In the coming decade, the State of Arkansas plans to upgrade the existing U.S. 63 highway from I-55 at Turrell/Lake David to the U.S. 49 South exit in Jonesboro to full Interstate highway standards. When the work is done, the upgraded highway will be redesignated as Interstate 555. AHTD's January 2001 press release announcing the designation can be read online.
Currently, 26 miles (42 km) of the highway is already built to Interstate standards, from U.S. 49 South (Southwest Drive/Exit 45) to just east of the St. Francis River near Marked Tree. The remaining 18 miles (29 km) are built as a four-lane expressway, with one existing interchange (at AR 75 in Marked Tree) and a number of at-grade intersections.
As part of the work to upgrade the highway, six separate projects will be designed and let by AHTD:
Project 100522: AR 149 interchange and frontage roads in Marked Tree: a partially-folded diamond will be built at AR 149, along with frontage roads from AR 75 and AR 149 to provide access to local properties, including the ASU Technical Center. Design public hearing held 20 May 2002; construction let 4 December 2002 for $7.449 million. [Map]
Project 100523: AR 118 interchange and frontage roads in Tyronza; also providing access to AR 322. Design public hearing held 11 February 2003. [Jonesboro Sun report.]
Project 001933: AR 135 interchange north of Beasley. Design public hearing to be held 7 October 2003.
Unknown project number: Gilmore interchange and frontage roads. Design public hearing held 14 August 2003.
Project 110401: I-55/U.S. 61/AR 77 interchange at Lake David. Reconstruct to provide full access control and accomodate I-55 frontage road traffic. Design public hearing TBD.
A conceptual drawing of a possible configuration, which uses some of the existing ramps, is here. AHTD's final design may be significantly different. The most likely simplification is removal of the flyover from I-55 NB to I-555 NB; however, this ramp probably carries the most traffic, and the existing loop ramp would need to be rebuilt anyway to accomodate a second bridge over I-55, so at least one flyover seems likely.
Unknown project number: General corridor improvements (paving of shoulders, installation of fencing and signage).
The next project to be designed is expected to be the I-55 interchange at Lake David, probably due to its relative complexity.
All projects are planned to be let by 2004. If all goes according to plans, I-555 should be complete and fully open to traffic by 2007 or 2008.
Some have suggested that I-555 might eventually be extended to the northwest (along U.S. 63 to Hoxie) to connect with the U.S. 67 freeway extension; however, there are no official plans to that effect. Others have suggested an extension even further to the northwest, possibly as far as U.S. 60 or I-44 in Missouri.
AHTD is building an interchanges at Washington Avenue and AR 18 in Jonesboro. This would extend the U.S. 63 freeway (locally named the Joe N. Martin Expressway) further west, but would not affect I-555, which ends a couple of miles to the southeast at Exit 45.
AHTD is widening U.S. 63 northwest of Jonesboro to a four lane + center turn lane configuration (with a bypass on new location at Bono); however, this would not be sufficient for Interstate signing.
Local officials are also planning to lobby to build an interstate spur from Jonesboro to the U.S. 67 freeway currently being extended north toward Pine Bluff, Missouri; according to this Jonesboro Sun article, an “Interstate 730” designation is requested for the route (anticipating that the U.S. 67 freeway would be renumbered I-30 upon its completion to I-55).
No official plans have been shown for what will happen to existing U.S. 63. However, the 1999 U.S. 63 extension to Ruston, Louisiana suggests that AHTD plans to reroute U.S. 63 to more directly run from Jonesboro to I-40, possibly along the U.S. 49 corridor or along AR 1. However, any U.S. 63 rerouting is unlikely until after I-555 has been signed for a year or two, to avoid confusion.
DISCLAIMER: This page is unofficial; its author is not affiliated with any transportation agency, including the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.
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