I-540 in Fort Smith, Van Buren set for $78 million rehab

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

The major highway artery into Fort Smith that carries more than 50,000 cars a day will soon undergo a more than $78 million upgrade that will result in traffic congestion on the main Interstate corridor through the city.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) announced Monday (Jan. 7) that the largest contract in the organization’s history is ready to begin construction.

As part of the 2011 Interstate Rehabilitation Program (IRP) passed by 80% of Arkansas voters, Kiewit Infrastructure South will begin work on seven miles of improvements to Interstate 540 (I-540) from Interstate 40 (I-40) to Highway 22.

The contract amount is set at $78.829 million and is expected to take 153 working days. AHTD District 4 Engineer Joe Shipman said the contract will begin in March with actual construction slated for a Jan. 21 launch and asked for the public’s patience while encouraging motorists to find alternate routes whenever possible.

AHTD expects the contract to be completed “sometime in April or May of 2014” or July 2014 at the latest.

And according to the terms of the contract, Kiewit has some incentive to finish early. Should the company beat its deadline, it could receive $30,000 per day in reimbursements with a maximum of 60 days.

Likewise, if the company goes over the 153-day deadline, each additional day - barring circumstances beyond the company’s control - will cost Kiewit an additional $30,000 per day.

Kiewit’s bid beat out all other bids by “a full year less,” Shipman said.

The construction contract surpassed the previous state record of $78.1 million for phase three of the Interstate 430 (I-430) to Interstate 630 (I-630) interchange improvement project.

Prior to that, the record was $57.3 million to widen I-40 in North Little Rock.

THE DETAILS
Construction will include “rubblizing” the existing I-540 lanes, Shipman said, and replacing nine bridges. It will also include the modification to four bridge structures.

The nine bridges, according to the AHTD fact sheet, will encompass “four pairs of bridges,” including the Highway 22 bridge at Rogers Avenue as well as those at Grand Avenue, Clayton Branch, and the Union Pacific Railroad Overpass.

Additionally, the Arkansas River Relief Bridge will be replaced, and modifications will occur to raise clearance over Highway 162 (in Van Buren) and to the two bridges carrying U.S. 64 over I-540 in Van Buren

Exit numbering between I-40 and Highway 22 will also be reversed, Shipman added, and “the new exit numbers will correspond with the numbering on I-540 north of I-40.”

BEAUTIFICATION AND DESIGN
One issue that will likely remain with the improvements in place are those related to beautification and design, particularly around the Kelly Highway exit.

In comments to The City Wire after Monday’s press conference, Shipman indicated that the city and the highway department have not “talked specifically” about improving this major entrance to Fort Smith.

“That’s up to the city if they want to take some of it on,” Shipman said.

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Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack  said Monday that the city had agreed to police the Rogers Avenue interchange, but added “I don’t know of any other city with as many interchanges as Fort Smith has,” and that “the state highway department takes care of the other eight, but the complaint we hear is they don’t do a good job taking care of it.”

Gosack said the Rogers Avenue interchange alone costs the city $35,000 and that any further commitment “would have to come from the general fund, and that’s a decision to provide a new service so the board of directors would have to be involved.”

“It’s several hundred thousand dollars a year to properly mow, maintain, and keep litter picked up (on all nine interchanges). It’s money we’re spending on police and fire now, and I’m not going to divert it to do the state’s job,” Gosack said.

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Comments

I 540 rehab

Any chance this project has the insight to add a third lane to relieve the congestion and possible reduce the number of accidents on this stretch of interstate? Give us a third lane and make it worth the hassle.

only renumber exits to 22?

So we will go exit numbers down (North to south) and then back to exit 9 at Cliff and Pheonix and then up (north to south) to the state line? Why don't they just renumber ALL the exits to the state line and have exit 1 be at the border? Brilliant.

Exit numbers

Pretty sure that's what they're going to do -- start at the Oklahoma line and count north to match up with "new" 540 from Alma to Missouri. Then when I-49 is completed, just prior the mass production of flying cars making freeways obsolete, they can undo the numbers again. Just be glad the AHTD finally decided to fix our 46-yr-old patchwork interstate, even if it was after everyone including 7-lane Siloam Springs had their roads fixed and/or widened.

The state will never pay to

The state will never pay to have more than two lanes. They took a chance on Fort Smith when they first built I-540 to help the city grow and progress into the future. Here we are all these years later and generation after generation of "city leaders" have done their part to turn the city into a ghost town with a Wild West history. Too many regulations and the Not In My Backyard mentality has crippled Fort Smith. The state has determined the funds are best spent in NWA where growth is a good thing. My guess is the bridges and overpasses in this area have become such a hazard to the people that they simply can't ignore them anymore. They'll do the minimum to remove liability.

