Bentonville. A few years later 71 in Gravette was moved south a block to what is now Atlanta Street, perhaps as an omen of a change to come. It happened a few years later when old Highway 71, called the Prize Drive of the Ozarks, was rerouted east in Missouri through Pineville, and then south to the gentle community of Bella Vista. It then continued south along an existing route which only changed when the four-lane highway was constructed through the hills south toward Fort Smith. I never thought I’d live to see that day. It was when Highway 71 left Gravette that the highway through Gravette was renamed state number 72.
Some time ago — was it in the ’70s or ’80s? — the area buzzed with a rumor that an interstate-type highway was heading south from Kansas, through the eastern edge of Oklahoma, then east toward Gravette. From the proposed location, which was to be just south of town, it headed on a southeastern direction toward Fayetteville. A proposed drawing of that plan also appeared in the local paper. What happened, you ask? You should have heard the whining and bellyaching and opposition to such a project that would “ruin the area,” similar to the uproar that occurred when an airport for northwest Arkansas was first proposed. The proposed highway never materialized but, fortunately, the airport became a reality.
It is great that millions have been spent on the upgrading of what eventually will become Interstate 49. The AHD, Arkansas Highway Department, indicates it has millions reserved to complete 49 north to the Missouri line. It is a great project, one which I’m tempted to again say I’ll never live long enough to see completed. So, why is my thinking process all fired up concerning highways?
Let’s just use a simple word, “shoulders,” and for good measure add a mental picture of the decaying, scary and dangerous bridge on Highway 59 at the north edge of Decatur. It is rumored that bridge is being considered for replacement or upgrading. Let’s hope rumor becomes reality. That leaves the word shoulders.
It was in the late ‘80s that Highway 72 east from Gravette received an upgrading project which added wide shoulders on both sides of the two lanes. Thank goodness those shoulders are there; at least they allow drivers to head for the shoulder when they meet an approaching vehicle, big truck or a center line-hugging motorcycle. Needing upgrading and widening are the narrow or almost nonexistent shoulders on Highway 72 west from Gravette. And shoulders on the major north-south route need to be widened, to match the wide ones at Gentry, north through Decatur, Gravette, Sulphur Springs and further north to a mile from the Missouri state line. (The shoulders on the final mile to Missouri were widened appropriately when bridges were upgraded several years ago).
Do we need to make 59 and 72 four-laners? That would be nice but will probably not be considered for many years. But, daggum it, now that the millions spent on multi-lanes along the mid-county strip are being completed, it’s time to bring the major routes on the west side of Benton County into the 21st century, at least with wide shoulders. And don’t forget that bridge.
What will it take to get these improvements scheduled? Will it take some fast thinking and progressive citizen climbing a utility pole to promote the project? Do we have a volunteer? Or volunteers? And — who will call the Governor?