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Site work expected to begin on I-49 extension to Barling in the Fall

by Ron Wood | January 12, 2022 at 7:01 a.m.

The Arkansas Department of Transportation expects to begin preliminary site work later this year for an extension of Interstate 49 at Alma south to Chaffee Crossing in Barling.

Lorie Tudor, director of the highway department, said at a First Friday Breakfast last week work will begin in the fall, according to a news release from Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority.

The First Friday Breakfast was hosted by the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce at the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith.

"For 2022, we are looking at a contract to clear the right-of-way and prepare the area for additional grading and structures work for the interchange at and just north of Highway 22," said Chad Adams, district engineer with the Highway Department in Fort Smith. "Schedules are being developed, but more substantial work should begin in the 2024-2025 time frame."

Adams said the highway project will take years to finish.

"Completion is very difficult to predict at this time, but an ambitious goal would be to have the work completed by the end of this decade," Adams said.

Daniel Mann, CEO of the redevelopment authority, said he was thankful the department is following through on the long-anticipated project.

"It will be a great pleasure to plan the groundbreaking this fall and see real work begin in the near future," Mann said. "I-49 is a major transportation corridor that will open up the Fort Smith regional market to greater domestic and international trade."

The project involves building a section of interstate about 13 miles across the River Valley from Arkansas 22 near Barling in Sebastian County to the interchange of Interstate 40 and I-49 at Alma in Crawford County.

The new section of I-49 will be 13.6 miles long and cost an estimated $787 million. It requires a new bridge over the Arkansas River that's expected to cost $300 million to $400 million. The work is expected to be done in several phases because of the cost.

The new road will meet up with a four-lane section of U.S. 71 around Greenwood.

The project is expected to be paid for using money from a sales tax for highway construction extended by voters last year. The measure indefinitely continues the half-cent sales and use tax dedicated to state highways when the current statewide tax sunsets June 30, 2023.

The new section from Alma to Barling was originally part of a larger corridor environmental study known as the "U.S. 71 Relocation." That study extended from U.S. 71 in DeQueen to I-40 near Alma, encompassing about 125 miles. The relocation of U.S. 71 in Arkansas is part of the congressionally designated High Priority Corridor 1, running from Shreveport, La., to Kansas City, Mo. The general alignment for a new location, four-lane highway in western Arkansas was approved by federal highway officials in December 1997.

Filling in the gap between Fort Smith and Texarkana has been in the plans for decades.

Further south, almost 300 miles of I-49 is open from a temporary terminus at U.S. 71 and U.S. 59 at the Texas line north of Texarkana to Interstate 10 in Lafayette.

A southern extension of the route from Lafayette to New Orleans along the U.S. 90 corridor is planned and has future I-49 corridor signs in place. The state's long-range plan is to connect New Orleans and Lafayette with an upgraded U.S. 90 that becomes I-49 South. The work amounts to elevating U.S. 90 to interstate standards.

Print Headline: Prep for River Valley extension of I-49 expected this fall

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