected to begin this summer is construction from New Hope Road, Exit 84 in Rogers up to Exit 86 at Highways 62/102, Rogers/Bentonville. Lawrence said next year there is $60 million of widening projects slated for the new I-49 corridor through Benton County that will be conducted in two phases a two-mile stretch from Exit 86 north to Exit 88 — a $20 million project. Widening from Exit 78 in Lowell up to New Hope Road at Exit 84 with a $40 million price tag. Lawrence said there is also a major interchange improvement project on tap for 2016 at Exit 85 Bentonville/Rogers.
Elsewhere in the county, two other large projects are nearing completion. The state is widening U.S. 62 between Avoca and Garfield to five lanes. Lawrence said this $23 million project is slated for completion in the fall of 2015. U.S. 102 from Greenhouse Road in Bentonville to Centerton is also getting a five lane makeover with a $7 million price tag. The work is close to completion.
Two other large projects in Washington County are also nearing completion. The Fayetteville flyover has been an 18-month project costing $6.2 million. Contractors are ready to pour the concrete in the next couple of weeks as soon as temperatures stay above 50 degrees. The flyover will connect traffic headed north on College Avenue with easy access to the Fulbright Expressway without having to go through the red light and make a U-turn at Joyce Boulevard. The project is expected to ease traffic congestion around the Northwest Arkansas Mall area.
In Springdale, the $11 million Don Tyson interchange in slated to open in August and will provide an alternate route to U.S. 71 and the business district. The goal is also to help alleviate traffic congestion on U.S. 412. City officials also expect this will open up development by the Arvest Ball Park as it provides easier access to the west side of the interstate.