What a Wednesday!
Northwest Arkansas leaders celebrated three milestones today, breaking ground for a new world-class museum, welcoming a new interstate highway designation, and kicking off a statewide highway improvement program that begins in Bella Vista.
Indeed, it was an impressive two hours for Northwest Arkansas, capped off by the announcement by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department that the Federal Highway Administration had approved transitioning Interstate 540 into I-49 from Alma to Bella Vista.
“We are excited to be officially naming this section of roadway as Interstate 49,” said Highway Commissioner Dick Trammel of Rogers. “This is part of the ultimate goal to upgrade the Highway 71 corridor in western Arkansas to interstate standards.
The busy day started with the groundbreaking for Amazeum, a 44,500-square-foot children’s museum that will be built near Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville.
The Amazeum’s design and exhibits are being created to appeal to all ages with hands-on activities. The Amazeum’s exhibits will pay tribute to the land, industries and people that built the Arkansas culture and sustain it today. Exhibits include a Tinkering Studio, water area, climbable tree canopy and a lab.
An acre of outdoor space will accommodate year-round learning and provides a backdrop for experiments and experiences inspired by the seasons. For businesses and organizations, the Amazeum will boast meeting spaces, creating a venue for corporate retreats to inspire creativity and teamwork.
Meanwhile, a large group of Northwest Arkansas leaders traveled to a Little Rock luncheon for the announced kickoff of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP), a series of 31 highway improvement projects statewide that will be pursued thanks to voters’ approval of Issue No. 1 in November 2012.
The Bella Vista Bypass, a major highway project in Benton County that will allow motorists to travel more easily between Missouri and Northwest Arkansas, will be the first of those 31 projects to be pursued.
Today’s surprise came when the Northwest Arkansas leaders in Little Rock learned from the Highway Department staff that it had received approval to designate a 65-mile section of I-540 between Alma and Bella Vista as I-49. About 700 of the I-49 signs will start going up next week, the Highway Department said.
I-49, which is already designated in Louisiana and Missouri, is a critical piece of the nation’s highway infrastructure. It connects with I-29 in Kansas City, Mo., making for a 1,700-mile route between New Orleans and Winnipeg, Canada.