Bella Vista Bypass project cost rises by $7 million; Fayetteville interchange delayed

by Jeff Della Rosa ([email protected]) 5,072 views 

A $25.4 million interchange project on Interstate 49 in Fayetteville won’t be ready as previously planned, and money from the project will be diverted to other highway projects in the state. Also, Missouri plans to add $7 million to the budget for its portion of the Bella Vista Bypass, which will become a part of I-49 when it is completed.

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission Policy Committee approved Wednesday (Jan. 22) removing the interchange project from a state highway plan and updating construction costs for Missouri to complete its portion of the Bella Vista Bypass, or the Missouri-Arkansas Connector.

Tim Conklin, transportation programs manager for the planning commission, said the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) is working with the city of Fayetteville on plans to add an I-49 overpass to the south of the interchange at Martin Luther King Boulevard, or U.S. Highway 62. The overpass would connect 15th Street between Shiloh and Futrall drives.

Garner Stoll, development services director for the city of Fayetteville, said the project is important to the mayor, but it needs to be done right.

“Our solution will actually create a much better interchange,” Stoll said. “It will almost function like an interchange and a half.”

Plans showed work on the project was set to start in 2021 or 2022, and the interchange was planned as a single-point urban interchange. The first of these interchanges in the state is being built at Exit 85, which spans Rogers and Bentonville. Work on another one is underway in north Bentonville for the Bella Vista Bypass. The policy committee approved removing the Fayetteville project from the plans with the hope that it would be added in the future plans.

“We have been assured by ArDOT that we are not losing the project,” Conklin said.

Money for the project will be diverted to four projects to rehabilitate Interstate 40 and Interstate 55 as those projects will be ready for construction ahead of schedule, according to ArDOT. The Fayetteville project was part of ArDOT’s Statewide Transportation Improvement Program for federal fiscal years 2019-2022. Money from the Interstate Rehabilitation Program was to pay for the project. In November 2011, Arkansas voters approved the program allowing ArDOT to issue up to $575 million in bonds to improve and repair existing interstates.

The policy committee also approved a plan from the Missouri Department of Transportation to update the construction costs for Missouri’s portion of the Bella Vista Bypass. The 4.81-mile segment of the bypass is expected to cost $70.25 million to build and design, a $7 million increase from $63 million.

The project is expected to go to bid in March, and a contractor could be hired in April, Conklin said, adding that MoDOT would pay the additional cost.

Emery Sapp & Sons Inc. of Columbia, Mo., is building the final segments of the bypass in Arkansas over the next two years. The $102.11 million in projects include a 2.4-mile segment of the bypass, from Benton County Road 34 to the Missouri state line, and the single-point urban interchange for the bypass. The existing segments of the bypass comprise Highway 549, and the bypass will include 18.9 miles in Arkansas and Missouri. Missouri plans to complete its portion of the bypass by summer 2022. The project will be partially paid for with a $25 million federal grant the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission received in December 2018. The Arkansas projects will be part of the $1.8 billion Connecting Arkansas Program, which was paid for with a half-cent sales tax that’s set to end in 2023. Voters approved the tax in November 2012.

Voters in November 2020 will determine whether to permanently extend the half-cent sales tax. ArDOT is hosting meetings across the state about the proposal to extend the tax, and a meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. March 10 at the Jones Center in Springdale. Meetings in Fort Smith, Jonesboro and Maumelle will take place, Feb. 13, March 31 and March 9, respectively.