Rogers to overpass Interstate 49, improve street grid

by Jeff Della Rosa ( 3,833 views 

Design plans for the interchange at Interstate 49 and U.S. 71B in Rogers.

Interstate 49 divides Rogers like a stream or railroad, and the city has plans to improve connectivity from one side of the interstate to the other by building several overpasses.

The city of 66,430 people recently received conceptual plans for three overpasses it hopes to build over I-49 as part of a project to complete a street grid. Engineering firm Garver completed the plans for proposed overpasses on Garrett Road near Lowell, Oak Street south of Walnut Street and an unnamed road north of the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion (AMP). The city is referring to the latter project as the uptown overpass.

The Garrett Road and Oak Street overpasses were selected to help complete the street grid, said John McCurdy, director of community development for the city. He explained the grid like the layout of downtown streets, running in straight lines, and that the grid would allow the long roads to span the city from east to west without breaks. The overpasses will allow motorists to cross the interstate without having to use an interchange, and the uptown overpass near the Walmart AMP is expected to alleviate traffic at the New Hope Road interchange.

On Aug. 14, Rogers residents approved a $240 million bond issue with more than 70% of the vote. Nearly 75%, or $178 million, of the bond issue will go toward improving city streets. Proceeds from a 1-cent sales tax will be used to pay for the bond issue, which also benefits the city’s fire, police and parks departments. The three overpass projects are expected to be paid for with the bond issue.

The overpasses, which have yet to be designed, are expected to cost about $4 million each and should be completed in three years, said Nathan Becknell, city engineer. Another I-49 overpass that will be paid for with the bond issue is the $4.5 million West Magnolia Street overpass, north of New Hope Road. Construction on it is expected to start next year.

As a rule, interchanges are usually placed no closer than 1 mile apart, except in unique circumstances. The city wants to have either an overpass or interchange every quarter of a mile along I-49, Becknell said. The city plans to fill in the gaps by building five overpasses over a more than 6-mile stretch of I-49 in Rogers. The number of planned overpasses also includes one to be built in partnership with Bentonville at 20th Street, south of U.S. Highway 62, but that project isn’t expected to start in the near future. While the project has been discussed, an agreement between the cities has yet to be made, said Dennis Birge, transportation engineer for the city of Bentonville.

The Magnolia Street overpass, which has been designed, will be three lanes and should be completed in 18 months once work starts, McCurdy said, adding it has yet to be put out for bid.

Next steps for the Garrett Road, Oak Street and uptown overpasses are for the engineer to complete cost estimates and their design. This should take place over the next year or so, with construction to take place after that, likely in two or three years. Several steps, such as the construction and design work, will require city council approval.

The overpass projects are not expected to require lane closures on I-49 at peak traffic times. However, the metal beams for the overpasses are expected to be installed at night or on weekends, which would require lane closures when they are installed, Becknell said.

Each of the three proposed overpass projects will include at least one roundabout. The Garrett Road project will have a roundabout at the intersection with Dixieland Road, east of the overpass. The Oak Street project will have roundabouts at intersections with South 52nd Street on the west side of the overpass and South Promenade Boulevard on the east side of the overpass. The uptown project will have a roundabout east of the overpass at the intersection with South Rife Medical Lane, near Mercy Hospital.

“A lot of people are reluctant to use roundabouts,” Becknell said. “To be honest, the numbers show they are much safer and much more efficient.”

McCurdy explained that installing a roundabout instead of an intersection with a traffic signal reduces serious injury accidents by 97%.

“Very rarely do people get hurt on them,” said McCurdy, adding that it’s “extremely rare to be T-boned” in a roundabout.

Roundabouts also handle traffic more efficiently, but they don’t work as well on heavily traveled streets, like Walnut Street, McCurdy said. In places where they work, they disperse traffic and prevent vehicles from traveling in large packs, such as those leaving an intersection with a traffic signal, said Becknell, who’s been in a serious crash at a traffic signal.

The projects also are expected to include at least one 10- to 12-foot-wide path to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians crossing the interstate. The uptown overpass will give cyclists and pedestrians on the Razorback Regional Greenway easier access to the Pinnacle Hills area.

Other Northwest Arkansas cities along I-49 have overpasses in their master street plans but have yet to identify funding for them. Fayetteville is working with the Arkansas Department of Transportation on improvements to interchanges at Arkansas Highway 16 and U.S. 62, and is considering work to the Porter Road interchange to improve traffic flow across the interstate, said Chris Brown, city engineer.

Bentonville and Springdale don’t have plans for new overpasses in the works.