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story.lead_photo.caption A map showing the Hot Springs bypass extension

A bypass extension connecting U.S. 70 and Arkansas 5 on the east side of Garland County will cost $75 million if the Arkansas Department of Transportation awards a contract for the project to a Pine Bluff contractor that submitted the lowest of three bids to do the work.

The project, when completed, will make travel easier and safer between Hot Springs and Hot Springs Village, Jessieville and other points east and north of the Garland County's county seat. That traffic currently must move along a congested stretch of Arkansas 7 that turns into Park Avenue.

"It's a game changer," said Gary Troutman, president and chief executive officer of the Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce.

The increased population in that part of the county has complicated travel not only for residents but for law enforcement personnel and emergency responders, said Hot Springs Mayor Pat McCabe.

The county's estimated population now is 99,154, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. That is up from 73,397 in 1990.

About 14,000 vehicles daily travel on the two-lane Arkansas 7 going into Hot Springs, the same amount of traffic that travels on U.S. 70 between Hot Springs and Interstate 30, according to the latest state Transportation Department data.

"We're looking forward to having that extension to the bypass," McCabe said. "It's the No. 1 goal for public safety [in the county]. We taxed ourselves."

The state Transportation Department has a policy of advancing projects that have commitments, including financial, from the communities that benefit from the projects.

The extension eventually would have been built, but "not in the time frame we're doing it," said Danny Straessle, the state agency spokesman. "It's a partnering project. Communities that contribute to the project help move the projects along faster."

In June 2016, Garland County voters approved extending a 0.635% sales tax, the proceeds of which will be used to provide up to $30 million toward bypass construction.

In addition, the county put up $5 million toward design and other preliminary work on the bypass. The department also is tapping $4.6 million in federal money afforded the region for congestion mitigation and air quality.

Further, the department received a $20 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to help pay for the project, Straessle said.

The balance of the cost, assuming a contract is awarded, will be paid with regular state and federal money reserved for road construction.

The department turned to the bypass concept after a study that the Arkansas Highway Commission approved eight years ago found that improving Arkansas 7, particularly within the Hot Springs city limits, would be difficult because of the presence of historic structures and Hot Springs' designation as a national park.

The 5.8-mile bypass extension, which will include five bridges, will be a two-lane route that also will have controlled access with entrance and exit ramps.

"Even though it's going to be two lanes, it will be at higher speed than if you go on Park Avenue and Highway 7," McCabe said.

Ray Owen Jr., a Garland County justice of the peace and board chairman of the Tri-Lakes Metropolitan Planning Organization, compared the project to the Natchez Trace Parkway in Mississippi, which has limited access and limited commercial development.

"It's going to be a safer route, a more efficient route," he said.

The low bid was submitted by McGeorge Contracting Co. Inc. of Pine Bluff, which said it could do the work in 890 days, or almost 2.5 years.

The other companies submitting bids were Kolb Grading LLC of St. Charles, Mo., which said it could do the project for $88.5 million and take 1,185 days, or about 3.2 years; and Redstone Construction Group Inc. of Little Rock, which said its work would cost $97.2 million and take 1,275 days, or 3.5 years.

Four other companies expressed interest in the project but didn't submit bids.

The winning bid is subject to review by the highway department.

The bypass job was one of 23 projects on which the state highway department opened low bids totaling $202.8 million on Wednesday.

Low bids on two projects on Interstate 555 totaled almost $45 million. A $33.8 million project would improve a section between U.S. 63B and Arkansas 18 in Craighead County, and an $11 million project would improve a section between Interstate 55 and Arkansas 149 in Crittenden and Poinsett counties.

Other jobs on which low bids were opened included a $12.5 million project to improve a section of U.S. 67 in Hampton in Calhoun County; a $6.8 million job to improve selected sections of Arkansas 23 in Carroll and Madison counties; and a $5.6 million project to improve the Interstate 40/U.S. 65 interchange in Conway.

Metro on 11/07/2019

Print Headline: Bids on bypass project opened


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