BARLING, Ark (KNWA/KFTA) – On Thursday, the Arkansas Department of Transportation broke ground on a long-awaited project that will add another piece to the I-49 puzzle.

The targeted area is between Barling and Alma. Work will begin on the Barling portion, with the first segment of the project focusing mostly on clearing and grubbing a small stretch of land, before moving on to the heavier lifting stages.

“We’ll come back in early 2024, and that’s when you’ll see a lot of real activity. That’s when you’ll see the 10-mile stretch on up to the Alma area,” said Dave Parker with the Arkansas Department of Transportation.

This expansion has been over 20 years in the making. Over the years, Parker said it hadn’t been the right time. However, as the area continues to grow, the need to expand grows as well.

Public hearings have been held over the years to make sure communities were being accommodated. Parker said changes were made to ensure the best possible solution was found.

“We took that input we heard from the public, which we always enjoy, and we altered plans a bit. So, we feel like now we’re at a point where we’re in as much agreement as we possibly can,” said Parker

Some who live along that 13.5-mile stretch of unfinished interstate will have to relocate if they live or own businesses that would fall on that property.

“They are offered very attractive relocation packages. Some will stay and have a portion of their land impacted. They are reimbursed and taken care of in certain situations if certain criteria is met,” said Parker.

Parker said the benefits of the expansion are countless.

“You’ll be able to get to this area quicker, easier, faster,” said Parker.

Kyrk Peacock has lived in Barling his entire life. His family owns Bruce Terri Drive-In & Catering.

“Bruce Terri- we’ve been in this business since ’61 and been in this location since ’69. I’m the third generation in this family business,” said Peacock.

The expansion could bring competition to his family’s business, but overall, he’s thrilled to see progress being made. He thinks the expansion will help bring in a lot more profit from people passing through.

“The interstate being just a mile from our restaurant will bring us so many new customers, and we’ll be able to reach a bigger audience,” said Peacock.

An associate pastor of a church in Central City, which is right next door to Barling, said the church will be along the edge of the interstate. Daniel Lowery’s church, First Southern Baptist Church of Central City, is looking at this expansion not only as an opportunity to spread its message to more people but also as an opportunity for the community to grow.

“With all the things going on in Fort Chaffee, all that’s going to grow even more- more young families, more new businesses, and all those good things,” said Lowery.

Lowery said many who live in the Barling and Central City area have lived there their entire lives, and getting used to some of the changes could be hard, but he thinks the project will be worth it.

“I think most people are looking forward to it, even if it’s going to cause a lot of change,” said Lowery.

The project spans about 13.5 miles in total. The initial stage is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

The entire project is expected to be complete by 2030.