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Renaming given initial approval

Renaming Interstate 540 from Alma to Bella Vista has receiving initial approval.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has given the okay to designate two sections of highway in Western Arkansas as Interstate 49.

Included is the 79 miles of I-540 north to Bella Vista and 42 miles of Arkansas 549 from Texarkana south to the Louisiana Line.

The approval was given earlier this month by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. The plan still needs the approval from the Federal Highway Administration.

Highway department director Scott Bennett said Missouri’s approval to put up I-49 signs from Kansas City, Mo., to Pineville, Mo., prompted the Arkansas Highway Department to file the request to rename the two state sections. The I-49 signs went up in Missouri in December.

Plans have been in the works for 30 years for a 1,700-mile corridor that would connect the Gulf of Mexico with Canada and run through western Arkansas. Under the plan, Interstate 49 would stretch from New Orleans to Kansas City, Mo., where it would connect with Interstate 29.

Arkansas highway department officials currently are reviewing funding options for Interstate 49 between Texarkana north to Fort Smith where no freeway route exists.

Work began in 2010 on a section of future I-49 between County Road 8 and Arkansas 22 in the Fort Smith and Fort Chaffee area. A total of 2.7 miles of roadway embankment, two overpasses and four box culverts for the new freeway were completed in fall of 2011.

Additional work includes an interchange for Arkansas 22 (Rogers Avenue) and diamond interchanges at Massard Road and Roberts Boulevard as part of the overall $57.65-million, seven-mile stretch of freeway on the Chaffee Crossing section of I-49.

The contract involving the construction of 0.635-miles of roadway and new interchange with U.S. 71 at the south end was let May 2, 2012. This work will be completed in 2014 and includes an interchange with U.S. 71.

A bridge across the Arkansas River for future Interstate 49, north of Arkansas 22, was estimated to cost $300 million in 2010.

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