LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has received initial approval to designate two sections of highway in western Arkansas as Interstate 49.
Officials received the approval earlier this month from the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, but the plan still needs final approval from the Federal Highway Administration.
"They have the information," said Randy Ort, a highway department spokesman. "We're just waiting to hear back from them. We don't foresee any problems."
Plans have been in the works for 30 years for a 1,700-mile corridor that would connect the Gulf of Mexico with Canada and run through western Arkansas. Missouri and Louisiana have begun placing signs marking Interstate 49, but Arkansas has not yet done so.
Under the plan, Interstate 49 would stretch from New Orleans to Kansas City, Mo., where it would connect with Interstate 29, said Gard Wayt of Shreveport, who is executive director of the I-49 International Coalition.
"I-49 will cross nine existing east-west interstates," he said. "That's going to form a transportation grid that goes right through the heart of America."
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported Monday (http://bit.ly/1aAxSsU ) the approved I-49 sections include 73 miles of Interstate 540 from Alma north to Bella Vista and 42 miles of Arkansas 549 from Texarkana south to the Louisiana state line.
Highway department director Scott Bennett said Missouri's approval to put up I-49 signs from Kansas City to Pineville, Mo., prompted the Arkansas Highway Department to file its most recent request. The I-49 signs went up in Missouri in December.
The longest section to be built is about 180 miles from Texarkana to Fort Smith through the Ouachita Mountains of western Arkansas. I-49 will follow the route of U.S. 71 in western Arkansas.
Curt Green, president of the I-49 International Coalition, said, Arkansas will likely be the last state to finish its section of I-49.
"It's conceivable that 99 percent of I-49 will be completed in every state except for Arkansas from Texarkana to Fort Smith," Green said.
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