The Missouri Department of Transportation recently decided to put its 6-mile section of the Bella Vista bypass on hold, and officials have no timeline for when funding will again be available.
Dan Salisbury, Missouri assistant district engineer for the southwest district, said Thursday that funding, previously set aside for the bypass, was used to complete the northern portion of Interstate 49 from Pineville, Mo., to Kansas City.
“If you go back several years, we have had funding set back for our portion and it just sat there and sat there and Arkansas wasn’t ready,” Salisbury said. “We simply don’t have enough money to do the Bella Vista bypass.”
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has started construction on the bypass. The $150 million two-lane section is planned to stretch from U.S. 71 in north Bentonville to the Missouri state line.
Some funding for the project is coming from a 0.5 percent sales-tax increase for 10 years that Arkansas voters passed in November.
Randy Ort, public information officer for the Arkansas Highway Department, said $100 million from the sales-tax increase has been set aside for the Bella Vista bypass.
Ort said the original timeline for Arkansas and Missouri to complete the project was 2017. He said officials with the Arkansas Highway Department first learned that Missouri was unable to complete its section in that time frame in recent weeks.
A new schedule for completion of the bypass has been developed, Ort said.
The portion of the bypass from Benton County Road 34 to the Missouri state line was to be bid in January, Ort said. But now, a document from the department listing dates of future projects does not list a time frame for that project.
“We have the money, but it does not make sense to continue that portion,” Ort said. “Do we want to continue a road if it is not usable?”
The stretch of road will be completed when Missouri is ready, Ort said.
He said the section of the bypass from U.S. 71 in Bentonville to Arkansas 72 west of Hiwasse will have a bid released in January. The department will delay construction of a full interchange at that location so the road can open sooner, Ort said.
A stretch of the bypass from Arkansas 72 west of Hiwasse to Benton County Road 34 is already underway, Ort said. An estimated completion date for that portion was not provided.
Salisbury said the Missouri Department of Transportation does not have a timeline for when it will have the money to complete its 6-mile stretch of the bypass.
“It is more a funding situation in our state. Funding for transportation in Missouri is a challenging issue, and we will just go from here and see how things turn out,” he said.
Missouri officials are excited to have completed 180 miles of I-49 that stretches north, Salisbury said. He said officials look forward to the day when they can complete I-49 through the state.
Missouri has been working with Arkansas and Louisiana transportation officials to complete I-49 from Kansas City to New Orleans. The I-49 International Coalition was formed in 2002 to promote completion of the road in the three states.
The Arkansas Highway Department is building the Bella Vista bypass as a two lane road but has plans to expand it later to four lanes, said Ort.
He said officials believe it will cost another $50 million to expand the road to four lanes. He said there is a possibility that the road will be expanded to four lanes sooner than previously thought. He said that is very preliminary, and no official information is available regarding it.
Salisbury said the Missouri Department of Transportation plans to complete the road as four lanes when funding becomes available. He added that officials also want the Arkansas section to be four lanes.
“That is because we save very little by doing two lanes,” Salisbury said.
It will cost Missouri $40 million to complete its portion of the bypass, Salisbury said. He said at this time “roughly” $15 million is available for the project.
Dick Trammel, a member of the Arkansas Highway Commission, said the panel is still committed to the bypass.
“We are all disappointed about the time frame, but it will be finished,” Trammel said. “We made a commitment to the people of Arkansas. Regardless of the time spent, the money will be spent on the Bella Vista bypass. That will be used but not as fast.”
Bella Vista Mayor Frank Anderson said he doesn’t think the time frame will affect drivers in Bella Vista much.
“I think the folks from outside Bella Vista think that it is going to have a big impact on our traffic in the morning and evening,” Anderson said. “I’m not a big believer that it is going to impact our traffic that much. I think it is a little too far over. I think it is going to be nice and it is going to take some truck traffic off our roads during the day, but I don’t think it will impact on traffic.”