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story.lead_photo.caption Interstate 49 is shown in this file photo.

FAYETTEVILLE -- State highway officials say they're looking at several major road construction projects over the next 10 years in Northwest Arkansas, if voters make a half-percent sales tax permanent next year.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation is proposing 31 projects throughout the state. Those projects aren't set in stone and could change if priorities change over the next 20 years. Highway officials presented a wish list to the Arkansas Highway Commission on Wednesday in Little Rock.

On the web

To see the presentation Arkansas Department of Transportation director Scott Bennett made to the Arkansas Highway Commission earlier this week, go to this link: www.arkansashighways.com/PowerPoints/2019/20190612%20AHC%20Meeting%20Slides.pdf.

Northwest Arkansas projects could include $30 million for an access road to the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport; $100 million for sections of Arkansas 112 between Bentonville and Fayetteville; and $180 million for two sections of Interstate 612, one from U.S. 412 to Arkansas 112 at $100 million and the other from I-49 to Arkansas 265 at $80 million.

Transportation Department officials describe the idea as a second Connecting Arkansas Program building 36 projects throughout the state.

"This is the beginning of continuing that progress from the current Connecting Arkansas Program," Scott Bennett, director of the Transportation Department, said Wednesday. "It's still got a lot of room for development for individual corridors, but this will make a lot of progress. Does it do everything? No. We're never going to get enough money to do everything. But, this will be a very, very significant, major construction program."

The Connecting Arkansas program is paid for with a half-percent sales tax approved by voters in 2012 lasting 10 years. Voters will be asked in November 2020 to make the sales tax permanent through a Constitutional amendment. It's expected to raise $205 million a year. The sales tax money would be in addition to the Transportation Department's state and federal money of about $447 million a year.

"Even with this, we're $1.7 million short per year, but this will go a long way toward getting all of our interstate and our highways up into good condition and all of our bridges," said Philip Taldo, highway commissioner from Springdale. "We've got some not-so-long-range plans ongoing, big projects, that this will enable us to move forward and get finished."

The region's population is projected to be about 800,000 by 2040, but regional planners say the estimate could be low. The population was 549,128 in 2018, according to Census Bureau estimates.

"It's a first sketch of what might be possible with extra funding," said Danny Straessle, Transportation Department spokesman. "It's bound to change and will continue to change. We've still got to go out for public input, so Wednesday was the first look by the commission at what we're thinking."

Around the state, the Transportation Department would also like to spend about $500 million over 20 years to widen sections of I-40 between Little Rock and West Memphis and another $350 million on I-30 and I-40 in central Arkansas.

Other projects on the list include future sections of I-49 around and south of Fort Smith to Y City, widening U.S. 412 across north Arkansas and Arkansas 82 across south Arkansas.

About $3 billion would be spent over 10 years to repave various roads around the state. Another $1.1 billion would be spent on bridge replacement and preservation, about 7 percent of the state's 7,300 bridges are rated as being in poor condition.

About $1 billion would be spent on interstate maintenance and another $500 million on safety improvements.

The Connecting Arkansas program has been used in Northwest Arkansas to widen 15 miles of I-49 to six lanes from Fayetteville to Bentonville and to build about 12 miles of the Bella Vista Bypass and about 4.5 miles of the U.S. 412 Springdale Northern Bypass.

NW News on 06/16/2019

Print Headline: Region could see more road construction with sales tax

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