BENTONVILLE — Work to complete the Bella Vista Bypass is close to schedule, but the primary contractor paused one project after an employee tested positive for the covid-19 virus.
The delay isn’t critical to the larger picture of completing the project, said Steve Lawrence, District 9 engineer with the Arkansas Department of Transportation.
Eyes on the road
The Arkansas Department of Transportation has installed 43 traffic cameras along Interstate 49 between south Fayetteville and north Bentonville. There are three other cameras, on either side and above the Bobby Hopper Tunnel. The cameras can be accesssed by the public online at idrivearkansas.com.
Lawrence said Emery Sapp & Sons told the department Monday it needed to stop work after an employee on the Interstate 49 interchange project in north Bentonville tested positive. Other projects weren’t affected.
Sapp & Sons is the primary contractor for the interchange, new lanes of the bypass from Benton County 34 to the state line and Missouri’s portion of the project. The cost of the 2.5-mile stretch of road in Arkansas will cost about $35.5 million.
Robert Gillis with Sapp & Sons said work on the interchange will resume after the Memorial Day weekend.
“We paused the project to make sure we could evaluate the situation,” Gillis said. “After doing all of our tracing, due to weather, that employee had only been on the project one day in the last three and a half weeks and he was already seven days from being on the job when he found out that he had tested positive.”
Transportation Department officials will look at the Sapp contract later to determine whether the company should be allowed more time to complete the project because of delays caused by unforeseen circumstances. Companies risk the loss of incentives or added costs if the work isn’t completed on time.
“A lot of times, what we’ll do with something like this is the contractor may put us on notice that they are anticipating a delay, especially on something of this nature where it’s out of their control,” Lawrence said. “When we get through whatever it is, then we go back and look at the time and evaluate how much additional time, if any, is warranted.”
Missouri awarded a $58.7 million contract April 1 to Sapp & Sons to build the final 5 miles of I-49 between Pineville and the state line in McDonald County. Work started May 11 with completion expected by Sept. 30, 2021.
“The contractor is currently ramping up earthwork operations and also getting started building some of the drainage structures,” said Craig Switzer, transportation project manager with the Missouri Department of Transportation. “We don’t anticipate a delay to our completion date.”
Switzer said the person involved in the covid case on the Arkansas side didn’t come into contact with any crews on the Missouri side.
The 19-mile bypass will allow motorists to circumvent Bella Vista to the west and south on a four-lane interstate. The project is also known as the Interstate 49 Missouri/Arkansas Connector, a nod to its regional importance.
Tim Conklin, assistant director at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said keeping projects moving is vital, given the region is forecast to have nearly one million people by 2045.
“Major infrastructure highway projects take decades to plan and design, years to identify program funding and multiple years to construct,” Conklin said. “Northwest Arkansas continues to play catch up with infrastructure projects to provide the capacity and desired connectivity for the region. Specifically, I-49 provides interstate access for freight and people.”
Arkansas officials last year awarded bids in July and broke ground in October on two sections needed to fill missing links on the Arkansas side.
The two projects are the last 2.5 miles from Hiwasse to the state line and the single-point urban interchange to replace the roundabout at I-49 and U.S. 71 in north Bentonville where the new highway heads west. The estimated cost of the two projects is just more than $100 million. Emery Sapp & Sons is the primary contractor on both.
A third project, adding the remaining six miles of lanes on the Arkansas side, has been underway for some time. Kolb Grading is the primary contractor on that $52.6 million job. Lawrence said Kolb is slightly behind schedule but it isn’t due to the covid-19 pandemic.
The goal is for Arkansas and Missouri to each build their parts and meet at the state line in late 2021, or early 2022 at the latest, according to regional planners.
The ultimate goal is completion of the 278-mile section of interstate between Fort Smith and Kansas City, Mo. Bella Vista is the only stretch where traffic has to leave I-49 and continue on U.S. 71 to travel. Allowing motorists to bypass Bella Vista and its multiple traffic signals should reduce travel times and improve safety, planners have said.
Lawrence said work on the interchange at Exit 85’s Walton Boulevard in Bentonville and Walnut Street in Rogers is lagging slightly due to a shortage of available material related to the virus.
Mitchell Archer, construction engineer with District 9, said several contractors told the department if they see slowdowns, they might make claims later for more time to complete their project without penalty.
“Most all of our jobs, we’ve have had to make modifications as far as distancing, sanitation, but in general we haven’t seen any significant slowdowns on any of our work until the incident on the interchange job,” Archer said.
Lawrence said department employees have remained on the job site every day inspecting work.
“Our ArDOT forces are doing an excellent job adapting to the conditions that were given them as far as social distancing and staying away from each other,” Archer said. “They’re sanitizing their equipment and their trucks. They’re staying working, but they’re not congregating, some work from home, some work from their field shacks. They’re doing a good job of taking care of business.”
NW News on 05/25/2020