NORTHWEST ARKANSAS (FOX24) — Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest-growing places in the country. And, as the growth continues, maintaining the region’s infrastructure will be critical.
The Northwest Arkansas council said the population in Northwest Arkansas is on pace to reach 1 million people in the next 20-30 years.
“We are adding about 30 people a day,” said Nelson Peacock, President & CEO of the Northwest Arkansas Council. “That’s a small city every month. So, a lot of growth. A lot of continued growth.”
Peacock said infrastructure is critical to maintaining healthy living standards.
“One of the roles of the council is to do everything we can to make sure we accommodate growth and continue to develop economically with respect to the quality of life,” he said. “Infrastructure is a key part of that. If you look at Interstate 49, we passed those funds ten years ago. Those projects take a long time to plan and build. You have to plan many years out to make sure you stay ahead of the curve.”
Arkansas voters will be asked in the 2020 General Election to pass a permanent extension of a current half-cent sales tax that generates money for infrastructure. 70-percent of the funds go to the Arkansas Department of Transportation. 30-percent goes to cities and counties in the state.
“It’s important because it will continue to provide about $205 million annually to the department for system preservation and potential capital improvement projects,” said Danny Straessle, spokesman for the Arkansas Department of Transportation. “Also, it will continue to provide $43 million annually to cities and $43 million dollars annually to counties.”
If voters approve the sales tax, the state will use its funds to pursue four major projects in Northwest Arkansas.
Straessle said the state will widen Arkansas Highway 112 from Fayetteville to Bentonville, complete the final two pieces of the Springdale Bypass and build the XNA Connector. These are projects he said are crucial to keeping pace with the growing population.
“For all of our planning purposes, we plan ahead about 20 years ahead of the game and make predictions on what we think the traffic numbers will be and what the population numbers will be off of the census data,” he said. “Then, we put it all together and come up with an adequate transportation plan that will carry Arkansas into the future.”
The Arkansas Department of Transportation will hold twelve regional meetings state-wide after the first of the year. The meetings are designed to educate and inform people about the projects that are possible if the half-cent sales tax is made permanent.
A schedule for those meetings has not been released.