One of the largest Interstate 49 work projects outside of the Bella Vista and North Springdale bypasses will be up to $65 million in major improvements on the Highway 112 and I-49 interchange extending 2.5 miles from Porter Road to the Fulbright Expressway in North Fayetteville.
The work will bring with it more cement trucks, cranes and orange barrels that have become part of the regional landscape as nearly $600 million of federal, state and local money is being spent during the next four years to help traffic mobility and improve safety along the Interstate 49 corridor from Bella Vista to South Fayetteville.
Randy Ort, spokesman for the Arkansas State Highway Department, said the segment of the I-49 widening project likely will not begin for two more years. Then it’s expected take at least two more years to complete because there will be five bridges constructed with several feeder access roads built to improve traffic flow and safety as well as to alleviate the need for lane changes.
“Right now there are three southbound lanes merging in a short time span with the outer lane as an exit to Highway 112 near the Sam’s Club. Commuters merging from the Fulbright Expressway who want to exit take the Highway 112 exit have to cross two lanes of traffic in a short time span,” Ort explained.
The proposed plan, unveiled to the public Thursday (Sept. 25) in Fayetteville, indicates a separate lane dedicated to the Highway 112 exit which is marked at least one mile up the road. The same is true for northbound traffic entering I-49 near the Highway 112 interchange. Two new access roads will be constructed with one leading to the Fulbright Expressway without ever having to get on the interstate. Another access road for northbound traffic via the Highway 112 interchange will be a newly constructed flyover ramp that will merge onto I-49 North at least one mile up the road.
“This new design will require drivers to make their decision about their destination much earlier. This should provide a safer roadway because there will be no need to change lanes to make an exit,” Ort said.
He explained that traffic going straight through north and south on I-49 in this area will have two dedicated lanes in each direction around the big curve. Ort said there are a few landowners being approached by the city of Fayetteville for right-of-way purchases which are needed for the feeder road construction.
The city of Fayetteville has agreed to take care of the utility moves and right-of-ways and put another $1.5 million toward the construction costs. Ort said the total projected cost of this widening, access roads addition which include five new bridges is between $55 million and $65 million, one of the more expensive legs of the overall corridor project.
Washington County has highway crews working to construct a long bridge between the Highway 112 and Porter Road exits. Ort said this is time consuming work and the project has three phases.
“They are building a two lane bridge in middle median right now. Once that is finished they will open it and close one side and rework that, then do the same thing with the other side. This project should be completed by next summer,” Ort said.
Once the bridge construction at Porter Road is completed in mid 2015, Ort said construction on the widening project will begin just south of Johnson and go north to U.S. 412. This should take about 18 months or longer, depending on weather. After that, the work will begin on the Highway 112 interchanges and access roads. That large project will take two full years, according to an early estimate.
Ort said the last leg of the Washington County work will be to widen I-49 from Highway 412 to Wagon Wheel, which is the county line.
The widening project through Lowell from Wagon Wheel Road should be completed by Thanksgiving, according to Ort. He said the next phase in Benton County will be the short leg from New Hope Road to Walton Boulevard.
Ort said the widening project from Exit 86 near NorthWest Arkansas Community College to Exit 88, Central Avenue in Bentonville, will also incorporate the 8th Street access ramp which will only go in one direction – west toward downtown Bentonville.
That $53 million project is expected to relieve congestion at the Exit 86 interchange and along 14th Street in Bentonville because it will provide an alternative route to downtown Bentonville.
Ort said the Bella Vista bypass, to the Missouri state line had a price tag of $150 million. The North Springdale bypass from Highway 412 toward the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport is expected to cost $126 million and is one of the last projects on the list.
He said widening of I-49 will cost around $130 million and includes the extensive interchange work along the corridor by cities with help from the state.
The Bella Vista bypass south connector interchange is slated to cost $30 million, but is on hold until Missouri finishes their part of the project. In the meantime a temporary roundabout is under construction to provide access to the bypass at the south end of Bella Vista. A path is being cut through the hillside for this roundabout. The cost of the temporary roundabout is budgeted at $5 million, according to county officials.