As the Northwest Arkansas region grows in population, it’s vital that corresponding infrastructure also grows, according to airport, highway, city and chamber officials, gathered Friday (Feb. 29) during the Bentonville/Bella Vista Chamber of Commerce Business Matters breakfast.
Emceed by Chamber President Dana Davis, the event featured updates from Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department; Bob McCaslin, Bentonville mayor; and Terry Franklin, director of finance and properties at Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA).
“We have 56,000 people coming here to work every day,” Davis said. “The (roads and highways) are something that gets used every day. We need to be able to move people in a way that allows for the growth patterns we’re seeing to continue.”
Davis said events such as Friday’s Business Matters are important because it keeps the business community aware of what’s going on with the issues, in this case transportation. As the region grows, Davis said he foresees that work to establish public transportation will accelerate but also that it will require effort throughout Northwest Arkansas. Transportation features that already exist were the focus of Friday’s forum, however.
Bennett updated the audience on work with Interstate 49, including multiple interchange improvements and and work on the Bella Vista Bypass. He said 5.4 miles are complete, 6.4 miles are under construction, and the remaining 5.4 miles on the north end that will connect with Missouri are scheduled. The hope is that Missouri is able to resolve its highway funding issues by the time Arkansas is ready to construct that last piece.
He also spoke about several other highway projects including Highways 62, 12, 71B, 264, 265, 412, and 112. The 412 expansion is the most expensive in AHTD history at $100.6 million, he said. The Highway 112 project, if approved, would include making 112 a major north/south corridor. The study was adopted in recent months and if that project is approved, it could cost up to an estimated $140 million.
Bennett spoke about the growing partnerships in the state, especially in Northwest Arkansas. Partnerships between the highway department and local government entities have made more highway projects possible. There are 29 partner projects in Benton and Washington counties for a total of $385 million, with $165 million of that being contributed by local entities.
“It’s a big investment and (Northwest Arkansas) chose to do it yourselves,” he said.
McCaslin shared about 10 ongoing and planned road construction projects in Bentonville. The project that seemed to draw the most interest from the audience was the 8th Street expansion and interchange. The city is working to gain possession of property along the project’s path.
“There are 84 tracts of property on the project. We have secured and have legal possession on 46 of them, two tracts are pending closing, two appraisals are outstanding, 34 tracts are in negotiations and of those, eight final offers have been sent, eight are in active negotiations, and 18 are Walmart properties,” McCaslin said. “We hope to start demolition of buildings and utility relocations by April or May. AHTD plans to bid the interchange project, which will include 8th Street to Moberly, this June.”
McCaslin also said utility companies have been advised that once they are given the go-ahead for relocation, they will have 14 months to complete the project. Then the city will bid the road construction project from Moberly to SW I.
A related project that McCaslin spoke about is Water Tower Road, which runs alongside NorthWest Arkansas Community College. The project will widen the road to four lanes with a median from Highway 102 to SE 6th St. and constructing 8th Street from Water Tower Road west to connect to what will be the new interchange for 8th St. and I-49.
They hope to have this project ready to begin construction in 2017.
Franklin concluded the updates with information about events at XNA, including the recently expanded parking and the need for more parking. The airport is also searching to attract two different kinds of business it doesn’t have now: a freight carrier and a low-cost carrier.
“We know that 200,000 people are going to other airports (because of XNA ticket prices),” he said. “That’s $4 million we’re losing.”
Franklin said airport officials have been to more than 20 meetings in the last year with low-cost providers.
Link here to learn more about road work in Northwest Arkansas.