The Northwest Arkansas roadway system needs bypass surgery.
A fatty diet of commercial development along Interstate 540 in the last decade has led to clogged arterial streets and high blood pressure for motorists.
The heart of the area economy is struggling to pump commerce through overwhelmed interchanges and packed intersections. The busiest parts of I-540 handle 45,000 to 60,000 vehicles daily, and a recent study by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said 17 of the 19 interchanges on I-540 require improvements.
More than $206 million in federal and state funding is budgeted for widening and interchange work between now and 2030. The best solution in the interim for Northwest Arkansas’ largest cities is to get the local traffic off I-540 with better routes in town.
Nearly $400 million in city, state and federal funds is budgeted for the next 20 years to pay for road improvements within the big four cities, and projects scheduled to open this year will give residents some immediate relief.
John McLarty, transportation planner and assistant director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, worked with area municipalities to pare their wish lists of projects down to the most vital possible with available funding.
“There is nothing that doesn’t fit into the big picture we all agree makes sense,” McLarty said. “Like pieces of a puzzle, it all fits into building into a cohesive transportation system.”
The area has three big-ticket highway items in the final planning stages with the Bella Vista Bypass, Northern Bypass and an access road to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
The three projects are estimated to cost $532 million and will need alternative funding methods such as tolls. A regional mobility authority made up of representatives from Washington and Benton counties must be formed to create funding methods such as tolls or new sales taxes to pay for the projects.
The following is a look at the major street and highway work in Northwest Arkansas:
Bella Vista Bypass
This $211 million project will begin right-of-way acquisition this year and start construction in 2008. The 20-mile project is slated to open in 2010 and will begin on U.S. Highway 71 north of Arkansas Highway 72, go west and north before terminating on 71 in Pineville, Mo.
The Arkansas portion will cost $142 million, $39 million of which is funded through federal earmarks. The remainder will be funded through tolls, which could pay 52 percent of the cost to construct, maintain and operate the bypass.
The cost of the toll will be $1.50 to $2.10 for the 20-mile roadway to redirect many of the 31,000 vehicles passing through Bella Vista daily.
Springdale Northern Bypass
This $362 million project is moving forward with right-of-way appraisals. State and federal funds amount to $62 million, enough to acquire ROW. Construction is scheduled for 2008, and the road could open in 2011.
The remaining $300 million is still unfunded. State and federal earmarks, tax-funded bonds and tolls will be explored. The project has been in the works since the first study on U.S. Highway 412 was commissioned in 1996.
The only east-west corridor in Springdale handles 32,000 to 34,500 vehicles between 71B and I-540 daily.
Airport Access Road
This $40 million project is moving forward in conjunction with the schedule of the Northern Bypass, which will run near Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport at its southeast corner, saving eight miles and $40 million needed to reach I-540.
If the timetable holds, the airport access road could open in 2011. There is $29 million in federal money already earmarked. Airport director Scott Van Laningham said $11 million to $14 million in funding is still needed but ROW acquisition could begin late this year.
The Northwest Arkansas Council recently commissioned a study on a $400 million project to run through western Washington and Benton counties. The proposed route would connect the Bella Vista Bypass with I-540 between West Fork and Greenland.
Anticipated traffic from a completed I-49 from Kansas City to Shreveport will further strain I-540 and may make the bypass necessary.
A state study evaluating I-540 suggests widening it to six and eight lanes in several places. But the cost of widening to eight lanes increases the cost exponentially compared to six lanes.
Fayetteville’s major needs are capacity expanding improvements and better access to the mall economic corridor. The city has access to $130.7 million in road funds ($65.9 million in sales tax-funded bonds and $64.8 million in federal/state funding through 2025). Several major projects are currently under way:
Arkansas Highway 16/Wedington Drive is being widened to five lanes to the western city limits and should be complete in spring 2008 with $4.9 million in state/federal money.
Arkansas Highway 180/Gregg Street is being widened to four lanes from I-540 to Township Avenue. Construction should be complete in May 2008 with $6.5 million in state/federal money.
Plans call for widening Township and adding a turn lane between Gregg Street and College Avenue. The project is not yet funded and will be bid in late 2007.
Improvements to the Gregg Street/North Street intersection, traffic calming around Wilson Park and railroad bridge rehabilitation will begin in the spring and summer and cost $4.27 million. The intersection improvements will add a right turn lane.
Arkansas Highway 112/Razorback Road is being widened to five lanes from 15th Street to 6th Street using state/federal funds and will be complete this summer.
The city will pay $5.2 million of the $6.7 million cost to widen Garland Avenue/Arkansas Highway112 from North Street to Melmar Avenue in 2009. The city will spend $3.66 million to widen Highway 112.
One high-priority project has fallen behind schedule. The widening of Arkansas Highway 265/Crossover Avenue from Arkansas Highway 45/Mission Boulevard to the north city limits was originally planned for construction this winter. The city is paying half of the $15.4 million cost of the two-year project through its road bonds. Right-of-way acquisition has yet to begin and utilities have not yet been moved.
