The first highway improvement project paid for by the Arkansas voter-approved sales tax has been scheduled for Bella Vista.
“The very first one out of the gate is the Bella Vista interchange,” Danny Straessle of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department said.
The southernmost portion of the future Bella Vista Bypass will begin as I-540 makes its way downhill, before coming to a halt at the stoplight at County Road 40.
“We are going to let a contract for that project by the end of this year,” Straessle said.
The highway modifications will be paid for by the half-cent sales tax proceeds, which was passed by voters in November’s general election. The AHTD dubbed the proposal the Connecting Arkansas program.
The state sales tax, which increases from 6 percent to 6.5 percent for a period of 10 years, took effect July 1. It is expected to generate $1.2 billion over its span of a decade.
Three new projects will be funded in the process of completing the Bella Vista Bypass, on top of two that are currently ongoing.
Construction of the bypass around Hiwasse beganMarch 2011 and connects a portion of Arkansas Highway 72 back on itself, creating a bypass of the Hiwasse area of Gravette. Two interchanges are being constructed, on the southeast and northwest sides of Hiwasse. The interchanges and roadway connecting the two is expected to be completed next spring.
The price of that project is $19.8 million, Straessle said.
The second project already in the works is an interchange at Rocky Del Hollow Road, west of the Highlands in Bella Vista.
Construction on theinterchange and the road to connect to the Arkansas 72 interchange began in the summer of 2012. Straessle said the project should wrap up late in the summer of 2014. This will create a continuous two-lane state highway from Hiwasse nearing the Missouri state line.
“What we are doing is building the first two lanes of a four-lane divided highway,” Straessle said, adding that the road being constructed now will serve as the northbound lanes in the future.
“The two current Bella Vista Bypass projects havebeen federally funded from a variety of sources,” Straessle said. “Approximately $3 million in American Reinvestment and Recovery Act funds were used for utility relocation throughout the entire corridor.”
After the contract is let for the interchange near County Road 40, the roadway will be built to connect that to the southeastern one in Hiwasse.
“Roadway is easy to do,” Straessle said. “If there are bridges that need to cross creeks or large box culverts it will take longer. Bridges take a little bit of time.”
The estimated completion date will be determined after bids are opened at the Highway Commission’s meeting Dec. 11.
Bids are issued based on working days to complete the project; there are 135 working days in a year. The department doesn’t count as working days from Dec. 15 to March 15 or weekends and holidays. Contracts are awarded based on the lowest price.
A work order should be issued by January, allowing the contractor to mobilize and begin construction. It is up to the individual contractor whether they wish to start the clock in a winter month or wait until March, Straessle said, and therefore up to the contractor to determine how soon the work will be completed.
“Margins are very slim inthe highway construction industry,” he said. “There are financial incentives to fi nish early, and penalties will apply if they do not finish on time.”
A third project will also go to bid early next year to complete the highway from Rocky Del Hollow Road to the state line.
“The Bella Vista Bypass project has been ready to go for some time; we just needed the money. Overpasses at interchanges are all being built to full interchanges, they just won’t have southbound lanes,” Straessle said.
There is a plan for a future four-lane highway to become I-49 running from Louisiana to Canada. But the money isn’t there yet, Straessle said, and the completion date for that is an unknown at this time.
“Ideas are being kicked around. One is a toll study, but that is in its infancy,” he said. A toll-road study was completed once before, he added, but at the time was not feasible to support thebypass.
“We’re taking a look at that again,” he said.
The Bypass will connect to I-49 at the Missouri state line. According to Sean Matlock, project manager for the Missouri Department of Transportation, Missouri will meet Arkansas on “whatever time schedule they have.”
Matlock said when MoDOT does construct the final five miles of I-49 to meet Arkansas, they will build all four lanes at that time.
“From a cost standpoint, it would cost way too much to do two lanes and then come back and do two more,” Matlock said.
Matlock said the estimated costs for construction is $45 million. All right-of-way has already been obtained. He said construction would take 18-30 months. The fi nal stretch begins just south of Route H in Pineville and connects at the state line about six miles west of Highway 71.