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Airport access road focus of input session

by Ron Wood | March 3, 2021 at 7:29 a.m.
NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The terminal and front entrance is visible Friday, June 22, 2018, at the Northwest Arkansas Regioinal Airport in Highfill.

Engineers working on a new road to the Northwest Arkansas National Airport showed off their preferred route and answered questions about the project during a video public input session Tuesday evening.

The road will begin life with two lanes, according to Bill McAbee and Jon Hetzel, with Garver, the engineering company.

"The reason for that is traffic dictates what a facility needs to be to adequately handle that capacity of traffic," McAbee said. "At this point, looking 20 years into the future, two lanes are adequate to address that traffic given the fact it is fully controlled and there's no access coming in and out makes that two-lane function better than a two-lane that has a lot of ingress and egress on it."

By 2040, the road is expected to carry about 15,000 cars a day.

But, the road will eventually be a 4.6-mile four-lane controlled access state highway between the Springdale Northern Bypass and Arkansas 264 at the airport with a 70 mph speed limit. Travel time is expected to be about four minutes. The road will be almost a straight line following the Osage Creek valley for much of the way.

"Two lanes are adequate," McAbee said. "At some point it will be reevaluated to determine the traffic needs and when the additional two lanes need to be built."

Construction is estimated to cost $79.7 million and right of way acquisition another $5.8 million for a total of about $85.6 million.

After federal highway officials give their go-ahead and the design is finalized, right of way will be acquired for all four lanes. The next section of the Springdale Northern Bypass, where the airport road will take off, is expected to be bid in summer 2022, and the the airport road itself is expected to be bid in summer 2023. Construction could take up to two years; at least four bridges or overpasses are planned.

The access road will initially connect to Arkansas 264 at the airport with simple off ramps. A diamond interchange will be added at a later time.

When design of the project is about 60% complete, another public input session will be held.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation wants a new four-lane, limited access road to the airport because it provides the most direct and reliable route. The proposed road reduces the likelihood of congestion, accidents or extreme weather events interfering with people getting to and from the airport, according to the recently completed environmental study.

The proposed access road shouldn't significantly affect threatened or endangered species or environmentally sensitive areas, according to the environmental assessment study.

The environmental assessment study looked at several alternatives including doing nothing; building a new road; improving roads, including Arkansas 112 and Arkansas 264; and a combination of a new road and improving Arkansas 112 and Arkansas 264.

Airport officials have always wanted a new road to the airport. The alternate routes had to be considered because the Federal Highway Administration, federal wildlife officials and the state Transportation Department, which all have to sign off on the road, require all reasonable alternatives to be explored.

The state Department of Transportation is expected to design, build and pay for the project as part of the highway improvement program approved by voters in November. The airport also has about $14 million in federal money earmarked for the road.

The environmental assessment looked at a host of issues including spring recharge areas, streams, floodplains and wetlands, wildlife and federally protected species, land uses, population growth, air quality, traffic conditions, historic or archeological sites, the indirect and cumulative impact of the project, and noise.

Two residences and three businesses would likely have to be moved for the road, according to the study. The route would be around the southwest side of Cave Springs and outside the Cave Springs Recharge Area.

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In case you missed it

If you were not able to attend Tuesday’s online presentation, there is still time to comment on the project. The public is invited to listen, view meeting materials and provide written comments on a website that will be available until 4:30 p.m. March 17.

Here’s a link to the website: https://xnaaccess.transportationplanroom.com .

This website will provide project materials and handouts that would have been shown at an in-person meeting. A separate link on the page will provide a Spanish version of the presentation. There will also be an option to send online comment forms to project staff, or people can print the form and mail it to Garver, Attn: Lindi Miller, 4701 Northshore Drive, North Little Rock, Ark., 72118.

People who don’t have internet access may contact Lindi Miller at (501) 823-0730 or PublicInvolvement@GarverUSA.com to ask questions about the proposed project and how to access project information.

Source: Arkansas Department of Transportation

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