To paraphrase former President Gerald Ford, "Our long nightmare is (almost) over."
According to District 4 Engineer Chad Adams of the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department, the more than $70 million Interstate 540 rehabilitation project is nearing completion with anticipation of all north and southbound lanes expected to be open for traffic within four weeks.
Adams said there is still work to be done, but portions of now-closed lanes should begin to re-open as early as the next 10 days.
"They (the contractors) have a few items left for us to be able to call the job substantially complete," he said.
The items are far from large, with mostly guardrail, wire safety barriers and seeding still to be finished.
"It's all real minor, but it's stuff that we require them to get done before we call it substantially complete," he said. "Once that is all finished, which we expect is a week and a half — we thought we'd be done this week, but we've had some rain, so now we're looking at a week and a half from now — once that is complete, we'll begin removing barrels and opening to two lanes."
While portions of the lanes will re-open within 10 days, the slow down has turned out to be the Arkansas River bridge that separates Van Buren and Fort Smith.
Adams said since the rehabilitation project started on Jan. 28, 2013, the bridge has developed potholes which will need to be patched before all lanes along the eight-mile stretch of construction can be re-opened.
He said drivers will notice at least one lane closed in each direction from Interstate 40 to the end of the river bridge.
During the time that crews are working on the bridge's potholes, Adams said signs that stretch over the interstate at its interchange with I-40 will be corrected to no longer show I-540 continuing to Fayetteville. The signs will remove all references to I-540 North and Fayetteville, instead replacing the markings with a simple reference to I-40 East and listings for Little Rock and Memphis, he added.
Once all lanes are re-opened in the next month, Adams said drivers should not be surprised to see work crews continuing work on lights and other items along the interstate, he said, though any additional work should be able to be completed without closing anything more than the shoulder of the interstate.