Drivers will soon be able to use all of the ramps at the Big Rock Interchange in west Little Rock, where interstates 430 and 630 meet. After more than five years of construction, the $150 million project to allow traffic to flow more smoothly is nearly complete.
On Wednesday, highway officials, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and others took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony on the ramp that goes from I-630 westbound to I-430 southbound. That's the highest of the ramps and the only one that has not yet been opened for traffic, but that's expected to finally happen this weekend.
"I know a lot of you all here today have been watching this for a long time. A lot of you have been affected by it for years and years and years," said Scott Bennett, director of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. "Now, you're seeing the fruits of our labor. It's going to be something that's very good once we do open this one."
Drivers will continue to see construction barrels in places for a few more weeks, Bennett said, as crews work on lane striping, drainage, place signs and do final work to the pavement. Some of the ramps currently force drivers to merge from two lanes to one, but he said that will be removed soon, with all lanes able to host two continuous lanes for traffic.
Officials noted that the original interchange was built in the late 1970s, before there was Chenal Parkway and the extensive growth that has occured in west Little Rock. Since then there has been a drastic increase in the volume of traffic, with the number of vehicles passing through the interchange jumping from 35,000 a day to 200,000 now, Bennett said.
Most of the funding to rebuild the interchange came from the federal government, but officials noted that because of Congress' inability to agree to a long-term highway bill, state highway officials have had to cancel taking bids for future projects due to the uncertainty.
"Because of the lack of direction and commitment on that issue, at least at this point in time, they've had to put aside $331 million worth of projects. This is critical to the importance of our city, and not just this city and this state, but the entire nation," said Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola.
He encouraged those in Washington to put aside their differences and agree to terms for long-term highway bill.