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Interstate 540 Arkansas

 

Routing

Interstate 540 begins at U.S. 271 in southern Fort Smith, travels northeast through Fort Smith to Interstate 40, and follows Interstate 40 east for five miles to Exit 12. From Exit 12, Interstate 540 follows a new freeway alignment to Bentonville, ending at its interchange with U.S. 71 (Exit 93). The freeway passes through the only highway tunnel in Arkansas, the Bobby Hopper Tunnel (0.3 miles long; opened in 1999 and named for a former Arkansas Highway Commission director). All of Interstate 540 north of Interstate 40 lies on High Priority Corridor 1 (Future Interstate 49).

History

Originally commissioned as a spur from Interstate 40 at Van Buren southwest toward Fort Smith, Arkansas, Interstate 540 was signed as an east-west route. This routing lasted from the early 1970s (based on Rand McNally maps of Fort Smith) and remains in place today.

However, this was to be just the starting point for a much longer Interstate 540, which was extended in lieu of designating the highway north of Interstate 40 as Interstate 49. The freeway section was initially signed as Arkansas 540 as the freeway was built in stages during the mid to late 1990s. While Arkansas 540 was initially denied for the Interstate 49 designation on April 25, 1997, it was approved as Interstate 540 by AASHTO on November 14, 1997. This section of Interstate 540 would extend from the former northern end of Interstate 540 to Business U.S. 71 north of Fayetteville. The condition of the November 1997 approval was that Interstate 540 would be initially signed as a future route. Once the new designation was approved, Interstate 540 was signed as north-south on both segments on either side of Interstate 40; the Interstate 540 extension was made official on January 8, 1999, when the complete route was opened from Interstate 40 north to Fayetteville.

The first segment of Arkansas 540 opened to traffic in 1995 between Interstate 40 and Mountainburg; a subsequent extension in 1998 brought the state highway freeway to Fayetteville. At no time did Interstate 540 or Arkansas 540 carry the U.S. 71 designation; U.S. 71 is routed along the Boston Mountains Scenic Byway to the east. This freeway is considered an engineering marvel, as it has major cuts through the Boston Mountains and passes through the Bobby Hopper Tunnel between Exits 34 and 45.

On April 7, 2000, the Route Numbering subcommittee of AASHTO approved the extension of Interstate 540 from Business U.S. 71 north of Fayetteville, to the interchange with U.S. 62 in Rogers. Highway Commissioner Jonathan Barnett indicated on May 16, 2000 that the "ultimate goal is to upgrade the entire Highway 71 corridor in western Arkansas to an Interstate" standard facility.2

In 2001, Interstate 540 was extended once again, this time to the city of Bentonville (perhaps best known as home of Wal-Mart) at Exit 93 (U.S. 71).

The original Fayetteville bypass for U.S. 71 (Fulbright Expressway), now incorporated into Interstate 540, was opened in 1971.

High Priority Corridor

Interstate 540 in its entirety is part of High Priority Corridor 1 and 72: North-South Corridor.

Future Aspirations

Efforts of the Missouri Department of Transportation (MoDOT) and the October 15, 2011 conditional approval by the AASHTO Highways Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering to begin signing Interstate 49 along the U.S. 71 freeway between Joplin and Kansas City by December 2012 have prompted AHTD officials to submit an application for the Fall 2012 meeting of the AASHTO Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering to redesignate all of Interstate 540 north from I-40 to I-49.6

The original Interstate 540 spur into Fort Smith is not a part of the Interstate 49 extension. Instead Interstate 49 follows an alignment toward Fort Chaffee. Seven miles of this new freeway, between U.S. 71 and Arkansas 22, are scheduled for completion in 2014.

Planned Improvements

A couple of new interchanges were built on Interstate 540 north of Interstate 40 since the freeway was first built. The first new interchange (Exit 21), constructed during 2003-04, serves the town of Alma. The folded-diamond interchange joins I-540 with Collum Lane (Crawford County Route 19).1 A second new interchange was created for Exit 82, Promenade Boulevard. These will be a part of Interstate 49 and need renumbering.