The Mount Comfort/Porter roads interchange improvements will cost $11.63 million. Intersection construction will begin in summer 2008 and the widening of Mount Comfort Road to five lanes from I-540 to Rupple Road will begin in late 2008.
U.S. Highway 71 Business/College Avenue flyover plans are in the works to divert some of the 35,000 to 37,000 vehicles crossing Joyce Boulevard daily. The flyover would allow eastbound traffic on Milsap Drive to veer left and enter the Fulbright Expressway and northbound traffic on College to “fly over” the southbound traffic.
An overpass connecting North Hills Boulevard and Steele Boulevard across the Fulbright Expressway is planned. Fayetteville has access to $7.66 million in federal funds in 2009 out of a total need of around $9.57 million for these two projects, which could be completed by 2010.
Huntsville Road Highway 16 will be widened from Highway 71B to Stonebridge Road in 2009. The city will pay $3.3 million of the $8.3 million project.
Springdale’s biggest need is east-west corridors and north-south connectors. The city has access to $118.7 million in road funds ($105 million in sales tax-funded bonds, $13.7 million in federal/state funds). The city will spend $50.3 million on roads in 2007.
Two of the three east-west corridors should open in 2008:
The Southern Corridor/Oaklawn Drive from 48th Street to Old Missouri/Highway 265 is under construction in three of four phases. The segment from 48th Street to 40th Street is to be complete in July and cost $2.13 million.
The segment from Carley Road to Turner Street is to be completed in 2009 and cost $13.3 million. The segment from Butterfield Coach Road to Electric Avenue is to be completed in October 2008 for $10.6 million.
The segment from Turner to 265 has not been bid. It will cost about $5.1 million.
Both segments of the Central Corridor/Huntsville Avenue are under construction. The phase from Thompson Street/U.S. 71B to Old Missouri Road will be complete in November 2008 and cost $10.9 million. The phase from Old Missouri to Emma Avenue will be complete in February 2008 and cost $5.44 million.
The Northern Corridor/Wagon Wheel Road is still in the design phase. A five-lane design was adopted and the $8.5 million phase from I-540 to Robins Road will bid in November. The $6.1 million phase from Thompson Street to Robins Road will bid in June.
Springdale’s lone project with 2007 federal funding is for Johnson Road reconstruction. The city will receive $13.7 million of the $17.2 million cost.
Rogers’ major needs are north-south corridors, I-540 overpasses and capacity-expanding improvements. The city has access to $83 million in road funds ($53 million in tax-funded bonds, $30 million in federal/state funds).
Major projects now under way will alleviate the congestion at Rogers I-540 interchanges before year’s end:
The extension of Dixieland Road from Laurel Street to Arkansas Highway 264 should be completed by the end of the year. The city has partnered with developers to share the cost.
A $3.4 million, five-lane bridge connecting 40th and 45th Streets should be complete in November. Developers will connect the north side of the bridge to Oak Street to create a route from Walnut Street to Promenade Boulevard.
Developers are building a road connecting Highway 112 with Champions Drive, which should be complete in June. The Pinnacle Group will pay $6.6 million to connect Pinnacle Hills Parkway to Stratsman Lane.
The widening of New Hope Road/Arkansas Highway 94 from I-540 to Highway 71B should be complete in July with $9.6 million in state/federal funds.
Expanding and extending 26th Street from New Hope Road to Pleasant Grove Road will start in late summer and take 18 to 20 months.
Exit 82 at Promenade Boulevard opened on the northbound side of I-540 about a month ago. The $15.4 million state/federal-funded project will be complete in May 2008 with the southbound off-ramp and the Promenade Boulevard overpass.
On the west side of I-540, a north/south route will come online with the completion of five-lane 52nd Street connecting Pinnacle Hills Parkway with Horsebarn Road at the north city limits. Horsebarn is to be widened to five lanes by September 2008 with $5 million in state/federal funds.
Bentonville’s main needs are north-south and east-west corridors, and I-540 interchange improvements. The city has access to $69.3 million in road funds ($25 million line of credit through Arvest Bank paid through sales tax revenue, $44.3 million in state/federal funds).
The widening of SE ‘J’ Street from Arkansas Highway 102 to Walton Boulevard should open in September. The city plans to expand ‘J’ Street from Arkansas Highway 72 to I-540. Both projects have been funded through 50/50 matches with state/federal money.
The city would like to create a new I-540 interchange at the intersection with ‘J’. No federal/state money has been budgeted for this project.
The east-west connection from Tiger Boulevard to McCollum Lane will be complete in early May.
Bentonville will begin work on other needed projects in 2007:
SW ‘I’ Street will be expanded from Highway 102 to Walton Boulevard as well as connect ‘I’ Street to Walton Boulevard via 8th Street
Highway 102 will be expanded from Walton to Greathouse Road with nearly $5 million in state/federal funds.
Bentonville has funding for two other high-priority projects in 2009:
Exit 86 (Highway 62/102) has been identified as the interchange needing the most improvements on I-540 and $4.7 million in federal/state funds have been budgeted.
SE 8th Street will be expanded from two to five lanes and Bentonville has $30.1 million in federal/state funds earmarked for this project.
The Northwest Arkansas roadway system needs bypass surgery.