FAYETTEVILLE -- State highway officials are considering planning a road to connect the Bella Vista Bypass and the Springdale Northern Bypass via the Northwest Arkansas National Airport.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is hosting a virtual public input session to hear from area residents.
"This allows members of the public to offer their views about the transportation needs of the region, from the safety and convenience of a computer or mobile device," said Travis Brooks, advanced transportation planning engineer with the department.
The department will use the feedback and other information to identify potential transportation solutions, which will be shared for discussion at a future round of public meetings, Brooks said.
The purposes of the new connector road study include determining if a new highway is needed, identifying feasible alternatives and developing cost estimates.
The study is looking at an oval-shaped area west of Bentonville and Arkansas 112 and east of Springtown, Decatur and Gravette. It stretches from the Bella Vista Bypass on the north to U.S. 412 on the south. The airport sits roughly in the middle.
The 2040 Northwest Arkansas Metropolitan Transportation Plan proposes north-south corridor improvements within the study area west of Interstate 49.
The main goal is to improve connectivity with secondary goals of improving mobility, relieving congestion, improving safety and reliability, and strengthening the region's economic competitiveness.
Tim Conklin, assistant director at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said residents should participate because similar past studies have resulted in improvements, such as those to Arkansas 265, which has become a north-south corridor on the east side of the area.
"The region continues to experience rapid growth in cities west of I-49 between U.S. 412 and Bella Vista Bypass," Conklin said. "Just as we have seen improvements over the last 20 years on Highway 265 from Fayetteville to Rogers, the region is interested in better understanding the highway needs west of I-49."
Census data and estimates for small cities in or near the study area show five towns have had large population increases since 2010.
Centerton has grown 86.3%, from 9,515 residents to 17,732. Tontitown has shown similar growth, going from 2,460 people to 4,445, an 80.6% increase.
Elm Springs has increased from 1,535 residents to 2,587, up 68.5%. Gravette has grown from 2,325 to 3,416, up 46.9%.
Cave Springs has increased from 4,970 people in 2010 to 6,256, an increase of 25.8%.
Cities west of the study area saw smaller increases.
The study is related to another Transportation Department study that is looking at an access road to the airport. The department is doing an environmental assessment to evaluate possible routes. This new connector road study will incorporate the findings and recommendations of the access road study.
The Transportation Department offered last year to design the access road. Airport officials think the department's offer will speed up the process of building a road, after some 20 years of frustration. An estimated cost for the project hasn't been determined.
The original plan called for the airport authority to build and pay for a long driveway to the airport, from U.S. 612 at Elm Springs. That plan was shelved in favor of a road running near the airport, such as the proposed new western connector, that could end up being a highway passing next to the airport with an exit.
A study in 2011 found a western beltway from the Bella Vista Bypass to I-49 in the Greenland area will be needed some day, but said there was no money identified to pay for the project. The new study looks at the northern part of that proposed corridor.
The schedule calls for the department to continue through early next year to analyze traffic, safety, environmental and other data, and compile public comments to determine the need for improvements. They will also prepare traffic forecasts, coordinate stakeholder meetings to discuss local and regional plans, and develop and analyze improvement alternatives.
A second round of public involvement sessions is expected by March or April, and a final draft of the study is expected to be ready by July 2021.
Make yourself heard
The Arkansas Department of Transportation is studying the need for and feasibility of a new highway connection from the Springdale Northern Bypass to the Bella Vista Bypass west of Interstate 49.
As part of the study, the Highway Department is holding an online public involvement meeting that runs through July 13 to introduce the study and obtain input.
The meeting is being hosted at: https://wnsconnector.transportationplanroom.com/
Ron Wood can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWARDW.
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