Arkansas Department of Transportation allowed U.S. Highway 412 motorists in Springdale and Tontitown to get creative with plans to improve a segment of the highway, between Arkansas Highway 112 and 40th Street, that includes the Interstate 49 interchange.
On Wednesday (March 28), the highway department hosted a listening session in Springdale on the highway segment— the day after taking comments on the segment of Arkansas Highway 102, between highways 102B in Centerton and 94 in Rogers.
Highway department staff wrote comments on adhesive notes and placed them on a map of the segment being discussed. Some ideas included redesigning the I-49 interchange with Highway 412, building a flyover connecting 48th Street from the north side of the interstate to the south side, and adding an I-49 overpass to connect Har-Ber Avenue to Emma Avenue.
In 2016, Arkansas Highway Commission directed ArDOT director Scott Bennett to study the need and feasibility to improve five segments of state and U.S. highways in Northwest Arkansas. The two meetings were a result of the commission’s direction, and about 50 people attended each meeting, said Danny Straessle, public information officer for ArDOT.
Other highways included in the study are U.S. Highway 71B, between highways 412 and 264 in Springdale and Rogers; Arkansas Highway 59, between highways 72 west and east in Gravette; and Highway 94, between Highway 71B and Old Wire Road in Rogers. Meetings for those segments have yet to be set but are expected to take place this year.
For the two meetings that have already taken place, the highway department will continue to receive comments on proposals for those highway segments for 15 days after the meetings. After receiving the comments, the highway department will host another meeting in August to present suggestions on the comments. No money has been budgeted for the projects, and a project timeline has yet to be set.
Lucius Mhoon, owner of Pozza’s Pasta and manager for Susan’s Restaurant in Springdale, said he would like the traffic lights along the segment to be better synchronized. He also said now would be the time to widen the segment to six lanes before the land there is developed.
Business owner Colby Fulfer, the newest member of the Springdale City Council, suggested the flyover to connect North 48th Street to South 48th Street and the I-49 overpass and extension of Har-Ber Avenue to Emma Avenue.
Highway commissioner Philip Taldo of Springdale said he would like to improve the intersection of North 48th Street and Highway 412 to allow for trucks to make right turns onto the highway without having to swing into the left turn lane. Also, he wanted to improve safety for motorists making left turns onto Highway 412 from the main entrance of the Har-Ber Meadows subdivision.
Perry Webb, president and CEO of Springdale Chamber of Commerce, suggested redesigning the I-49 interchange, possibly to a single point urban interchange (SPUI), such as the one in the works spanning Bentonville and Rogers — where Walton Boulevard and Walnut Street intersect. He explained the existing intersection with the interstate and Highway 412 was designed nearly 40 years ago and isn’t efficient. A plan needs to be developed to move traffic through there more quickly.
Daily traffic along the highway segment ranges between 32,000 and 38,000, according to highway department data. Average traffic speeds at peak hours, between 7:15 and 8:15 a.m. and 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., range between 16 mph and 24 mph. Posted speed limits are between 40 mph and 50 mph, and trucks account for 10% of the traffic.
Between 2012 and 2016, the segment had 971 crashes or about one crash every two days. One was a fatal crash, and 11 of the crashes caused incapacitating injuries. Nearly 47% were rear-end crashes, and the highest density of crashes was between I-49 and South 48th Street.
One of the goals of the study was to improve safety, and Straessle said this could be achieve by improving mobility and adding features such as medians to restrict left turns. A median was recently added on Highway 102 in Bentonville to restrict left turns, west of I-49.
Courtney McNair, planning official for Tontitown, explained the scope of the project should be expanded further west into Tontitown as the most dangerous intersection is before the highway becomes divided and the speed limit increases to 65 mph. Multiple fatal crashes have happened there, at Old Highway 68.
But as far as the segment within the scope of the study, she said the speed limit needs to be reduced, traffic lights need to be added, along with trails and sidewalks. She also said a major project to improve the highway would be the completion of the Highway 412 bypass.
When asked how the opening of the bypass, between Highway 112 north of Elm Springs and I-49 near Lowell, would impact traffic along Highway 412, specifically at the intersection with Highway 112, Straessle didn’t expect it would have an impact as it was too far from the intersection. Plans are to widen Highway 112 to five lanes between Fayetteville and Bentonville.
On April 18, the highway department plans to host a ribbon cutting for the Highway 412 bypass project, and it’s expected to open to traffic before Memorial Day weekend, he said. When completed, the bypass project will run north of Springdale, from Highway 412 in west Tontitown to the highway in east Springdale. While it’s not been determined which segment of the bypass would be built next, Straessle previously said it would likely be the part that runs to west Tontitown.
“It will be a long while before that bypass is fully realized,” Straessle said. “So we still have to work on what we’ve got.”