Former and current Arkansas Highway Commissioners Bobby Hopper and Dick Trammel, respectively, were part of a group of area officials who gathered Wednesday morning (April 15) to formally break ground on the $100.62 million first phase of the U.S. 412 Bypass north of Springdale.
Hopper and others who’ve pushed for the new road said they weren’t sure the northern bypass around Springdale would get underway in their lifetime. Trammel said the bypass was discussed by commissioners since the early 1990s. He thanked Hopper for his dedication to what is now the Interstate 49 corridor through Benton and Washington counties.
“I don’t know where we would be without I-49,” Trammel said.
Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, told the group that the 4.5 miles of new construction from I-49 westward to Highway 112 will eventually link to a connector highway planned by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport Authority and provide an easier route to the regional airport.
“This is part of more than $750 million in highway construction and improvements being made in Benton and Washington counties now or in the coming weeks,” Bennett said.
The nearly $101 million first stage of the new bypass is the largest single contract ever awarded by the Highway Commission. The construction will include 12 bridges and about 4.5 miles of a four-lane, divided highway section. Bennett said the first stage of construction is expected to be completed by mid 2019. The new road will be an access-controlled freeway and will not include exits between I-49 and Highway 112 to provide a quicker, more direct route to XNA.
“We are so happy to see this day arrive. We have been busy on our environmental study at this time and I told our guys last week that we need to be moving forward with the plans for the connector road. When this leg is done consumers will be able to go from I-49 near Lowell straight to XNA,” Scott Van Laningham, XNA executive director, told The City Wire at the event.
He said those now heading out to XNA run the risk of getting behind school buses and tractors on the narrow two-lane roads which can make for delays and frustration. He said it is not a good mixture of traffic with school buses carrying children and people rushing to catch a plane.
“We also think when this project is complete the airport will be able to attract more aviation development for cargo freight,” Van Laningham said.
Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse joked about where the bypass is located, asking if it was Bethel Heights, Lowell or Springdale. He said calling it the Springdale Northern Bypass was just fine with him, although the official name is the U.S. 412 Bypass as later phases will eventually connect to 412 to the west side of Springdale near Tontitown.
The eastern leg of the project will someday connect to 412 near Sonora. Highway commission officials said there has been no funding discussed for what would be several miles of new four lane highway at a cost of roughly $5 million per mile in rural and suburban areas.
Bennett told the crowd that while several Arkansas Highway projects were shelved recently because of uncertainty with federal funding, the much-need U.S. 412 Bypass — at least this first leg of it — is going to get built.
Trammel reminded the crowd about the source of funding for this project and other critical road projects in the region.
“You and the voters of this state stepped up to the plate and approved Issue 1 for the half-cent sales tax back in 2012. Without this sales tax funding for the Connecting Arkansas Program, this project and the widening of I-49 to six lanes wouldn’t be happening,” Trammel said.
Northwest Arkansas is getting nearly $800 million of new and improved road infrastructure through CAP funding along with some federal and local contributions. Trammel said the orange barrels are a sign “things will get better.” But he added “it won’t be anytime soon.”
The much-needed widening of the Interstate 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. Trammel said four of those have been completed at a cost of $40 million and there are seven more underway with at 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.
Following is how the $605 million is being spent along I-49 in the two counties.
• Bella Vista Bypass– 14.5 miles of new construction which is complete on the Arkansas side at a cost of $150 million.
• The Highway 412 Bypass – 4.5 miles of new road construction from I-49 in north Springdale toward Northwest Regional Airport back around to U.S. 412 near Tontitown. This project is one of the last to begin at a cost of $125 million.
• I-49 widening along 26 miles from Fayetteville to North Bentonville. The cost of this work is $200 million with a expected completion date of 2017.
• I-49 interchange work which is ongoing is expected to cost $130 million and take three more years to complete.
There are four other large road projects in the region already underway that are not part of the I-49 work, but are notable.
• The Highway 62 Prairie Grove Bypass: $16 million
• Highway 62 widening from Avoca to Garfield: $24 million
• Highway 102 through Centerton: $5 million of work is done, $15 million committed
• Widening of Highway 265 from North Fayetteville through Springdale: $25 million