On January 8, 1999, Interstate 540 officially opened between Alma & Fayetteville. Costing over $400 Million, it has all but replaced US 71 as the main route of travel over the Boston Mountains. Before 540 opened, travel time on the 2 Lane 71 was an hour or more, depending how many trucks you had to follow. Now, it's 35-40 minutes depending how fast you drive.
540 dates back to at least the mid 1960s when AHTD initially proposed a 4Lane highway to replace 71. But a lack of funding and cries from environmentalists denouncing the proposed highway delayed it for nearly 30 years.
Originally proposed as a new alignment of U.S. 71, it would come to be designated as I-540 as a concession to the tourist courts and souvenier shops dotting the old road who feared losing business to the new highway. Eventually, 71 and 540 would become part of the Boston Mountain Scenic Byway to encourage more tourist traffic along the old roadway.
Gone are the days when you would see a familiar bumpersticker: I Travel US71 in Arkansas. Pray For Me.
Now, if I'm in a hurry to go somewhere, I will take I-540. If I feel like taking my time, I travel US 71.
So happy birthday, I-540!