Northwest Arkansas residents checked out preliminary plans for a more than $23 million interchange on Interstate 49 that will be the first of its kind in Arkansas.
Staff and officials of Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department hosted a public meeting to receive comments about the plans Tuesday (Oct. 25) evening. The first single-point urban interchange (SPUI) in the state is planned for Interstate 49 and U.S. Highway 71B, spanning Bentonville and Rogers. Construction might start in 2018, with completion in 2020.
This type of interchange is “highly functioning,” said Danny Straessle, public information officer for the highway department. Traffic at the interchange is controlled using one signal, instead of two.
“One traffic signal controls both sides of the interstate there,” Straessle said.
The project will be built as part of the highway department’s plan to widen I-49 to six lanes from Fayetteville to Bella Vista, he said.
Scott Clark, owner of two Chick-fil-A restaurants in Rogers, said he was “thrilled with the plan” for the interchange. Clark was one of 55 people who attended the public meeting at Oakley Chapel United Methodist Church in Rogers. Clark expects construction to hurt business at his restaurant at Walnut and 40th streets, just east of the project. But traffic at the interchange “has been a bottleneck because of all the growth.”
“It’s well worth it,” he said. “This area is going to thrive with this plan,” adding that since opening the restaurant there in 2003, business has tripled.
The single-point urban interchange will affect how motorists make left turns when exiting or entering the interstate. It also will affect through traffic on U.S. 71B. Traffic will be controlled by one traffic signal underneath the overpass at the interchange.
Westbound motorists on U.S. 71B who want to drive south on the interstate will make left turns onto I-49 at the same time as eastbound motorists on U.S. 71B turning north on I-49.
Northbound and southbound motorists exiting the interstate will make right turns onto U.S. 71B, yielding to oncoming traffic but wouldn’t be controlled by a traffic signal at the interchange.
Another planned interchange like this will be built as part of the Bella Vista bypass project, Straessle said.
Plans for the project at I-49 and 71B are 60% completed, said H. Michael Burns, senior vice president of transportation for Crafton Tull. Design work started in 2012. The project, which includes about one mile of I-49, will expand about a half mile of 71B to six lanes. A median will be added to the highway, from about west of Riviera Drive to east of South 45th Street. Portions of the highway will be eight lanes wide including turning lanes.
A traffic signal will be added at Moberly Lane, allowing for left turns onto 71B. The existing signal at North 46th Street will remain while the two at the interchange ramps will be removed. The project will be paid for with money from the Interstate Rehabilitation Program and a combination of funds from Rogers and Bentonville. Both cities also will take over maintenance of 71B, Straessle said.
The cities didn’t like initial plans for the project, he explained.
After about a year working with the cities, the plans were changed, but it “came at a price,” he said. The new plan would cost $6 million more than the original one. With the updated plan, the cities will pay $3 million, or $1.5 million each, for the project.
After the project is completed, nearly five miles of 71B will become city streets maintained by the respective cities in which they are located. About three miles of the highway becoming a city street is in Rogers. The highway department will recoup half of the $6 million because it will no longer maintain the highway there, but Straessle was unsure how long it would take to recoup the amount.
About 74,000 vehicles per day travel I-49 there. In 20 years, the number is expected to jump 66% to nearly 123,000 vehicles per day. U.S. 71B has about 39,000 vehicles daily there. In 20 years, traffic volume will rise 41% to 55,000 vehicles per day.
A median was added on 71B as a safety measure, Straessle said. Highway department staff do not want motorists crossing six lanes of traffic where there are no traffic signals. But because of the median, motorists will not be able to make left turns into driveways of some businesses on 71B.
Existing plans show motorists would be required to drive through the McDonald’s parking lot to reach the Conoco gas station at the northeast corner of the interchange. However, Burns said the plan is to offer to buy the gas station. If the owner doesn’t agree to sell, a contingency plan would be to allow westbound motorists to make right turns into the gas station’s driveway from Highway 71B, Burns said. The median would not allow eastbound motorists to make left turns into the gas station’s existing driveway.
Another driveway that would be impacted by the project is the one north of IHOP and Atlanta Bread. The existing driveway allows for eastbound motorists on Highway 71B to turn right into the IHOP parking lot. Plans show the driveway will be closed, requiring motorists to drive to North 46th Street in order to go to the restaurants.
After attendees viewed the plans, they filled out comment cards about the project.
“How will these plans impact your daily life?” Straessle said.
The highway department will take comments over the next 15 days. If the comments don’t lead to significant changes, the project will move forward to the next phase. It includes more design work, to relocate utilities and purchase right of way for the project. But if highway department staff determine a “radical design change” is needed, another public meeting would likely be hosted after changes were made, he said.