BELLA VISTA, Ark. (KNWA/KFTA) — Highways can crush small town community businesses when traffic is rerouted, but in Bella Vista—where a bypass nears its finish—experts think less traffic may turn out to benefit the city.
The Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP) includes 36 projects to improve transportation, including a chunk in Northwest Arkansas. ARDOT spokesperson Dave Parker said the state expects to get millions of dollars in federal money to help fund projects, but most of the money comes from a 10-year, half-cent sales tax.
“It will allow us to really accelerate those programs,” Parker said. “Instead of taking maybe 10 years, a particular project might take only seven or eight.”
One of the bigger projects in Northwest Arkansas is the Bella Vista Bypass along I-49. University of Arkansas economist Mervin Jebaraj said there are pros and cons to highway expansion.
“Towns and cities are trying to develop their business,” Jebaraj said. “They want nice amenities. They want walkable neighborhoods. None of that’s necessarily conducive to having a multi-lane highway running right through your city.”
Jebaraj said the bypass will help reroute transportation.
“The bigger impact is the time saved for trucking, having to not stop at the stop lights in Bella Vista, having to slow down, start back up, stop again, start back up,” Jebaraj said.
Laci Shuffield directs the Air & Military Museum in Greenland, a city that knows firsthand what highways can do to smaller towns. After highway expansion in the 1990s, the traffic going through Greenland dipped considerably.
“One guy even compared it to the movie ‘Cars,'” Shuffield said. “The craziest thing when I started working here was how many people came up here after the 90s who had no idea we even existed because they just never came this way on the highway.”
Jebaraj said the Bella Vista expansion is different.
“That’s not necessarily going to happen the same way in Bella Vista because Bella Vista is a city in its own right,” Jebaraj said. “It’s growing rapidly. A lot of people are moving to Bella Vista.”
Bella Vista likely won’t see a drop-off in traffic, Jebaraj said.
“There’s every chance those businesses will do just fine from all the residents,” Jebaraj said.
Parker said the timeline for completion is not yet set, but when the projects are completed, Arkansas drivers should see the positives.
“It really will allow us to hit our core goals: safe and efficient travel,” Parker said. “You can get around quicker and better than ever. That’s what we’re looking for, and that’s what we’ll be able to do.”
The second installment of the CAP can’t begin until 2023, so drivers won’t see these finished projects for likely more than a decade.