LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas highway officials say they have received permission from the federal government to rename a section of Interstate 540/U.S. 71 in western Arkansas as I-49.
Highway officials also announced Wednesday the beginning of a $1.8 billion highway program voters approved in 2012.
Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Director Scott Bennett said Wednesday the federal government has approved renaming the stretch of I-540/U.S. 71 between Alma and Bella Vista as I-49 starting next week.
AHTD plans to post nearly 700 signs bearing the new designation along the 65-mile stretch of highway within the next 30 days at a cost of $70,000.
"We are pleased to have this new designation," Bennett said. "This is something we have been working on for several months. In addition, we are awaiting Federal Highway Administration approval to designate future sections of Interstate 49 between Interstate 40 and the Louisiana state line."
The Bella Vista Bypass in northwestern Arkansas, which is under construction, will be designated as both Arkansas 549 and Future Interstate 49 until it is completed to interstate highway standards, highway officials said.
When I-49 is completed, it will stretch across the state from the Louisiana border to the Missouri border.
Also Wednesday, the Arkansas Highway Commission and AHTD announced the kickoff of the Connecting Arkansas Program.
Voters in 2012 approved a 10-year, half-cent sales tax to fund construction of a four-lane highway system connecting all parts of the state. Highway officials said Wednesday the first of the program’s 31 projects will be a six-mile stretch of the the Bella Vista Bypass.
Kolb Grading of Missouri recently was awarded a $52.7 million contract to build two lanes from Bentonville west to a recently completed section near Hiwasse. The bypass is being constructed in multiple phases and when completed will be a four-lane, 19-mile interstate highway.
The other 30 projects will take place across the state. Details are available on the Connecting Arkansas Program’s website, www.connectingarkansasprogram.com.