Six NWA highway projects approved for bids

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 397 views 

The first six highway construction projects funded by the “Connecting Arkansas Program” (CAP) are in Benton and Washington counties.

Members of the Arkansas Highway Commission met Wednesday (July 24) in Little Rock and approved a list of 32 highway construction projects funded through the half-cent sales tax increase voters approved in November 2012.

According to the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, 70% of the estimated $1.8 billion raised in the 10-year tax program will go toward the state highway system, 15% to be portioned to the 75 counties and 15% to Arkansas cities.

Arkansas highway officials now refer to projects funded by the sales tax increase as “CAP projects.”

“‘CAP’ is a perfect name, since the planned improvements to our state’s four-lane highways will increase CAPacity and improve connectivity,” notes a message from AHTD Director Scott Bennett. “And, because the revenue generated by Issue Number 1 has a CAP of 10 years, all this work will be completed in that timeframe.”

The six projects in Northwest Arkansas are:
• U.S. 71/Bella Vista interchange, bid to let in late 2013;
• U.S. 71 to Arkansas 72 South, bid to let in late 2013;
• U.S. 71 and County Road 34 to the Missouri line, bid to let in early 2014;
• U.S. 412 (Arkansas 112 to Interstate 540), bid to let in late 2014
• I-540 (Highway 62/102 to 72), bid to let in early 2015; and,
• I-540 (U.S. 71B to U.S. 412), bid to let in mid 2015.

The six projects are all part of the three primary highway construction projects in the area – $150 million estimated for construction of a U.S. 412 northern bypass, $125 million to complete six-lane widening of Interstate 540 between Fayetteville and Rogers, and $100 million for the Bella Vista Bypass.

AHTD Spokesman Randy Ort said the six projects made the top of the list because “they were much further along in the process.”

“It was a logical choice,” Ort said.

Ort said there are no estimates on the construction costs for the 32 segments announced Wednesday.

Rob Smith, a spokesman for the Northwest Arkansas Council, said the project selection begins the process of alleviating an estimated $103 million annual cost of congestion in the region. The traffic congestion across Benton and Washington counties was studied by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute in early 2012. Eight separate stretches of road were studied for the quantitative costs of lost time and added fuel expenditures.

“Ultimately the thing that we’re thrilled about is the highway department saw this (reducing traffic congestion in Northwest Arkansas ) as a priority,” Smith said. “And the fact that these were shovel-ready projects is why they were at the front of the line.”

Those projects aren’t the end of the line for Northwest Arkansas work. A bid on work for I-540 (Highway 264 and New Hope Road) should be let in mid 2015. A bid for U.S. 412 work between Highways 67 and 141, and work for I-540 (U.S. 412 and Wagon Wheel Road) is expected to be let in mid 2017.