Fort Smith road

We are not as bad off as you would like to think. We got all new roads throughout Fort Chaffee, which thanks to the staff there is flourishing. This was a state-wide tax. Fort Smtih did not pay more money for these roads. We got them FIRST not after Siloam Springs got their 7 lane higway. We also got these road before NWA got this new money comeing to them. Furthermore, not all of that new tax money is going to NWA; most of it is but we are getting some of it as is Little Rock. Then look at the local roads in Fort Smith, they are not falling apart in disrepair as many roads in NWA are. Out penny tax for "Keep Your Prnny Rolling", is working. Many mayors in NWA have come to FS and commentted about how they would love to have the roads in FS. Finally the road in NWA must happen. If they don't get the roads, the next time FS was up for further development in a Chaffee like project the money will be diverted there.

Lowest priority

Arkansas has operated an interstate rehabilitation bond program dating back to 1999. The second largest city has a relatively busy, urban interstate highway ranked amongst the most in need of repair (according to the AHTD's own reports), yet the project is one of the last to get proper attention. To me, the timing indicates where we fall in priority. All this while they do everything possible to drop responsibility for the costs of maintaining U.S. (Garrison, Midland, Towson) and Arkansas (Rogers, Old Greenwood, Wheeler, Clayton, Zero) highways or mowing the ridiculous near tree-sized weeds along 540. The infrastructure projects in Fort Chaffee (minus I-49) such as Chad Colley Boulevard, were paid for with city street tax funds. You are correct, our city street tax is working, in spite of the state highway department. Once the 540 rehab is complete, we as a community and region must keep up the pressure so they don't forget us yet again.
Arkansas has operated an interstate rehabilitation bond program dating back to 1999. The second largest city has a relatively busy, urban interstate highway ranked amongst the most in need of repair (according to the AHTD's own reports), yet the project is one of the last to get proper attention. To me, the timing indicates where we fall in priority. All this while they do everything possible to drop responsibility for the costs of maintaining U.S. (Garrison, Midland, Towson) and Arkansas (Rogers, Old Greenwood, Wheeler, Clayton, Zero) highways or mowing the ridiculous near tree-sized weeds along 540. The infrastructure projects in Fort Chaffee (minus I-49) such as ...>> Read the entire comment.

Look who we send to Little Rock

The fact that our state roads don't get proper maintenance as well as the fact that we won't see a cent of that new sales tax money allocated for the roads is a direct result of the legislators we keep sending down there for our region. Yet we sent them down there again so we WILL continue to be forgotten. But hey our legislators introduce bible in public school bills and open carry bills (you know to complete that wild west feel, so that keeps them re-elected. Until the local electorate wakes up and elects the folks it needs they will continue along the line electing the ones it deserves...

153 Days = 1 1/2 years?

AHTD says the project should take 153 working days or until April or May 2014 or possibly July. This must be the "new math" I keep hearing about. By my calculations, 153 days is just shy of 8 months at 5 working days per week. If 153 days takes a year and a half, they must be anticipating working half a day a week. Your tax dollars at work.

You got to consider the

You got to consider the winter down time that is excluded from the 153 days

153 Days..

In project management, especially construction, there's a work day count (153 in this case) and then there's the "expected completion date". These are two totally separate estimates. It's estimated that it'll take a full 153 days of work to complete this project. This includes workers physically being at the job site. That's where they get their 153 work days. Then there's the estimated completion date (1 1/2 years from the start of work) which takes many things into consideration. Things like holidays, weather and queue completion are all included in the 1 1/2 year estimate. It's not a linear time estimate. I'm not necessarily a cheerleader for the government (especially this current government) but I do wish for criticism to be targeted to the proper place. To me that proper place is in the complete disregard the state has for Fort Smith and the reasoning behind that earned disregard.

Forgotten

Looks like 71 north of Alma has been forgotten again. AHTD only work on it when the pavement goes sliding down the hillside like it did near Mountainburg 2 years ago. Didn't they promise NOT to neglect 71 after the built 540? They seem to have forgotten...or maybe they were hoping WE'D forget.

Concrete?

Please tell me they are going to use concrete and not asphalt. Look how long the concrete lasted and how long that asphalt south of Rogers lasted.

After Midnight and my house is shaking with construction noise!!

Have some respect for citizens trying to sleep so that we can get up and go to work to fund this project!! It's 12:15am and the noise is rattling my whole house and nerves!!! I'm furious from lack of sleep! I couldn't care less how much extra you get paid for finishing the project early! People in these neighborhoods have to get up and go to work in the morning!!!!!!! Construction feet away from my home after midnight is inappropriate!!!