FORT SMITH — It was announced Thursday that a dedication ceremony for Interstate 49, "the future for the next generation," will be held next week in Alma.
The ceremony will celebrate the U.S. Department of Transportation officially designating Interstate 540 from Alma north to the Missouri border as Interstate 49, according to a joint news release from the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority and Alma Area Chamber of Commerce.
The dedication ceremony will take place at 11 a.m. Wednesday in the parking lot of Grace Church of Alma at 330 Rudy Road.
"That parking lot there has a great view of I-49," FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen said Thursday. "What’s so important about this is that it puts the onus now on the (Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department) to get the rest of this done. It’s I-49 all the way to Bella Vista until you get to Alma. This section will be I-549, our 6.5 miles, until it connects to I-49."
The FCRA and chamber say that I-49 represents 1,700 miles of interstate highway between New Orleans and Winnipeg, Canada.
"It is now 80 percent complete," their news release states. "The longest unfinished section is 185 miles between Fort Smith and Texarkana. An eight-mile section near the southwestern Missouri state line and Bella Vista is under construction."
Expected at next week’s ceremony is AHTD Commissioner Dick Trammel and a number of local leaders. Trammel, former state Rep. Ed Thicksten, Owen and I-49 International Coalition executive director Gard Wayt will speak. Following their remarks, AHTD workers will unveil a new I-49 sign on the Rudy Road Interstate 40 overpass.
"Development of I-49 is the future for the next generation, and we hope this generation can make it happen," Trammel stated in the news release. "I-49 is important from Bella Vista to Alma to Texarkana and all of Arkansas, and we need to work together to make it happen."
Wednesday’s ceremony is also touted as the launch of an "I-49 Build the Bridge" campaign.
"Representatives of cities, counties, chambers of commerce and other public works entities across the western Arkansas region are banding together to show a concerted, cohesive push to secure funding for the 13-mile stretch of I-49 south of Alma that will connect at Chaffee Crossing, including a new bridge across the Arkansas River," the news release states.
According to Owen, the 6.5-mile section of I-49 through Chaffee Crossing is scheduled to open in October 2014.