Highway contracts in conjunction with the Interstate 49 widening through Northwest Arkansas generated more than $41.48 million for construction crews in 2015. Nearly $350 million of highway projects are in the works in Benton and Washington counties, according to state highway officials.
Much of the work is funded by a half-cent sales tax voters passed in 2012. The revenue generated from the tax over 10-years is being used to pay for a four-lane highway system across the state and fund lane expansions to I-49 throughout Benton and Washington counties.
Orange barrels and concrete barricades have become regular fixtures along the I-49 corridor in the two-county area. In 2015, there were roughly 30 major road projects underway in the two counties. It is estimated that all work in the region estimated for completion by 2019 will cost more than $698 million, according to Dick Trammel, a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission.
The most extensive project is the much-needed widening of the Interstate 49 corridor that links the region together and to the rest of the state and country. The I-49 corridor widening involves different projects slated through 2017 for a total price tag of $605 million, according to Trammel. In 2014, four projects were completed at a cost of $40 million. Seven others began in 2015 with a cost of $110 million, with 14 other projects on tap for an estimated $455 million.
The southern most local project underway involves a two-lane 3.85-mile expansion from I-49 mile marker 68 to 72 from Johnson to Springdale. This project is slated for completion in early 2017 with a $28.3 million price tag. APAC-Central was awarded the contract. A bridge widening project underway along Highway 264 in Lowell is slated for completion in mid-2016. This project costs $6.1 million and also was awarded to APAC-Central.
The widening of I-49 from U.S. 412 in Springdale to Wagon Wheel Road is underway with estimated cost of $21.6 million. This section is scheduled to be completed later this year.
Looking ahead, the I-49 widening from Highway 264 in Lowell to New Hope Road in Rogers is slated to begin by mid-year and cost between $40 million and $60 million. The two bridge contracts along I-49 in Benton County where the road has already been widened is also slated to begin by summer. Construction on the wider bridges at Highway 62/102 at mile marker 86 along with the new 8th Street exit are set to begin this summer with an estimated $20 million to $40 million cost. The bridge at exit 85, or S. Walton Boulevard in Bentonville, will also be widened to six lanes beginning later this year. That cost is an estimated $10 million to $20 million.
Aside from the widening projects there are two large bypasses underway to help with traffic flow through Bella Vista and to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
BYPASS & INTERCHANGES
Work continues on the $186 million Bella Vista Bypass, dubbed I-549, that is supposed to help divert truck traffic off U.S. 71 when the project is completed. This 14-mile loop mostly involves new road construction using some parts of Highway 72. In August 2015, a two-mile stretch was opened from Highway 72 to County Road 34 at a cost of $13.6 million.
The remaining 6.5 miles of new road under construction is budgeted at $52.6 million with completion slated for mid-2016, according to Steve Lawrence, district engineer for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. This leg will link U.S. 71 to Highway 72 near Gravette.
The state estimates the average cost for a mile of highway on this project is between $5.5 million and $6 million. The remaining northern piece of the bypass has been put on hold until Missouri can find the $33.8 million for its part of the project. The overall cost of the Bella Vista Bypass is expected to top $186 million.
“Arkansas will not build a road to nowhere. As soon as Missouri approves the funding we will … finish the last two miles (to the state line),” Lawrence said. “The work going south is well underway and is expected to be completed by mid-year, weather permitting.”
Traffic studies estimate the bypass will be an alternate route to U.S. 71 for about 5,000 vehicles a day and when completed should help with traffic backlogs throughout Bella Vista during rush hours.
The other remaining piece of the I-549 project is the interchange from U.S. 71 in north Bentonville. Again, the job is on hold until Missouri begins their work. The estimated cost of the interchange to handle truck traffic is an estimated $20 million to $40 million. A temporary roundabout is being constructed by Benton County road crews to handle local traffic.
The U.S. 412 Bypass began in March 2015 and includes 4.5 miles of new road construction from I-49 in north Springdale toward Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport back to U.S. 412 out near Tontitown. The cost of the project is $125 million with completion expected in mid 2019.
Several interchange overhauls along I-49 are also slated for completion by 2017. The interchange improvements at Highway 264 in Lowell began in 2015 and continues with completion expected by mid-year. Work on the Elm Springs interchange in Springdale was bid out recently and work is expected to soon begin. Two interchange improvements were completed in Fayetteville in 2014. The interchange improvements overall cost $130 million.