Highway department proposes two designs for MLK interchange in Fayetteville

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 2,550 views 

At left, hotel owners Kal Gandhi and Bob Patel view the design, while Danny Straessle, public information officer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, speaks in the public meeting on the proposed interchange improvements for Exit 62 in Fayetteville.

Fayetteville residents and business owners had an opportunity to see two design options for the Exit 62 interchange improvements at Interstate 49 and U.S. Highway 62 or Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

On Tuesday (Sept. 12), Arkansas Department of Transportation hosted a public meeting to show the designs for a flyover and a loop. The interchange was previously planned to cost between $20 million and $30 million with work set to start in late 2021. But a cost estimate won’t be set until one of the designs is selected, which will be when design is 60% completed, said Danny Straessle, public information officer for the highway department. Another public meeting will be hosted when the design is narrowed down to one.

“The price of progress is a lot of patience,” Straessle said.

Design work on the project started about a year ago and is 30% completed, he said. Residents will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the two designs over the next 15 days. Afterward, highway department staff will review the comments and consider the concerns. But the comments won’t be taken as a vote, he said.

In the loop design, it would require the removal of six buildings, including a bank, body shop, hotel, optical lab and gas station. The cost to do this alone would be about $10 million. The flyover design wouldn’t require the removal of any businesses, but it would restrict access for motorists looking to cross Highway 62 because of the flyover that would start at the center of Highway 62.

The loop design.

The flyover must be high enough to overpass the westbound traffic along Highway 62 and both lanes of traffic on I-49. It would allow eastbound motorists on Highway 62 to merge onto the northbound lanes of I-49. The flyover project would run between South Finger Road and Parnell Drive on Highway 62 and impact the southbound and northbound exit ramps leading to the highway.

The loop project would impact the same roads and ramps, but instead of a flyover, the loop would allow eastbound motorists on Highway 62 who want to go north on I-49 to turn right onto the loop and merge onto the interstate.

Hotel owners Kal Gandhi and Bob Patel attended the meeting to provide comment on the designs but had differing opinions on the designs. Gandhi owns Comfort Inn, Days Inn and Super 8, while Patel owns Regency 7, all on the west side of I-49. Gandhi said he was in favor of the more economical design, which was the flyover. But Patel prefers the loop.

“It’s going to give beautification to the city of Fayetteville,” said Gandhi, who’s owned hotels there since 2004.

The flyover design.

Patel, who’s owned a hotel there since 2006, had concerns about traffic being restricted because of the flyover. While they didn’t agree on which design should be used, Gandhi and Patel would like the northbound entrance and southbound exit ramps for I-49 to be two-way streets. Without the two-way streets, they said, this has hurt business along the interstate there.

Customers of the hotels and neighboring businesses there must cut through parking lots and driveways to reach some of the businesses, or drive north on the interstate to the next exit, turn around and take the Highway 62 exit in order to reach the businesses.

The Interstate Rehabilitation Program will pay for the Exit 62 interchange project. In November 2011, Arkansas voters approved the program allowing the highway department to issue up to $575 million in bonds to improve and repair existing interstates.