A trip to the fine outdoor destinations in southwest Missouri is faster and more pleasant now that the Bella Vista Bypass is open.
We arrived at this conclusion after a thorough investigation on a pleasant Saturday, Oct. 2, the day after the bypass opened to traffic between Bentonville and Pineville, Mo. Our team filled to-go mugs with hot coffee and set out on a cool morning to test-drive this new 19-mile highway that's now part of Interstate 49.
Setting out from midtown Bentonville, we headed north on I-49 to the start of the Bella Vista Bypass, where I-49 crosses U.S. 71 in north Bentonville. The time on the dashboard clock read 9:01 a.m. as our tires hit the fresh roadway on the south end of the bypass.
Speed limit ranges from 65 to 75 on the bypass. Traffic was light this Saturday morning, but it was good to see big rigs using the new highway designed to ease traffic congestion along U.S. 71 through Bella Vista. Travelers bypass those pesky traffic lights that always seem to be red.
We zipped along the smooth interstate highway headed to Pineville, Mo. and the Elk River, one of our favorite fishing and floating streams. Friends and neighbors, from Bentonville it only took 15 minutes to reach the Pineville exit at Missouri Route H. And that's driving the speed limit, which most people don't do. The dashboard clock flashed 9:16 as we eased down the exit ramp.
We resisted the temptation to stop in and visit the crew at Big Elk Floats and Camping, where we've started many an Elk River canoe trip. It was Saturday, and they'd be busy. Plus we were on a mission with our in-depth investigation. (Look for a feature on the Elk River next Tuesday in NWA Outdoors.)
So now we turned the car to head south, taking the old way back to Bentonville on U.S. 71 through Bella Vista and all those danged traffic lights. Driving the same distance took us 30 minutes to reach Bentonville and the south end of the Bella Vista bypass where we started.
The traffic on U.S. 71 headed south was noticeable lighter. And nearly all day, every day, southbound traffic used to back up for up to a mile behind the stop light at McNelly Road and U.S. 71, where Bentonville and Bella Vista meet. The Bella Vista bypass has eliminated that headache.
The new bypass is going to shave 15 minutes, maybe more, off a trip to the Elk River, Big Sugar or Little Sugar creeks or Indian Creek. It'll take less time to reach the forests and hiking trails at Big Sugar Creek State Park east of Pineville.
Headed to Kansas City to visit the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art or take in a Chiefs game? Now it's interstate all the way to KC and almost to Canada once you roll on to Interstate 49.
Another pleasant surprise was that the Bella Vista bypass is scenic. The highway curves gently through rolling hill country that's mostly forest with minimal signs of civilization. It makes a nice fall foliage drive now that the leaves are turning.
There's one thing we'd like to see at the Gravette exit. Instead of the exit sign just saying Gravette, it'd be nice if it read "Gravette, pronounced GRAV-it" so travelers wouldn't be calling this cool small town Gruh-VETTE like lots of newcomers do.
"Honey," a spouse might say. "Wonder what it's like to live in that town Gruh-VETTE?"
We also liked the new signs on the bypass that say "State law: Left lane for passing only."
Even for folks who don't travel into Missouri much, it's worth an investigative journey to explore the new Bella Vista bypass that's been decades in the making.
Flip Putthoff can be reached at email@example.com