The 5-mile section of the Bella Vista Bypass in Missouri, between Pineville and the Missouri-Arkansas state line, is 70% complete and will be open to traffic this fall, according to Missouri Department of Transportation officials.
The Bella Vista Bypass, also called the Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector, is an interstate that will go straight south out of Pineville and into Arkansas, circling around the west side of Bella Vista before turning east to connect with Interstate 49 at Bentonville.
The connector is scheduled for completion by Sept. 30. The Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission awarded the contract to Emery Sapp & Sons Inc., of Columbia, last spring.
The transformation of U.S. Highway 71 into I-49 in Missouri has taken decades to accomplish. Planning for the final series of projects was begun in the late 1980s, with construction beginning in the early 1990s and continuing through 2012 when construction halted near Pineville.
Marvin Morris, resident engineer with MoDOT, said a majority of the road grading has been done in Missouri and that work is on track for completion by the fall. He said Missouri’s portion was 70.4% complete, as of Tuesday afternoon.
“The actual roadbed itself, they’re in the process of putting the smaller rock on top — the base rock that goes underneath the concrete paving,” he said. “Then we have the concrete paving, which will be a large task. At the north end, I-49 will fly over southbound Highway 71 — the existing road going south. The new freeway is going to cross a bridge that … ties in. The bridge will be one of the last things we do. By the end of September, we should have the road open.”
The estimated $70.3 million project will relocate the four-lane divided highway to the west of the existing U.S. Route 71. The new highway will meet interstate standards with access only at interchanges.
What makes an interstate is access control, Morris said, and this new bypass will help not only with safety but also with traffic flow and congestion. The MoDOT engineer said about 21,000 vehicles travel daily on that section of Highway 71, and it’s expected to increase to nearly 30,000 vehicles daily in 20 years.
“The traffic is driving the need for the bypass,” Morris said. “This area — Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri — has been exploding. Before, it was quite rural, and now, the cities are growing together. Missouri has been planning for this interstate since the early 2000s. We’ve actually started building plans and trying to acquire right of way years ago to make this happen. This has been a partnership with Arkansas for the last 20 years.”
Although it’s been decades in the making, the project has progressed since MoDOT’s regional planning partner, Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, a nonprofit metropolitan planning organization based in Springdale, helped get the Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development grant in December 2018.
Those funds were added to approximately $45 million from MoDOT to complete the project.
“I can’t tell you exactly what’s happening on the Arkansas side, but I’ve noticed they have a lot of paving in place,” Morris said. “They have a really large bridge and ramps that they have to build at the interchange in Bella Vista. Towards the north end where they meet up with us, they look pretty close, but I think the majority of their work is further to the south where they tie into I-49.”
Arkansas passed a half-cent sales tax in 2012, generating money for its part of the project. In late 2018, the congressional delegations from the two states announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation had approved a $25 million grant request to help fund the work.
Once constructed, the Bella Vista Bypass will connect 290 miles of interstate between Kansas City and Fort Smith, Arkansas.