The Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday approved its staff's request to pursue federal funding for the Missouri portion of the Interstate 49 Missouri-Arkansas Connector.
Thirty-eight people, including elected officials from McDonald County and the city of Anderson in Missouri, attended Wednesday's meeting. They each voiced strong support for the project, describing its importance to long-distance travelers as well as Missourians who commute to work in Northwest Arkansas.
The commission's application for the grant is critical toward completing the unfinished section of I-49. If the request for a $32.4 million Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant is awarded, there would be enough money to transition I-49 into a 265-mile, uninterrupted highway from Fort Smith and Kansas City.
Missouri owns all the property that's needed for the roadway and the highway has been fully designed.
The deadline to apply is Nov. 2. The program has $1.5 billion available in INFRA grants.
The Missouri-Arkansas Connector for two decades has been described as the Bella Vista Bypass, but the regional planning commission staff started using the new name to better describe the location of the project. It'll take more nationwide familiarity to obtain federal funding for the high-priority project.
The step being taken by the regional planning commission in Arkansas to seek money for a Missouri project appears unusual on its face, but the commission's staff confirmed with the Federal Highway Administration that the commission is an eligible applicant. That's because the entirety of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector is in the commission's metropolitan planning area boundary.
The Northwest Arkansas Council has consistently identified the completion of the 19-mile, four-lane divided highway between Bentonville, Arkansas and Pineville, Missouri as a top regional priority.
Arkansas already has the funding it needs to complete the 14 miles of the connector that are in the Natural State.
Both the Arkansas Department of Transportation and the Missouri Department of Transportation have expressed their support for the planning commission's application. Arkansas, in fact, would provide the federally required matching funds for the Missouri project, allowing the money received from a half-cent sales tax approved by Arkansas voters in 2012 to serve as that match.
The federal funding to the Missouri portion of I-49 would kick off new highway construction in Northwest Arkansas as Arkansas has waited for Missouri funding to be identified before advancing three of its own projects.
Arkansas would start building a $26 million, two-mile section just south of the Missouri line, and the picture that's included with this post shows where the highway currently ends near County Road 34 in Benton County.
Arkansas also would begin a $43 million single-point urban interchange at the other end of the Missouri-Arkansas Connector near the Lowe's Home Improvement Center in Bentonville, replacing a temporary roundabout that was completed at that site earlier this year.
Arkansas plans to transition two-lane sections of the connector into a four-lane, divided, interstate-quality highway. The current 11 miles is Arkansas is just two lanes and Arkansas has all the funding that's necessary for that work, too.