JANE, Mo. — Businesses in Southwest Missouri say they are ready for it.
County and chamber officials in Southwest Missouri say they are ready for it, too.
Saying, "the tidal wave is coming, we're ready to ride the wave," Shawn Cooper, president of the McDonald County Chamber of Commerce, cheered on long-delayed plans to build an interstate bypass that avoids the business corridor around Jane, in southern McDonald County, and the stoplights and traffic in Bella Vista, Arkansas.
On Tuesday, Arkansas Department of Transportation officials broke ground on the last 2.4 miles of the Bella Vista Bypass that state is responsible for, a project that will take their work right to the state line.
Missouri Department of Transportation officials plan to let bids on their 5-mile stretch from Pineville to the state line in February 2020, anticipating construction will begin next spring. Work on the bypass is scheduled for completion in 2022.
The new road will complete Interstate 49 between Kansas City and Interstate 40, near Fort Smith, Arkansas.
Cooper said completion of the bypass will have the “biggest economic impact” in modern times for the county.
“I think it will help with the flow of tourism coming through and staying at our facilities and businesses,” he said. “I think getting the roadway secure opens up a lot of different avenues and options, and makes us more attractive to recruit companies to set up in McDonald County.
State Rep. Dirk Deaton, R-Noel, whose district includes the bypass, said he believes “beyond a shadow of doubt” positive changes will come to Newton and McDonald counties when the work is complete.
“I couldn’t be more excited,” Deaton said. “We finally have a date (for construction). The light is there at the end of the tunnel. We’ve gone from speaking about it, to going to have it done.”
Former state Rep. Kevin Wilson, who works on economic development issues for the Neosho Area Chamber of Commerce and for New-Mac Electric Cooperative, said he believes economic development will increase in both counties, as restaurants, truck stops and other businesses move in.
He said he also thinks the bypass will encourage housing developments in Southwest Missouri as people look for options outside of fast-growing Northwest Arkansas.
“This is not just good for McDonald County, but also the region,” Wilson said. “With a clear shot to I-44 and I-40, this really gives us an opportunity, which might have been there but that little bitty section of roadway that was not interstate may have scared development away.
“With two major east-west and north-south roadways, we’re ripe for development.”
As travel is routed west of Jane, most business owners said they believe the change will have more positive than negative consequences.
For 22 years, Roger Gildehaus’ business, Macadoodles, has sat near the final intersection on the Missouri side of the line, just before entering Arkansas.
“The bulk of our business is done with local people,” Gildehaus said. “Where we do get the highway traffic is with our Shell gas station. Some people stop to get gas, and then come into the store to buy products.
He believes once the bypass is complete that some travelers will continue to use the existing roadway.
“We are a destination stop,” Gildehaus added. “Ever since we opened, we would see some people on Friday, buying alcohol as they go south for the weekend. They usually say, ‘See ya again Sunday’ and stop to stock up on the way home.
Gildehaus thinks removing the 18-wheelers from the road will help those living and commuting in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas.
“It’s going to be a tremendous help for traffic flow and safety,” he said.
Adam Fletcher, general manager of Wood Motor Co., said most of their business comes from people living in the region, rather than from traffic passing through on the highway.
In fact, Fletcher said he believes local traffic will benefit because it will reduce the number of semis moving through Jane and Bella Vista.
“Locals will be able to maneuver easier and quicker,” Fletcher said. “Now, the road is full of semis, it’s all you can see.”
David Secora’s family owns Jim’s Razorback Pizza north of the Missouri-Arkansas state line.
He said the restaurant gets a few travelers passing through the area, but most business comes from those living in the region.
“We might lose a little, but it won’t be enough to worry us,” Secora said. “Most of the travelers we see are getting gas at Macadoodles. They see our sign for pizza by the slice and stop.”
Like Fletcher, Secora is looking forward to how the changes will impact traffic.
“Something has to happen,” Secora said. “Traffic is awful in Bella Vista, it gets pretty backed up.”
Jacquelin Miller, owner of Bubba’s BBQ, also on the Missouri side of the line, has mixed feelings about the change. She gets a lot of customers locally, but noted the restaurant gets also about 20 percent of its business each month from travelers.
She worries that it could hurt nearby businesses, including the Walmart Supercenter nearby in Jane.
While rumors of a possible closure persist in Jane, Anne Hatfield, director of global communications for Walmart, said they are unfounded.
“There is no truth to the rumors,” Hatfield said in an email. “We have no plans to relocate.”