Bella Vista Bypass Not a Priority as Missouri Searches for Highway Money

Missouri officials look for funds to tie in to Bella Vista highway

Missouri highway officials are looking for money for roads but even if their latest proposal is successful, finishing the Bella Vista bypass doesn't appear to be on the state's list of priority projects, regional planners were told Wednesday.

"It doesn't look like there'll be enough money to do that," Andrew Seiler with the Missouri Department of Transportation told regional planners. "It will likely be pushed back."

Interstate 49

Interstate 49 exists in multiple segments. The original portion was entirely within Louisiana. Its southern terminus is in Lafayette, La., at Interstate 10 while its northern terminus is in Kansas City, Mo., at the intersection of Interstate 435 and Interstate 470. Portions of the remaining roadway in Arkansas and Missouri are in various stages of planning or construction.

Source: Staff report

Seiler's comment came in response to a question from Arkansas Highway Commission Chairman Dick Trammel about highway priorities in the region. Trammel said he was "deeply concerned" about getting the connection finished in a timely manner.

"I can't be critical if it's a financial problem because we're having those ourselves," Trammel said Friday. "But if it's a priority problem, I just hope they can see the expenditure and what we're doing, and then when they get in a position to they will include the Bella Vista bypass in their priorities because it's important to Missouri and Arkansas."

The Bella Vista bypass is being built as a two lane, divided highway initially but is expected to eventually be four lanes in each direction. It will be part of Interstate 49 when complete. The project has been a priority in Northwest Arkansas for years. Money to build Arkansas' side became available when voters approved Issue 1, a 10-year, half-percent sales tax for new construction of highways in 2012.

On the Arkansas side, crews are working on sections of the bypass between Bentonville and Hiwasse and from Hiwasse north to Benton County 34. A four-mile section between Benton County 34 and the Missouri line is on hold until Missouri finds the money to meet at the state line. The missing link is about seven miles long, four miles on the Arkansas side and three miles on the Missouri side.

Arkansas officials have been hoping Missouri will have money available and be ready to finish its portion by the time the bypass is connected at I-49 in Bentonville. The new interchange has not been put out for bid, but the easternmost, six-mile section between I-49 and Arkansas 72 is expected to be completed in mid-2016.

"At the time we passed Issue 1 we were assured they would join us by the time we got there but it's changed since then and they've had some financial problems, like us," Trammel said. "I just hope they will take another look and put that in."

Seiler was in town to brief the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission on the "Show Me" state's highway funding pickle.

"If we don't do something now, the roads are going to get bad," Seiler said.

The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission is expected to announce support for a transportation funding proposal that would increase the state's motor fuel tax by 2 cents a gallon each year for three years, totaling 6 cents a gallon, and then index the gas tax for inflation using the consumer price index.

Seiler said the move would generate sufficient revenue to allow MoDOT to match federal highway money, take care of the highway system at the current level, continue safety improvements and potentially allow for a few small regional improvements.

Because the proposal increases the gas tax, cities and counties would receive a share of the proceeds.

Officials estimate, based on fiscal year 2014 fuel sales, the plan would bring in more than $235 million annually for roads. The state would get the lion's share at almost $165 million. Cities and counties would each share some $35 million.

Missouri voters last year rejected a highway bond program similar to the one Arkansas voters approved.

"What I understood him to say is this 2+2+2 is just to maintain what they've got," Trammel said.

Arkansas is having its own problems with road funding. State highway officials last week pulled 56 road improvement projects across the state from the bidding process, including a portion of the Razorback Road widening project in Fayetteville and two overlay projects in Benton County.

The projects were for an April 21 bid opening and pulled because of continuing uncertainty over whether money will be available from the Federal Highway Trust Fund. A total of 61 projects worth $162 million have been withdrawn from bid openings this year.

Highway construction projects in Arkansas are initially paid for with state money then the state seeks reimbursement from the Federal Highway Trust Fund for the federal portion of those payments. Without action from Congress on a new highway bill or another extension of the continuing resolution, reimbursements from the fund are expected to be curtailed this summer.

A Section on 03/30/2015