BELLA VISTA, Ark. —
The long-awaited construction of the first phase of a bypass around Bella Vista is expected to get rolling by the end of the year.
The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department recently released its schedule for the Connecting Arkansas Program, a new half-cent sales tax that Arkansas voters endorsed in the November elections to back road construction bonds worth $1.3 billion.
Northwest Arkansas is to get 25 percent of the total amount expended statewide.
“The first three contracts to be let will all be for the Bella Vista bypass,” said Randy Ort, spokesman for the road department in Little Rock. “These contracts, which will be let this fall and by early 2014, will compete the initial two-lane highway of the ultimate four-lane highway.”
The bypass will wrap around the west side of Bella Vista and eventually connect to Interstate Highway 49 in McDonald County, Mo. Missouri officials have committed to matching what Arkansas does.
Ort said the projects are first in line because they are furthest along in development.
“The design of the highway is complete,” he said. “The acquisition of property is complete. All we have been waiting on is the funding. It is basically ready to go.’’
Rob Smith, communications and policy specialist for the Northwest Arkansas Council, which supported the Connecting Arkansas Program, said, “The importance of the Bella Vista bypass project and the other two major highway projects in Northwest Arkansas that will occur because voters approved Issue No. 1 cannot be overstated.
“Research commissioned by the NAC and conducted by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute last year showed our two-county area of Northwest Arkansas loses $103 million annually due to traffic congestion,’’ he said in an email statement. “The researchers told us major projects, such as the Bella Vista bypass, will help reduce that figure.”
The council is a private, nonprofit organization that was founded in 1990 to work on issues, such as infrastructure, education, economic development and community vitality. The council has about 100 members.
Said Smith: “For Northwest Arkansas and for Southwest Missouri, there’s no highway project more important than the Bella Vista bypass.’’
The tax measure, which adds a half-cent to the state’s 6-cent sales tax, does not raise taxes on groceries, medicine or gasoline. The levy expires after 10 years.
Later 540 project
THE BOND MONEY also will be used to widen Interstate 540 to six lanes between Fayetteville and Bentonville.