Officials break ground on the next section of I-49

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 4,546 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson (wearing a University of Arkansas at Fort Smith hat) and Arkansas Highway Commissioner Keith Gibson talk Thursday (Oct. 13) during a groundbreaking in Barling for construction of Interstate 49 between Alma and Barling.

State and local officials gathered Thursday (Oct. 13) in Barling to break ground on a “tremendous, transformative” project many thought they “would never see in their lifetime” and celebrate the start of construction of a 13.7-mile segment of Interstate 49 from Alma to Barling.

“I love groundbreakings because it’s a new beginning,” said Lorie Tudor, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT). “But today is a really special celebration. This is a really historic moment. These improvements that we are going to do with our first shovel of dirt today are going to be tremendous, transformative to this area and to mid-America.”

Arkansas Highway Commissioner Keith Gibson of Fort Smith said Thursday was a day of optimism, even in the “pretty negative world” of today.

“We are at a really good point, doing this 13.7 mile segment. How many of you here have said about this segment and this bridge in particular, ‘it wouldn’t happen in my lifetime.’ I confess I have said that. Well folks it’s going to happen. We’re here to see that it is going to happen. Many of us thought this day was never going to happen. It has,” Gibson said.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said he spent “political capital” to get the project funded.

“But it was important. And I believe you have political capital to spend it, and highway infrastructure was critically important,” Hutchinson said.

ARDOT held a groundbreaking at the I-49/Highway 22 interchange in Barling to mark the beginning of construction on the future Interstate 49 between Barling and Alma. Taylor-Hendrix, LLC of Hope received the $891,453 contract to clear vegetation and debris around the site that will become the interchange. When complete, the new section of I-49 will be 13.7 miles long and include a new bridge over the Arkansas River. The work is expected to be done in multiple phases over the next several years, with major construction not expected to begin until 2024. An estimated $270 million from the recently-passed Issue 1 will fund the project.

There are 180 miles left to build of the interstate in Arkansas between Alma and Texarkana. The first leg of that, the 13.7-mile section between Alma and Barling that will include a bridge over the Arkansas River and have interchanges at Highway 22, Gun Club Road, Clear Creek Road and I-40, is in the planning and design stage. The bridge across the Arkansas River will be east of Trimble Lock & Dam and the U.S. 59 bridge.

Tudor said July 14 that planning and design will continue through 2025. Environmental permitting also is in the process and is expected to be complete by later this year, she added. Environmental and design work is budgeted at $10 million, which is already dedicated to the project, Tudor said.

With funding from voter-approved Issue 1, ARDOT has dedicated $270 million for the I-40/I-49 interchange at Alma to Highway 22 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. The 13.7 mile section from Alma to Barling will cost around $710 million, according to ARDOT Spokesman Dave Parker. According to Tudor, the segment will be open to traffic “by the end of the decade.”