The most important highway project to be completed in Northwest Arkansas in more than two decades wrapped up today with a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the Arkansas-Missouri state line.
The Bella Vista Bypass, sometimes referred to as the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, is the newest section of Interstate 49 and it opens Friday, Oct. 1. Motorists, who struggled with stop-and-go driving and traffic congestion on U.S. 71 through the heart of Bella Vista for years, can avoid it all by using the 19-mile bypass that loops around the western side of Bella Vista.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Missouri Gov. Mike Parson joined excited supporters from both states at the state line to celebrate the project’s competition.
A high-quality bypass to ease travel between the two states has been a goal of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, the Missouri Department of Transportation and local officials for more than 30 years. In 1987, the Federal Highway Administration identified U.S. 71 that runs from Louisiana to Kansas City as a highway corridor of significance.
The bypass is the most expensive highway project completed in the region since January 1999 when the region celebrated the opening of I-49 between Fort Smith and Fayetteville near the Bobby Hopper Tunnel. That project’s cost was near $458 million, according to press release shared at the time by the U.S. Department of Transportation.
The Bella Vista Bypass cost on the Arkansas side was $215.7 million. Missouri’s five-mile piece cost $59 million.
Over the years, both Missouri and Arkansas put funding toward the project, but the two states struggled to get the work to align and be completed at the same time. When Missouri had the funding it needed, Arkansas didn’t. At other times, it was just the opposite.
That started changing in a big way in 2012 when Arkansas voters approved Issue 1, a half-cent sales tax that provided the funding for three major sections of the bypass to be completed.
Yet, Missouri needed help, and it got it from a federal grant pursued by those in Northwest Arkansas.
U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, other members of Congress in Arkansas and Missouri, and the Northwest Arkansas Council played key roles in assisting the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission in obtaining a $25 million federal grant in 2018 for the Missouri portion. The Missouri area is in the commission’s planning area, and it turned the funds over to Missouri for construction.
The I-49 project’s importance to America’s Heartland has long been clear. The city of Bella Vista in Northwest Arkansas — until now — was the only location in the 270-mile stretch between Fort Smith and Kansas City where traffic must leave I-49 to continue traveling north or south.
By easing traffic congestion, the Bella Vista Bypass will not only decrease commute times and improve transportation costs for motorists, it will also encourage more interstate commerce in Northwest Arkansas.