The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) and community leaders celebrated the start of construction on new sections of the Bella Vista Bypass early today, holding a groundbreaking ceremony to mark the occasion.
Today’s celebration at a site near the Arkansas-Missouri state line centered on two projects in Arkansas, with Missouri working to finish a five-mile section of the highway as well.
Spending on the three projects will approach $150 million between now and when all work is complete in 2022.
The four-lane divided highway will be designated as a new 19-mile section of I-49. It should be a welcome improvement for truckers and other motorists often slowed by a series of traffic signals that create a stop-and-go driving slog through Bella Vista.
Those who attended today’s event included State Sen. Lance Eads, State Rep. Dan Douglas, State Rep. Gayla Hendren McKenzie, State Rep. Jana Della Rosa, State Highway Commissioner Philip Taldo, Bella Vista Mayor Peter Christie, Bentonville Mayor Stephanie Orman, Gravette Mayor Kurt Maddox, Prairie Grove Mayor Sonny Hudson and Pea Ridge Mayor Jackie Crabtree. Representatives from Missouri also joined, including Bill Lant, presiding member of the McDonald County Commission as well as Laurel McKean and Andy Mueller, assistant district engineers at the Missouri Department of Transportation.
The Bella Vista Bypass is one of three big-ticket highway projects made possible by the passage of a half-cent sales tax in 2012. The statewide tax proposal received a majority of voters’ support in 70 of the 75 counties.
In addition to the bypass, the sales tax provided support for Northwest Arkansas projects that include widening large sections of I-49 to six lanes between Bentonville and Fayetteville, and building a four-lane divided section of Arkansas 612 toward Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport.
The two sections in the Arkansas portion of the bypass include a two-mile piece near the Arkansas-Missouri line that will cost $35.5 million and take about a year to complete.
The more expensive project will be a $66.6 million highway interchange that will connect the new bypass with U.S. 71 and I-49 in northern Bentonville. That project will take more than two years to complete.
Arkansas entities and members of the state’s congressional delegation played major roles in getting Bella Vista Bypass work to advance in Missouri.
With strong support from the Northwest Arkansas Council and U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission submitted an application and received a $25 million federal grant in December 2018 to pay for the Missouri portion of the bypass — referring to as the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector.
The cost for the entire Missouri site is expected to be about $48 million. ARDOT Director Scott Bennett has worked with Missouri leaders to ensure the three projects are completed on essentially the same timeline.
Arkansas wants to take on big-ticket projects like the Bella Vista Bypass in the future, but this is no existing funding source unless approved by voters.
A proposal on the November 2020 ballot to extend the half-cent sales tax that expires in 2023 and provide a funding mechanism for some of the planned projects.