Western Terminus - U.S. 271 - south of Fort Smith, Arkansas
Perspective from Interstate 540 west
The last Interstate 540 mainline exit is at Exit 14. The interchange serves U.S. 271 north into Fort Smith and Arkansas 253 south to Bonanza. The original segment of Interstate 540, from the Oklahoma state line to Interstate 40, sees its mile markers backwards from the standard south to north or east to west convention. Thus, the southern most interchange is Exit 14 instead of Exit 1. The zero mile-marker is posted at Interstate 40 instead of at the Oklahoma state line. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).
Continuing beyond Exit 14 of Interstate 540 sees U.S. 271 enter the divided highway and proceed to the state line. This photograph looks at a southbound reassurance shield at the Oklahoma border. The asphalt roadway is in the Sooner State. The next significant destination for the highway is in 29 miles at the Poteau. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).
Perspective from U.S. 271 north
Northbound on U.S. 271, just prior to the Arkansas/Oklahoma state line. If Interstate 540 begins where the asphalt changes to concrete, it is a hidden start. The eastern terminus of Oklahoma 9 occurs at the state line with U.S. 271. The cross-state highway begins at the Texas state line near the town of Badge. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).
Perspective from Interstate 540 east
The first northbound exit of Interstate 540, the northern terminus of Arkansas 253 at Exit 14. This interchange sees U.S. 271 leave for its final two plus miles into Fort Smith itself. The northern terminus of the federal highway occurs with Business U.S. 71 at Zero Street. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).
The first Interstate 540 reassurance shield, posted just past the Exit 14 departure of U.S. 271. Interstate 540 will pick up U.S. 71 in two miles, carrying the federal highway through to Interstate 40. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).
Perspective from U.S. 271 south
U.S. 271 southbound at the Exit 14 diamond interchange of Interstate 540. The directional signs indicate that Interstate 540 travels to the north only, strongly suggesting this exit marks the terminus point. Continuing straight takes one onto the southbound beginning of Arkansas 253. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).
Eastern Terminus - Interstate 40 - Van Buren, Arkansas
Perspective from Interstate 40 east
Prior to the 1999 extension, Interstate 540 terminated at Interstate 40 seven miles from the Oklahoma state line. This vidcap shows Interstate 40 eastbound where Interstate 540 began its south-southwesterly trek toward Fort Smith. The original 14 mile segment of Interstate 540 is signed east-west. Vidcap taken by Alex Nitzman (05/28/95).
Perspective from Interstate 40/540 west
Westbound Interstate 40 and 540 and U.S. 71 southbound, as they draw to within one mile of their split. U.S. 71 departs Interstate 40 via Interstate 540 south. A Business U.S. 71 counterpart comes into play at Exit 1 of Interstate 540. The business route represents the original U.S. 71 as it overlaps with U.S. 64 on a parallel alignment of Interstate 40/540 to the east. Photo taken by Eric Stuve (12/19/02).
0.25 miles from the historic eastern terminus of Interstate 540/Exit 7. There are two Van Buren exits of Interstate 540 before the freeway crosses into Fort Smith over the Arkansas River. Photo taken by Eric Stuve (12/19/02).
The historic westbound beginning of Interstate 540 departs Interstate 40 west. The next westbound interchange also serves Van Buren as it connects with Arkansas 59 at Exit 5. Interstate 540 also has an interchange with this state highway at its Exit 3. Photo taken by Eric Stuve (12/19/02).
Southbound Interstate 540 at Interstate 40 - northeast of Fort Smith
This photo shows Interstate 540 southbound at its interchange with Interstate 40 northeast of Fort Smith. Although this interchange was never a terminal point for Interstate 540, it was the former southern end of Arkansas 540, and it may serve as a temporary southern end to a two-digit Interstate, pending when the section of Interstate 49 from Texarkana north to Fort Smith is constructed. Photo taken by Jeff Royston (08/15/04).
Current Northern Terminus - U.S. 71 - Bentonville, Arkansas (Exit 93)
No photos of this terminus are currently available; if you have one to share, please contact us.
Former Northern Terminus - U.S. 62 - Rogers, Arkansas (Exit 86)
Perspective from Interstate 540 north
Two views of the northern terminus of Interstate 540 near Rogers. Interstate 540 used to officially end at Exit 86/Arkansas 102, which is the departure of U.S. 62 eastbound to Rogers. The U.S. 71 freeway however, continues northward another seven miles around Bentonville. Photos taken by Jeremy Lance (Fall 2000).
Perspective from U.S. 71 south
U.S. 71 southbound at Exit 86/U.S. 62 east/Arkansas 102. This exit marks the northernmost point in which the expressway is signed as Interstate 540. North of this exit the remaining seven miles of the expressway is merely signed as U.S. 71. As with the other end, there is no 'End' sign at the terminus. Photo taken by Martin McMahon (12/09/02).

Sources:

  1. Backlin, David. "New Interchange u/c I-540 (AR)." Online posting, misc.transport.road, September 17, 2003.
  2. Notice to Media: Interstate Designated in Arkansas dated 5/16/00
  3. U.S. 71 in McDonald County and Statewide Transportation Improvement Plan (2005-2009) - McDonald County
  4. Tolls Won't Cover Bella Vista Bypass Costs, Highway Officials Say, by Rob Moritz, The Northwest Arkansas Morning News, September 19, 2007
  5. Missouri gateway to Bella Vista bypass scrapped, Joplin Independent, October 15, 2007
  6. "I-49 Shields Coming to Arkansas Soon?" online posting by Grzrd, AARoads Forum, August 7, 2012.

Page Updated August 28, 2012.

 
Mileage

State Arkansas
Mileage 80.72
Cities Fort Smith, Fayetteville, Bentonville, Bella Vista
Junctions Interstate 40
Source: October 31, 2002 Interstate Route Log and Finders List
 
Interstate 540 south across the Arkansas River. The bridge opened in 1967. Photo taken 05/06/12.
Exit numbers along the original Interstate 540 into Fort Smith count upwards from north to south.
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