Dozens of Benton County residents turned out to a public meeting Thursday (Oct. 23) in Bentonville to hear more about the interim modified connector – aka, a roundabout – deemed the best solution for traffic flow at the southern entrance of the Bella Vista Bypass.
The project is an interim solution and will provide access from Hiwasse to Bentonville via a new 6.3-mile connector road that will connect to U.S. 71 and provide an additional route to Bentonville from Northwest Bella Vista and the Highlands area. Construction on the roundabout connector at the south end of the bypass near the Bella Vista and Bentonville line is slated to begin next year and open by mid 2016.
The $52.6 million project is funded by the 1/2-cent sales tax the state approved in 2012, according to Danny Straessle, assistant public information director with the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department.
Straessle said the 6.3-mile connection to the bypass will not have any other additional on or exit ramps between the south entrance all the way to Hiwasse. He said users will be able to access the road from County Road 34 and two ramps along Arkansas 72 near Hiwasse.
“The roundabout is the best solution for now that will allow users to access the bypass from U.S. 71 and make use of the bypass on the Arkansas side until such a time that the work on the Missouri side is complete,” Straessle said.
Residents took time to visit various stations set up at the public meeting. One of the stations featured an educational video on how to use a roundabout. Residents viewing the video did not express opposition to using the roundabout. Some of the residents did voice concern about the connector road and the fact there will be no way for access it at the midway points of Punkin Hollow or Miller Church Roads in Bella Vista. Straessle said the bypass was constructed as an alternative route for trucks to get them off of U.S. 71 and ease traffic congestion around red lights though Bella Vista.
He said most of the 40,000 residents in Bella Vista and McDonald County that commute into Benton County for work will continue to use U.S. 71 and access I-49 in Bentonville. The bypass, even when completed on the Missouri side, is not likely to change that.
The permanent solution to accessing the bypass from U.S. 71 is a large overpass expected to cost $30 million. This project was put on hold after Missouri could not come up with the funding to finish its portion of the bypass. Straessle said the roundabout project will meet traffic needs and the large overpass will remain on hold.
The Bella Vista bypass includes 14.5 miles of new construction on the Arkansas side at a cost $150 million. The 6.3 miles of connector road and roundabout are included in that figure.
The widening of the I-49 corridor that links the region together and to the rest of the state and country entails 25 different projects slated through 2017 for a total price tag of $605 million. Four of those have been completed at a cost of $40 million and there are seven underway now with a cost of $110 million. The biggest expense is yet to come, as 14 more future projects carry an estimated price tag of $455 million, according to Arkansas Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel, who recently gave an overview of road work in the two-county area.