About 200 people gathered to celebrate the completion of the largest single road construction contract in the state Wednesday (April 18). In December 2014, the Arkansas Highway Commission approved a $100.6 million project to build a 4.2-mile segment of the U.S. 412 bypass, between Arkansas Highway 112 and Interstate 49.
The four-lane divided freeway, which includes 14 bridges and two interchanges, is set to open to traffic April 30, said Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation. Initially, the project was expected to be completed in mid-2019, but completion dates were revised as construction progressed. And the work was still completed early from the revised dates, Bennett said. The freeway will be Arkansas Highway 612, until other segments of the roadway are completed. When completed, the bypass will run north of Tontitown and Springdale, from Highway 412 in west Tontitown to Highway 412 east of Springdale.
When the other segments of the bypass would be completed have yet to be determined because funding is not yet available. However, the next phase of the bypass to be completed is expected to be the western segment between Highway 412 in west Tontitown and Highway 112, north of Elm Springs. In the proposed Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for federal fiscal years 2021 and 2022, ArDOT has plans to spend $28 million to purchase right of way over the 6.17-miles of the next phase of the project. Also, ArDOT is expected to build about one mile of the bypass west of Highway 112 to the intersection with the proposed three-mile access road to Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA). The airport recently approved a study to expand the scope of the road beyond an access road.
Eutaw Construction Co. of Aberdeen, Miss., completed the bypass project that included 1.25-miles of bridges, a large interchange with multiple overpasses at I-49 in Lowell and a smaller interchange at Highway 112.
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said highway projects like this improve quality of life as the state needs them to keep up with growth, and there’s no indication it will slow down. Highway projects also allow commerce to take place, and the state cannot fall behind on them.
“All of us have sat through traffic,” he said. “Some of us have been in those cities that may be fun to visit or whatever, but you’re in that traffic and you’re going, ‘I would hate to live here.’ We never want that to be said about being in this part of the state.”
Griffin, along with other officials, commended Arkansans for approving the half-cent sales tax to pay for this and other projects across the state. In November 2012, voters approved a half-cent sales tax to pay for the $1.8 billion Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP). Dick Trammel of Rogers, chairman of the Arkansas Highway Commission, said the program included 36 projects, including the Bella Vista bypass, or Arkansas/Missouri Connector. Recently, the Northwest Arkansas Planning Commission applied for grant money to allow Missouri to complete a 4.8-mile segment of I-49 to the Arkansas/Missouri state line.
Trammel, who has six more months on the commission, received applause when he asked how the crowd liked the six-lane I-49, and the widening of the interstate was another CAP project. Highway commissioner Philip Taldo of Springdale said he has nine more years on the commission and plans to focus on the completion of the Highway 412 bypass. Taldo said the state will need the funding to complete the remaining segments of the bypass. One solution is if voters were to extend the existing half-cent sales tax, which is set to expire in 2023.
Meanwhile, Taldo said the state highway system needs $475 million in maintenance and repairs, and funding for this has yet to be determined. Rep. Dan Douglas, R-Bentonville, who represents District 91, said he hopes to see a funding plan this fall before the 2019 legislative session.
Rep. Jana Della Rosa, R-Rogers, said the new highway segment runs through the heart of her district, which is District 90.
“It’s a huge development in our district here because we have a lot of traffic congestion, especially around Highway 264, and this now offers an alternate method to be able to get from 112 over to I-49. And that will relieve a lot of congestion that we have. I know that work is being done on 264 as well, but this is really exciting.”
Before the highway commission approved the project, ArDOT looked to build the bypass south of Springdale, but the route wasn’t approved, Bennett said. Springdale built Don Tyson Parkway along the route.
Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse said city voters recently approved a $224.7 million bond issue, allowing for about $80 million in street improvements. He also said the new bypass allows for views motorists never had previously.
Lowell Mayor Eldon Long said to expect to see development along the new highway segment and looked forward to driving along it. The speed limit on the freeway will be 65 mph.