A federal grant announced today by five members of Congress will pay for the unfunded portion of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a project that’s been worked on by Missouri and Arkansas for more than 20 years.
The $25 million U.S. Department of Transportation’s Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development (BUILD) grant, which was requested by the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, will go to the Missouri Department of Transportation which has promised to complete work on a five-mile portion of a 19-mile section of Interstate 49 that swings west of Bella Vista.
The grant, coupled with funding provided by Missouri, provides all the funding needed to complete Interstate 49 in McDonald County, Mo. Arkansas already has the funding needed to complete two sections of the roadway in Benton County.
Led by Senator U.S. Senator Tom Cotton’s advocacy, members of Congress in Missouri and Arkansas played key roles in the pursuit of the funding and ensured that the U.S. Department of Transportation understood the importance of the project to people and companies in the Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers Metropolitan Statistical Area as well as middle America.
The Northwest Arkansas Council prioritized the completion of the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector, a roadway that’s often referred to as the Bella Vista Bypass. Leaders in both states starting calling it the Missouri-Arkansas Connector to better convey the project’s location to a national audience.
“Interstate access heralds the continued economic growth of any area, which is why completing the Bella Vista Bypass is vital for Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri,” Cotton said. “Many businesses and future infrastructure projects depend on its finalization, and this funding will allow that project’s construction finally to move forward.”
Because the BUILD grant maximum to any project is $25 million, the Missouri Department of Transportation will provide the remainder of the funding for the portion of the I-49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector in that state. That’s expected to be about $22 million.
Complimenting the federal grant would be the $22 million set aside by Missouri, $35.2 million for 2.5 miles of I-49 in Arkansas near the Arkansas-Missouri line, and $51.4 million in Arkansas for a new interchange where I-49 meets U.S. 71 in Bentonville. The $86.6 million in Arkansas money comes from a half-cent, voter-approved sales tax that will continue being collected through 2023.
The I-49 project’s importance to America’s Heartland is clear. The city of Bella Vista is the only location in the 270-mile stretch between Fort Smith, Arkansas and Kansas City, Missouri where traffic must leave I-49 to continue traveling north or south.
When completed, the connector will allow motorists to bypass Bella Vista, swinging west and south of the city on the new four-lane interstate. Motorists will be able to avoid nine traffic signals on U.S. 71, reducing travel times and improving their safety by accessing the less-congested connector.
Those who sent letters of support for the Missouri-Arkansas Connector project to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao included Cotton as well as Arkansas Sen. John Boozman, Arkansas Rep. Steve Womack, Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt and Missouri Rep. Billy Long.
“Completion of the critical stretch of the I-49 Arkansas-Missouri Connector is 25 years in the making, and I’m thrilled we’re one step closer to getting it done,” Blunt said. “Completing this project will increase safety, improve the quality of life, and strengthen local economies in Southwest Missouri and Northwest Arkansas. Missouri’s transportation networks are our greatest competitive advantage, and I appreciate the partnership of our Arkansas colleagues in moving this project forward.”
”Today’s funding announcement is a game changer that will do more than just upgrade the I-49 corridor – it will transform and modernize our local transportation system to support Arkansas families and the growth of our state. This investment, which I have tirelessly advocated for, will increase travel safety, decrease congestion, create jobs, and enhance the economic vitality of our region.Rep. Steve Womack
Other letters were sent by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson; Missouri Gov. Mike Parson; Walmart; Simmons Foods; J.B. Hunt Transport Services; Tyson Foods; the Arkansas Trucking Association; the Missouri Trucking Association; Mercy Hospital in Joplin, Mo.; Ducommun Inc. in Joplin; Hampshire Pet Products in Joplin; Jasper Products in Joplin; local chambers of commerce in Missouri and Arkansas; Missouri and Arkansas state legislators; and more than a dozen Missouri and Arkansas cities and counties.
Pictured at the top: A photo provided by the Arkansas Department of Transportation shows the Arkansas Highway 549, which will become part of Interstate 49 when Missouri and Arkansas build three additional sections of the highway. A $25 million grant for the project was announced today.