After decades of discussion, construction of a new Interstate 40 interchange is getting underway in Maumelle. The nearly $15 million project will allow another access point in and out of the fast-growing city.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson joined members of the Arkansas Highway Commission, state legislators and city leaders for Monday’s groundbreaking ceremony. Work is expected to take 10 months to complete.
Mayor Michael Watson said discussion of the interchange began in 1991. A feasibility study was completed in 1996, "but here we are 22 years later celebrating the groundbreaking. If nothing else, it should remind us that we need to be persistent on projects such as [this]."
Watson told the crowd at the groundbreaking that he made several trips to Washington, DC to try and secure funding "without receiving anything other than encouragement to keep asking."
In 2014 city voters approved a temporary half percent sales tax, which is covering 75 percent of the cost. Governor Hutchinson said that was key in making this a reality.
"You cannot have growth without the successful development of infrastructure and I want to compliment Mayor Watson and the leadership of this city and all of those who worked hard to make sure the local funding was in place to make sure this interchange happened," Hutchinson said.
He noted there has been rapid growth in the city, which experiences long traffic backups during morning and afternoon rush hours.
"Some of the design work was done in 2006. Just from that time forward to the present, 10,000 residents have been added to Maumelle. And so you’ve got to start early, you’ve got to plan," Hutchinson said. "I’ll be asking the Arkansas General Assembly to support a new highway funding plan for our future."
The legislation will be part of a bigger effort to fund projects throughout the state.
Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas Department of Transportation, said providing another access point to the city should help ease congestion.
"Anyone that has driven Maumelle Blvd. in the morning, in the afternoon, we hope that that’s really going to improve traffic in that area," Bennett said. "Maumelle has been growing pretty rapidly, and in fact, the 2030 transportation plan for this area shows that on the north end, traffic is going to increase by almost 40 percent by 2030 and about 30 percent on the south end, so there’s going to be a lot of growth in this area."