NWA growth fuels new $101 million U.S. 412 bypass project

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 655 views 

More road construction is on tap for Springdale. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department agreed Wednesday (Dec. 17) to pay nearly $101 million for the construction of the first section of the U.S. 412 Bypass of Springdale.

This is one of the region’s highest priority projects as it will facilitate an easier drive to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport from Interstate 49 and also provide another east-west corridor for traffic through north Springdale, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council.

The Phase I project is slated to begin early next year. The $100.62 million bid went to Eutaw Construction of Aberdeen, Miss., to build the four-mile, four-lane section of the highway that will make the drive to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport more accessible from I-49. 

This project is part of the overall transportation infrastructure that has been made possible because statewide voters approved a half-cent sales tax in November 2012. That sales tax is supporting the Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP).

The CAP is paying for major projects across the state, including three key Northwest Arkansas projects. Widening sections of I-49 to six lanes, building a two-lane version of the Bella Vista Bypass and construction of the four-mile section of the U.S. 412 Bypass of Springdale are the largest CAP projects in Northwest Arkansas. 

The three Northwest Arkansas projects for more than a decade have been listed as top priorities for state and Northwest Arkansas leaders, according the Northwest Arkansas Council.

U.S. 412 Bypass construction crews will cut a path that heads west from I-49 near the Wagon Wheel Road exit. They’ll build bridges over creeks and secondary roads on their way to where the bypass will connect with Arkansas Highway 112. The work is scheduled to be complete in late 2018, according to the Northwest Arkansas Council.

The ultimate goal of the U.S. 412 Bypass is to run from just west of Tontitown to the community of Sonora, which is east of Springdale. The completed highway will allow east-west travelers to avoid U.S. 412 (Sunset Avenue/Robinson Avenue) through Springdale, which can be one of the region’s most congested roads.

Other projects already undertaken by Northwest Arkansas communities and the state Highway Department include:
• Springdale’s Don Tyson Parkway and its access to I-49; and
• Fayetteville’s construction of the the Flyover ramp that allows easier access from College Avenue to connect to the Fulbright Expressway and ultimately I-49.

Northwest Arkansas communities and the state Highway Department have taken major steps over the past few years to improve the region’s east-west connectivity. Among the projects that improved east-west connections were Springdale’s Don Tyson Parkway.

Arkansas 265 has also been widened to four lanes providing another north to south route from east Fayettteville to east Springdale as well as improvements to Pleasant Grove Road in Rogers and the widening of U.S. 412 through Siloam Springdale. Bentonville has also planned to add another route from I-49 to downtown via a widening and extension to 8th Street which will begin construction late next year. 

Fueling the need for more roads and wider roads is the more than two decades of strong population growth in the region and the continued growth of the metro economy.

Population has grown by 1.9% to 491,966 in the region. GDP has lifted by 5.6% in the last five years to $22.593 billion. The region's per capita personal income and annual wages have also risen, which has led to a small decline – 0.4% – in the area's poverty rate, which stands at 16.8%.

Enplanement traffic at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) likely broke a new annual enplanement record on Dec. 5, and could end the year with around 640,000 enplanements. Travelers flying out of XNA during November totaled 49,222, up 6.47% compared to the 46,229 during November 2013. For the first 11 months of 2014, enplanements at XNA total 591,480, up 10.37% compared to the same period in 2013. The year-to-date 2014 traffic is up 7.17% compared to the same period in 2007 – the year XNA reached its record enplanement of 598,886.

The Northwest Arkansas jobless rate in October dipped below 4% for the first time since October 2008. The region’s rate also was the lowest metro rate in Arkansas. Metro employment during October of 224,698 was above the 223,532 in September, and also above the 222,492 in October 2013. The October numbers are subject to revision.

An NWA Interstate 49 Corridor Report compiled by CBRE brokers David Erstine and Clinton Bennett and released in September also pointed to dynamic economic growth in the region.

Erstine said Northwest Arkansas is predicted to be the third fastest-growing economy among large metropolitan areas in the nation through 2020, behind only Austin and Raleigh-Durham, according to IHS Global Insight.

“Crossing over the 500,000 population mark was a milestone, an important metric for certain retailers and restaurants. Another 25,000 to 35,000 people and Northwest Arkansas will move into the top 100 metro markets in the nation,” he said.

In Benton County, the report attributed much of the developer confidence back to Wal-Mart’s exploring other store formats which is requiring some suppliers to add to their staffs and need larger offices. Erstine said Tyson Food’s recent purchase of Hillshire Brands also puts the region in the national spotlight.