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Interstate 49 Coalition Explores Funding Options, Unveils Website

<p>Randy Ort, public information officer for Arkansas Highway and Transportation, provides an update on Interstate 49 at the I-49 Coalition Conference on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, at AHTD District 4 headquarters in Barling.</p>Buy Photo

Randy Ort, public information officer for Arkansas Highway and Transportation, provides an update on Interstate 49 at the I-49 Coalition Conference on Thursday, Aug. 29, 2013, at AHTD District 4 headquarters in Barling.

Construction on portions of Interstate 49 is underway, but funding is needed to complete two sections in Arkansas.

Members of the I-49 Coalition met Thursday at the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department District 4 headquarters in Barling to discuss efforts to secure funding for the 1,700-mile interstate project, which extends from Winnipeg, Canada, to New Orleans.

Two portions in Arkansas need to be completed, the Bella Vista Bypass that connects Arkansas to the Missouri line and the 180-mile southwestern portion between Fort Smith and Texarkana. The estimated cost of that portion alone is estimated at $2.5 billion, and officials say it is the most important piece.

“This is an international trade route,” said Gard Wayt, executive director of the I-49 Coalition. “We’ll be able to move goods, foods and people throughout America and into Canada, but we can’t do anything without this link.”

Randy Ort, public information officer for AHTD, agreed.

“Shreveport to Kansas City is the missing link and Fort Smith to Texarkana is the most important portion of that,” Randy Ort, said. “We’ve gone as far as we can to determine the route for the road, but there’s no sense in trying to establish right of way because we have no funding or timetable.”

Among funding options would be establishing a Regional Mobility Authority, which would help address transportation funding needs and give the highway department a local government partner.

“These are useful for local governments to get funding for the highway department and to assist in applying for grant applications.” said Jack Williams, a member of the Arkansas Development Finance Authority. “If you were to apply for a federal grant to get funding to move this project along, the Regional Mobility Authority would be a vehicle to help get the funding.”

Wayt said funding for the project is years away and no timetable for completion is set, but he is excited about the future economic impact the highway will bring to the region and is determined to find funding.

“There’s a huge degree of excitement about this project,” Wayt said. “Eighty percent of the project is complete with a fifth of it left. There will be an explosion of economic development once it’s done, and we would do whatever it takes to complete it.”

Also Thursday, the coalition unveiled a new website, www.interstate49.org, to provide a centralized location, membership options and a communication resource for approaching funding from federal entities.

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