I-49 Alma-Fort Smith route might be complete by end of the decade

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 8,156 views 

The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) is set to begin work on the Interstate 49 connection between Alma and Fort Smith that will span the Arkansas River, but significant construction will not begin until 2024-2025, with completion around the end of the decade.

ARDOT Director Lorie Tudor on Jan. 7 told a Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce crowd that work on I-49 between Alma and Fort Smith will begin this fall. The news echoed what she said on Sept. 30 during the opening of the Bella Vista Bypass.

“With the passage of Issue 1 that recently passed in 2020, we have additional funding for the future, and we’re going to start to expand the footprint of I-49 from Fort Smith south with a new bridge across the Arkansas River. We’re going to build two of the ultimate four lanes, and get all the way down to (U.S. Highway) 270 at Y City. That will be the next big piece of I-49 that we have on the books,” Tudor said at the September event.

The nearly 20-mile Bella Vista Bypass, or Missouri-Arkansas Connector, consisted of six projects totaling more than $220 million beginning in February 2011. The completion of the project links 265 miles of interstate from Fort Smith to Kansas City, Mo.

With funding from voter-approved Issue 1, Arkansas has dedicated $270 million for the I-40/I-49 interchange at Alma to Highway 22 13.7-mile project that includes a two-lane bridge over the Arkansas River, and another $270 million for the south part of the interstate from Greenwood to Y City. The Y City connection would take I-49 to the Highway 270 route east to Hot Springs.

Tudor’s Jan. 7 remarks were also similar to an Aug. 4 update by Arkansas Highway Commissioner Keith Gibson on highway projects in the Fort Smith and Greenwood areas. Gibson, who lives in the Fort Smith area, also noted the Y City extension.

“We could take the south to Greenwood project and say let’s just do four lanes and get that done. Or we could abandon that part because there are a lot of people who would like to see the Y City to Greenwood part done. But what we prefer to do is what we promised to do, and that is to build two lanes of both of those. We hope that the federal government through an infrastructure plan and earmarks and other things will provide the money once they see Arkansas building half that interstate and come in and say, let’s pump money into finishing it,” Gibson said in August.

Gibson also said the cost to complete 136 miles of I-49 from Fort Smith to the Texas state line is $4.1 billion. There is no funding for that work or a timeline.

Talk Business & Politics followed up on Tudor’s recent remarks for clarification of when the Alma-Fort Smith work might begin and be completed, and the same for the Y City connection. ARDOT Spokesman Dave Parker said the initial work will be clearing rights of way and prep for ramps and interchanges.

“As far as a beginning and end on the FSM to Alma stretch, schedules are being developed, but more substantial work should begin in the 2024-2025 timeframe. Completion is very difficult to predict at this time, but an ambitious goal would be to have the work completed by the end of this decade,” Parker noted. “As for the stretch to the south, the connection to Y City, that’s unknown at this time.”

Parker also said it’s too early to put a cost on the Alma-Fort Smith work because they are still working with the Corps of Engineers in the process to determine “the type and size of bridge needed to cross the Arkansas River.”

“Also, the environmental re-evaluation is underway, completion of which is expected this summer. Completion of these tasks will allow us to accurately estimate the cost of the work,” Parker said.