AHTD announced this week that the Federal Highway Administration has approved I-49 in Arkansas. Beginning April 21st, Interstate 540 between Interstate 40 at Alma and US 62 at Bentonville will become Interstate 49. US 71 between US 62 and Business 71 north of Bentonville will also become part of I-49.
What this means in the immediate future is AHTD will be replacing all the I-540 signs (approximately 700) north of I-40 with I-49 signs.
Other sections of future I-49 in Arkansas will receive the designation AR 549/Future I-49, including a section near Gravette, as well the the section between AR 22 at Barling and US 71 south of Fort Smith. The road south of Texarkana is already posted AR 549 and will likely be re-designated as I-49 once the road is finished to the Louisiana State Line and connectes with I-49 in Louisiana.
Why the rush? AHTD (and Arkansas as a whole) hardly does anything in a hurry. Best guess in the roads community is money. If Arkansas has these unconnected segments of I-49, perhaps they feel they can get government money faster by having one road with unconnected segments as opposed to several short highways with different designations.
With the re-designation to I-49 also brings to an end the I-40/I-540 duplex (overlap) between Exit 7 and Exit 12 along I-40. Will they replace the 540 signs along here with US 71? I doubt it.
In addition, exit signs along I-540 at Van Buren will have to be changed to eliminate the 40/540 duplex... NEW exit signs that were just erected in the past month.
Did anybody think about I-49 before the 540 rebuild was started? AHTD says they have no money*, so where is the money coming from to replace all the signs? I guess the money they saved by not repairing the 540 Arkansas River Bridge will help offset replacing the new exit signs.
Oh, and don't expect to see any Arkansas I-49 signs: AHTD has already announced that the state name will not appear on the new signs.
Weather permitting, I hope to be out Monday looking for the first I-49 signs. Maybe I'll even catch up with the sign truck :)
(*they claim to have some money now that the bond issue money is trickling in, but still complain that they don't have enough)