FAYETTEVILLE -- It appears Northwest Arkansas won't be getting a federal grant to finish the missing section of the Bella Vista Bypass.
The Northwest Arkansas Planning Commission applied in September for a federal grant to help cash-strapped Missouri finish its part of Interstate 49 around Bella Vista, noting at the time it was a long-shot at best.
The plan was to give the money to Missouri, which would then build the highway. The plan had the support of both the Missouri and Arkansas departments of transportation. The Northwest Arkansas Council was also behind the project.
The request was for $32.4 million from a federal Department of Transportation grant program known as Infrastructure for Rebuilding America. The bypass is now being referred to as the Arkansas-Missouri Interstate 49 Connector Project to emphasize the regional importance.
Danny Straessle, a spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said Thursday no Arkansas projects made the cut. A list of projects was released earlier this week.
"We were very disappointed that the grant was not approved," said Jeff Hawkins, executive director at regional planning. "It was a very good application that uniquely met the criteria and objectives for the INFRA Grant program. Our staff did a good job putting the proposal together, and Nelson Peacock and his staff at the Northwest Arkansas Council made sure the project was on the DOT's radar in Washington."
Infrastructure for Rebuilding America is a Department of Transportation grant program. The $1.5 billion in discretionary money is earmarked for projects that involve moving freight. The program looks to leverage local and state money for highways and ports.
Source: Staff report
Hawkins said the completion of I-49 has been a national priority.
"This is the only missing link in the corridor, and we'll continue to explore ways to get it constructed," Hawkins said.
Missouri has acquired the right of way, done an environmental study, designed the road and set aside $18.4 million for the project, regional planners were told. But, Missouri is about $32.4 million short.
Arkansas has money set aside for its remaining portion of the highway.
Money for the 18.9 mile section has been a major holdup to completing a 265 mile corridor between I-40 and Kansas City, Mo., according to Tim Conklin, with regional planning.
Missouri officials last year asked the Planning Commission to amend the region's Transportation Improvement Plan, which includes McDonald County, and move the project back until at least 2021. The plan is a list of federally funded transportation projects proposed by various communities, transit providers, the commission and the Arkansas and Missouri transportation departments.
The gap in I-49 has been a contentious issue for years. At one point Missouri had money set aside and Arkansas didn't, so Missouri used the money on other projects. Then, Arkansas voters passed a sales tax in 2012 dedicated to road construction, including I-49 improvements. Now, Arkansas has the money set aside and Missouri doesn't.
Arkansas opened a two-lane section of the bypass in May 2017, but is holding off building the other two lanes until Missouri is ready, according to planners. The bypass ends northwest of Hiwasse, 2.3 miles south of the state line.
The other unfinished parts of the project consist of interchange improvements at I-49 and U.S. 71 in Bentonville, where the Bella Vista Bypass heads west. That work is planned for 2020 and expected to cost $43.1 million.
NW News on 06/08/2018