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Springdale Bypass Awaiting Money

Right of Way Being Purchased Along Proposed Route by Steve Caraway | March 14, 2010 at 6:03 a.m.

— A U.S. 412 bypass design is on the books and right of way is being purchased, but financing remains a question.

The bypass would be a northern arc over Springdale connecting U.S. 412 west of Tontitown to east of Springdale, near the bridge over the White River.

The price for the 20-mile road has grown to between $450 million and $500 million since a 2002 cost estimate of $250 million.

“The estimated costs are going to change every year or so,” said Glenn Bolick, spokesman for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. “You never know exact costs until projects are complete.”

The bypass originated in 1996 from a study that looked for a way to reduce traffic congestion on the stretch of U.S. 412 through Springdale. The highway runs along Sunset Avenue, turns south along Thompson Street and back to the east on Robinson Avenue.

The highway, at the ramps west of Interstate 540, carried an average of 37,000 vehicles per day in 2008, according to the Highway Department statistics. The segment of Thompson that carries U.S. 412 traffic, experienced an average of 33,000 vehicles per day. The averages are some of the highest in Washington or Benton counties, outside of Interstate 540.

Traffic studies by Springdale Public Works determined up to 20 percent of the traffic in the city can be semitrailers, slowing the traffic even more.

“This will have a regional impact,” said Springdale Mayor Doug Sprouse. “That is why the Regional Mobility Authority took it on as a project.”

The Northwest Arkansas Regional Mobility Authority is a regional governmental agency that can build, operate, maintain, expand or fund transportation projects within Washington and Benton counties, according to its Web site.

The bypass would speed up traffic along the major east-west highway crossing north Arkansas. The Highway Department is upgrading U.S. 412 across the state, including bypasses around Huntsville, Mountain Home and Flippin.

North of where Wagon Wheel Road crosses I-540, a huge interchange would connect the two highways, which are designated by the U.S. Congress as high priority corridors. The Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991 first created high priority corridors. Since then, other acts have added to the list, now 80 corridors long.

The I-540 priority, labeled High Priority Corridor No. 1, calls for it to become part of an interstate connecting Kansas City, Mo., with Shreveport, La., and possibly New Orleans. The U.S. 412 priority, No. 8, would connect Tulsa, Okla., to Nashville, Tenn.

The acts numbered the corridors as they were designated, but did not create any funding for construction.

The Highway Department has bought some rights of way from people who have offered land for sale, said Randy Ort, department public information coordinator. All the purchases have been between I-540 and Arkansas 112, Ort said. Although there is no construction schedule, Ort said, “you could infer that section will be built first.”

The bypass would cross from Washington County into Benton County and back. It would pass near or through Tontitown, Elm Springs, Cave Springs, Springdale, Lowell and Bethel Heights

A proposed toll road connecting Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport with the bypass would join west of Arkansas 112.

The Springdale Planning Commission recently proposed changing the city land use plan to incorporate commercial development around the I-540 and bypass interchange.

Springdale attorney Jeff Slaton opposes the change. An interchange ramp would take out his house in Belmont Estates.

“What is the urgency?” Slaton said. “This bypass won’t be built in my lifetime. They are not going to get the money anytime soon. The city can wait to change this area to commercial.”

The Highway Department only has money for the design and limited purchases of right of way, Bolick said, but the project could receive money diverted from others not progressing as fast. The project doesn’t have a schedule for construction, Ort said, because of financial uncertainty.

Springdale’s Planning Department wants interchanges where the bypass crosses Parsons Road and Monitor Road. Those interchanges would allow access to the city’s northeast corner, a major area for expansion, Sprouse said.

“We checked on those roads and there wasn’t enough traffic there to warrant interchanges,” Ort said.

Ben Peters, city engineer, agreed.

“But, by the time the bypass is built, there may be enough,” he said.

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Web Watch

U.S. 412 Northern Bypass

Environmental studies and maps of the project are available at

www.arkansashighways.com/evironmental/environmental_studies/001966/001966.aspx

Source: Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department

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