story Jamie Smith
A $53 million road construction project will provide another major east/west corridor for traffic in Bentonville and a major step in the project is underway. The plan is for the road to be widened to have two traveling lanes on both sides of the road with some portions having a center turn lane and other portions having a median, said Troy Galloway, community development director in the City of Bentonville.
Eighth Street will be widened from SW I Street to Interstate 49 and a new interchange will be constructed to Eight Street from the I-49. Both components of the expansion are considered one project with multiple partners taking part including the City of Bentonville and Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.
Other entities such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and NorthWest Arkansas Community College are working closely with the city as the project greatly affects their respective operations. Wal-Mart, in fact, is one of two corporate partners who are helping fund the project.
Mike Churchwell, transportation director for the City of Bentonville, said the $53 million is the estimated turnkey cost on the entire project and that $35 million of federal money was initially earmarked towards that cost. However, “obligation limitation” has lowered that to approximately $31.8 million.
The AHTD will contribute $4 million and the remainder will be split between the city of Bentonville and Wal-Mart Stores. When the project began several years ago, the city partnered with Walmart and Bentonville Plaza with both corporate partners providing $500,000 for the project. The agreement was amended and now Walmart will pay half of what remains after the federal earmarked funds and the state highway department funds with the city paying the other 50%.
PROJECT TIMELINE, IMPACT
Approximately 90 right-of-ways need to be purchased before the project can be bid. At least one property has already closed, Churchwell said. It is expected to take seven to eight months for all the right-of-ways to be purchased. Then another 15-18 months for utility relocation before the project can be bid. The AHTD will bid the interchange and the city will bid the widening project.
Churchwell said with a project of this magnitude it’s not unlikely that interest will come from outside the region. Bidding is expected to take place in late 2016 to early 2017. It’s estimated to be a two-year construction project.
With thousands of employees, vendors and other visitors going to the many Wal-Mart entities located on or near Eighth Street each day, the retail leader has a great interest in the project. Walmart also has an interest in helping improve the community, said Brian Nick, spokesperson. The expansion project will help the overall commerce in the area, he said.
“People will be able to get where they need to go,” he said.
NWACC is another entity that is greatly affected by the plans.
“The project will cross college property for both the interchange and the Eighth Street connection to Water Tower Road, and will include the widening of Water Tower Road as well. Water Tower Road will be widened to the west, onto NWACC property,” said Steven Hinds, executive director of public relations and marketing. “NWACC is concerned about the lay down areas of all the projects and whether those projects will use NWACC property during the construction work. Noise is a concern, as well as overall access and safety for our students, staff and faculty.
“The main concern from the Eighth Street project is having limited access to the northern part of the college property and the required planning for signalized or adequate access to/from the southern half of campus at some location between 8th street and Highway 102,” Hinds concluded. “In addition, a significant amount of campus space will be utilized for this and the Water Tower widening project.”
The college is in the midst of changing its Facility Master Plan, including the development of a northern entrance to the campus and maintaining connectivity between the north and south parts of the campus.
“We are also considering our neighbors, Mercy Convenient Care and FM Corporation, in regards to their access and egress needs. We have met with them to discuss these issues,” Hinds said.
A cost for these adjustments cannot be determined until a final plan is developed.
While there are some potential problems to overcome, college officials agreed the project will be an overall benefit.
“Obviously there are some situations that all the parties are seeking to address, such as the potential for the college not to have access to its northernmost property, noise, and loss of property,” Hinds said. “However, the project should improve the traffic flow through Bentonville and it may relieve some of the congestion on Arkansas 102.”