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Bella Vista Bypass Brings Congestion Relief to Local Commuters

by: Larry Bernstein
The Bella Vista Bypass project in northern Arkansas includes construction of three new bridges, while two more bridges are being extended.
The Bella Vista Bypass project in northern Arkansas includes construction of three new bridges, while two more bridges are being extended.
Much new infrastructure construction comes down to the same need: new roads are required in order to keep up with growing traffic counts. The Bella Vista Bypass, which falls in parts of southeast Missouri and northwest Arkansas, is made up of multiple contracts that are underway at the same time. The completion of the various projects will mean the final “missing link” for I-49 between I-70 at Kansas City and I-40 near Fort Smith, Arkansas, a nearly 300-mile stretch.

As it stands, traffic goes through a stretch where there are multiple stoplights. The traffic, which includes a significant amount of trucks, experiences congestion. With the completion of the various projects that make up the Bella Vista Bypass, I-49 will be complete. This will mean trucks and other through traffic will be able to stay on the highway and avoid the stoplights. It will also mean that local traffic will not have to interact with trucks. Both of these occurrences will mean a reduction in congestion for commuters.

One of the projects that makes up the Bella Vista Bypass is the Highway 71 Interchange. This project includes constructing approximately 2.8 miles of highway with bridge structures and includes a new Bella Vista Bypass interchange with Highway 71 in Bentonville, Arkansas. The interchange will be a single-point urban interchange (SPUI) one of the first in Arkansas. The team chose a SPUI because they have shown the ability to handle large amount of traffic efficiently. It will replace a roundabout.

Unique Elements
The project includes construction of three new bridges while two bridges are being extended. The new road will be four lanes, while the previous road was two.

At the bypass itself, the team is building a bridge with a 300-foot-long span. The girders are 10 feet in depth and are only being supported at the edges. Because it’s a single point, it’s necessary to have the entire span at the bottom open. The bridge will include a six-barrel box culvert. Over 7,000 cubic yards of concrete were used in construction of the barrel box.

“On this type of project, the typical challenges are weather and traffic,” says Bashar Qedan, a Resident Engineer for the Arkansas Department of Transportation’s (ArDOT) on the project. “We’ve had a good deal of rain and the earthwork has been delayed. However, because the area has lots of rock, and less soil, the impact has been lessened.”

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“Rock embankment is a lot easier to construct than soil embankment, which requires additional specialized compaction equipment. Density tests have to be performed to ensure compaction is done correctly, and soil is very susceptible to rain and snow,” says Qedan.

To remove the rock, the team has performed a lot of blasting. Because many of the rock slopes are close to the existing roadway, traffic has been impacted as the road must be closed when blasting occurs. “We have very strict closure times for the highways,” says Qedan.

The blasting can’t be done at night due to city codes. So, as per the contract, the contractor can stop traffic on the roadway for 15-minute intervals between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. in order to do rock blasting. “This is enough time and is not an issue if done correctly,” says Qedan.

However, if there is an over blast, it could have unforeseen consequences such as rock flying off and damaging the existing highway. Therefore, during blasts, traffic is halted, and the contractor does his work. If he stops traffic for more than the allotted 15 minutes, a fine is incurred.

Over 900,00 cubic yards of rock and soil need to be removed as part of the project. Note that not all the rock has been removed via blasting as some is being dislodged with other pieces of heavy machinery. They are being removed with heavy hauling articulated trucks that are not allowed on normal roadways.

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“The contractor is selectively blasting to save time and equipment,” says Qedan.

Time and Budget
Construction costs for the Highway 71 project were expected to come in at $66.6 million. At this juncture, Qedan expects the project to come in on budget as there have been no major over runs.

It’s expected that the project, which was let at the end of summer 2019, will take less than two years to complete. The contractor had a flexible start date and could begin up to 90 days after the contract was awarded.

Work on the project began in early December and the contractor has 700 calendar days to complete the work. The number of days includes weekends and is not altered for weather days.

Like the rest of the world, the project team is dealing with the effects of COVID-19. Yet, to date, the project is running ahead of schedule. “The team has been able to work even through the virus,” says Steve Lawrence, District Nine Engineer for ArDOT. “The contractor pushed the project by putting large numbers of people and equipment on site.”

The team is using CPM scheduling on the project and reviews the schedule which has helped them keep on task. Qedan believes the contractor has been able to stay ahead of the schedule to the rock material. “The construction team did the earthwork, as well as the excavation and embankments, faster than expected,” says Qedan.

The Benefits
Northwest Arkansas is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. This area serves as the headquarters for some major companies including Tyson Foods and Walmart.
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“The Bella Vista Bypass will help the traffic situation in Northwest Arkansas and Southwest Missouri,” says Lawrence. “It will also help make sure that growth is sustained into the area.”

With trucks and through traffic able to continue on the highway and local commuters able to use side roads, each will experience less congestion. The completion of Bella Vista Overpass will be useful for all and mean the final link I-49.

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