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Arkansas DOT Widens Highway 65 Through Boone and Newton Counties

by: Larry Bernstein
A bridge is replaced as part of the Highway 65 project in Arkansas.
A bridge is replaced as part of the Highway 65 project in Arkansas.
Highway 65 is viewed as a major north-south route in Northern Arkansas. The historic Highway 65 begins in Clayton, Louisiana, and runs through Arkansas, Missouri, Iowa, and concludes in Minnesota. The purpose of the highway – which was created in 1926 and designated as a national highway – was to connect cities, and roads that ran through the downtown areas of large and small cities alike.

Of the highway’s 966 miles of roadway, 313 miles are in Arkansas. As part of the Connecting Arkansas Program (CAP), a stretch of the highway in Boone and Newton Counties is being widened from two lanes to five lanes. The Arkansas Department of Transportation (ArDOT) divided the project into two separate phases.

“This is logical extension south,” says Steve Lawrence, District 9 Engineer for ArDOT. Lawrence, who is responsible for eight counties in North West Arkansas, adds, “this project will help close the gap” in terms of widening the entire length of Highway 65 in Arkansas.

Project Scope
In addition to adding lanes to the highway and a painted center median, two small bridges are being replaced. The bridges were not compatible with the widening and therefore needed to be removed. The bridge grades were raised approximately 5 feet to 7 feet for the new construction at both structures. “This was done to improve the sight distance, which increases safety as well,” says Lawrence.

“One of the bridges was in the middle of a curve, and we elevated it to make it more drivable,” says Drew Vining, Assistant Resident Engineer for ArDOT. Vining is on site daily inspecting the work to ensure it is being done according to the specs. “We increased the super elevation, which should enable traffic to flow more smoothly,” says Vining.  At that point, the speed limit on the highway is 45 mph.

The other bridge was at the bottom of a vertical curve. “We changed the profile by raising the elevation of the bridge,” says Vining. “This is helpful because it shortens the vertical grade on both sides of the bridge.”

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Although this area of the highway is very rural, there is one small town, Valley Springs. Where the highway passes through the city limit, ArDOT added a curb, gutter, and sidewalk.

Most of the widening of the road took place on both sides of the highway. However, there was an approximately half a mile stretch of road where the widening took place exclusively on the Northeast side of the road. This was due to a right of way consideration.

One single house was not acquired because of its potential historical significance. While this right of way issue caused some inconvenience, the issues were minimal since there was nothing on the other of the road that impeded progress.

Another Step for CAP
The contract for this phase of the project is $22.9 million. It’s being financed through CAP, a program approved by taxpayers when they voted for a half-cent sales tax to pay for construction projects throughout the state.

Vining expects the project to come in “close to budget, if not under.” He credits the landscape for helping the bottom line.

There were multiple slopes and rocks in the area that were pre-split. “Because of this, we didn’t have to cut the slope back as far,” says Vining. “This also led to less earthwork having to be moved.”

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Construction of the project began in November 2017. The project was originally scheduled to take 630 calendar days, but through the course of the project, 321 calendar days were added.

Lawrence lists a couple of reasons for the delays. The first reason was extremely wet weather during the life of the project. The second reason is a couple of utilities were incorrectly relocated. “A plan change did not get communicated to the designers for the powerlines, so the poles were originally set in the wrong location,” says Lawrence. In addition, the utility contractor did not relocate utilities in the right spot, so the road contractor had to move some utilities.

The team had to be creative to continue to progress the job. “We had to jump around the job, and change the stages, in order to mitigate the impact of the utilities on the schedule,” says Vining.  “We had to get creative about where to build.”

One other challenge the project had was with a K-12 school that is right on highway. “School traffic presented challenge as we had to be extra careful,” says Lawrence, “and the contractor did good job of working around the school schedule.”

Impact of the Project
Despite being in a rural area, as of 2017 this section of Highway 65 had an average daily traffic of just under 9,000 vehicles – 9 percent of that is trucks – which is expected to grow to 12,000 by 2037.

In the past, the area experienced backups in the afternoon and evening due to school traffic. Lawrence says, “With the completion of the project, there will be an increase in safety, particularly through the town. In addition, having a fifth lane will make it easier to enter and turn left from the road.” Ultimately, the project will enable the traffic to move more safely and quickly.

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With the Highway 65 project in Boone and Newton Counties essentially complete, the significant roadway in Northern Arkansas will be doing a better job of the highway’s original goal: connecting a small city to the road.

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