The Arkansas Highway Commission recently approved plans for construction of Arkansas' first toll road, a planned 15-mile, $188-million bypass around Bella Vista in the northwest portion of the state, the Arkansas News Bureau website reported.
The new road would link I-540 with Bentonville and Bella Vista, carrying traffic west and north into Missouri. The area is home to Wal-Mart stores, Tyson Foods and some major trucking firms.
The project could serve as a prototype for other highway projects in northwest Arkansas that have struggled to find a funding source, Commissioner Jonathan Barnett said.
The road can be financed with bonds and those could be paid off using $37 million in federal transportation funds and toll revenues, the newspaper reported. The Arkansas State Highway Transportation Department still would have to cover $2 million in yearly costs for maintenance and operation.
Public hearings on the project's design are expected in the area this summer. A study by Wilbur Smith Associates, a Connecticut-based firm that analyzed the proposal, suggests tolls on the road will probably be about $1.50 per vehicle.
Since 1999, the traffic growth in the area has grown 4% to 9% a year, and similar growth is expected in the future, the study concluded.