Construction of the bridge for Interstate 555 north over its parent, Interstate 55 near Turrell, Arkansas. Photo taken by Robert Lee (07/08/06).
Interstate 555 overlays U.S. 63 along a freeway stretching northwest from Interstate 55 at Turrell to Arkansas 91 on the west side of Jonesboro. A mostly rural route, I-555 serves the small cities of Tyronza, Marked Tree, and Bay as it joins the Memphis area with Jonesboro.
Sign fabrication was underway for Interstate 555 as of December 2015 while AHTD awaited FHWA approval on the route. Installation on the new assemblies was expected to take up to four weeks.4 The designation was made official at a dedication ceremony held at St. Bernards Auditorium in Jonesboro on March 11, 2016.5
During spring 2016, AHTD applied for a 4.81-mile extension of I-555 from its western terminus at U.S. 49 and Arkansas 18 (Southwest Drive) north through to Arkansas 91. This extension encompassed the remaining U.S. 63 freeway section through Jonesboro. An affirmative decision for I-555 was made at the May 24, 2016 AASHTO Special Committee on U.S. Route Numbering meeting.6
The Interstate 555 designation arose as a result of the designation of U.S. 63 as High Priority Corridor 39 in 1998.1 Until 1999, U.S. 63 ended at Turrell and Interstate 55 at what is now the terminus of I-555. A southward extension lengthened the route to West Memphis and I-40, Hazen and I-20 at Ruston, Louisiana.
AHTD applied to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) for establishing U.S. 63 between I-55 north of Marion and Arkansas 91 in Jonesboro as I-555 on April 16, 1999. The Route Numbering Subcommittee however disapproved the designation because significant portions of the route did not meet Interstate standards and would not for some time. AHTD applied again for I-555 and was granted Future status for it by AASHTO on December 9, 2000.
As of December 2003, 26 miles of the total route between Jonesboro and Payneway were built to Interstate standards with 18 miles remaining. That distinction changed with the ground breaking of a new overpass for Arkansas 149 in Poinsett County. This was one portion of the $100 million federally funded project that nearly completed Interstate 555. Additionally, interchanges were constructed in 2004 at Arkansas 118 and Arkansas 135 near the city of Tyronza. An upgrade of the Interstate 55/U.S. 63 junction to a freeway-to-freeway connection followed.1
Interstate 555 remained unsigned due to a stretch of highway at Sunken Lands. This section was not fully controlled access, with farm equipment from adjacent private lands using the roadway. It was estimated $50 million was needed to construct frontage roads along two stretches of Future I-555 at and west of Marked Tree to bring the freeway up to Interstate standards.2 This led to the farm vehicle exemption language included by Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark in the FAST Act, federal highway authorization bill of December 2015. $250 million in upgrades took place along the U.S. 63 corridor over a 40 year period leading to the redesignation of I-555 from a Future route.3
Signed for nearly 15 years as Future I-555, the Arkansas State Highway Commission voted to designate 44 miles of U.S. 63 as Interstate 555 on December 2, 2015. Language in the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST), a federal highway authorization bill signed by President Obama on December 4, 2015, included an exemption for building a two-lane frontage road across the St. Francis River floodway for farm vehicles. This exemption saved AHTD $33 million in costs estimated for building the road required to accommodate farm vehicles that otherwise would be forced to make a 90-mile detour in lieu of U.S. 63 / Future I-555 (farm vehicles are prohibited otherwise from using an Interstate highway).3 Signs referencing the farm equipment usage went up on I-555 on January 28, 2016.
Perspective from Future Interstate 555/U.S. 63 south
Posted within the diamond interchange (Exit 2) with Menesha Street and AR 77 at Gilmore, southbound motorists along I-555 see this diagrammatic sign for Interstate 55. U.S. 61 & AR 77 merge with I-555 south along this stretch, though per AHTD signing practices, neither are signed. Photo taken 12/19/09.
Frontage roads accompany I-555 & U.S. 63 south from Gilmore to Interstate 55 and U.S. 61 near Turrell. The forthcoming directional cloverleaf interchange (Exits 1A/B) sees U.S. 61 & 63 silently merge onto southbound Interstate 55. Photo taken 12/19/09.
A single lane ramp (Exit 1A) departs I-555 south for I-55 (and U.S. 61 & 63) south to West Memphis and Memphis, Tennessee. Photo taken 12/19/09.
Arkansas 77 emerges from the ending I-555 south to facilitate movement onto I-55 north to Blytheville and St. Louis, Missouri. Photo taken 12/19/09.
Interstate 55 angles northeast along a rural corridor parallel to the Mississippi River to the boot heel of Missouri. U.S. 61 parallels to the east from Turrell north to Osceola while Arkansas 77 runs south along I-55 to U.S. 70 in West Memphis. Photo taken 12/19/09.
Leading north from Arkansas 42, Interstate 55 and U.S. 63 separate at Exit 23. Interstate 555 carries the US route northwest 44 miles to Jonesboro, where U.S. 63 emerges to Bono and Hoxie. Photo taken 05/03/12.
Exit 23 carries all traffic in unison to I-555 & U.S. 63 north, the reappearing U.S. 61 north to Stacy and Arkansas 77 north to Denwood and south to Turrell. Photo taken 05/03/12.
A 2006-completed flyover ramp shuttles motorists onto Interstate 555 north to Gilmore and adjacent Poinsett County. Photo taken 05/03/12.
Historical Perspective from Interstate 55 north
Originally a six-ramp parclo interchange joined Interstate 55 and U.S. 61 with U.S. 63 north and Arkansas 77. The loop ramp for Marked Tree was replaced by a flyover ramp and the left-hand turn onto I-55 north from U.S. 63 south is now accommodated by a loop ramp. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (12/29/01).
A ten mile exit less stretch along Interstate 55 south culminates in northern Crittenden County where Interstate 555, U.S. 61, U.S. 63 and Arkansas 77 come together. Arkansas 77 and U.S. 61 parallel I-55 leading into the interchange just north of Turrell. I-55 subsumes U.S. 61 & 63 southward to West Memphis while I-555 overlays U.S. 63 northwest to Jonesboro. Photo taken 04/14/13.
A BNSF Railroad line passes over Interstate 55 south just ahead of directional cloverleaf interchange (Exits 23A/B) with I-555 & U.S. 63 north and AR 77. Photo taken 04/14/13.
Interstate 555 & U.S. 63 lead motorists northwest 13 miles to Marked Tree and 28 miles to Trumann. Photo taken 04/14/13.
Historical Perspective from Arkansas 77 north
Arkansas 77 (and U.S. 61) north at the I-55 northbound on-ramp before construction took place for the upgrade to Interstate 555. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (12/29/01).
The left-hand turn from Arkansas 77 north to the southbound on-ramp for I-55 was eliminated during work to upgrade the interchange for I-555. Motorists are now directed onto the I-55 Service Road south to the on-ramp from Arkansas 42. Photo taken by Jeff Morrison (12/29/01).
Construction to expand Interstate 55 at I-555 shifted Arkansas 77 onto a new overpass above the freeway. A loop ramp previously tied into AR 77 north as the beginning of U.S. 63 north here. Photo taken by Robert Lee (07/08/06).
Interstate 555 & U.S. 63 pass by Joe Mack Campbell Park on the one mile approach to the parclo interchange (Exit 49) with Arkansas 91 (Dan Avenue). Photo taken 05/03/12.
Interstate 555 ends at Arkansas 91 (Dan Avenue) as U.S. 63 downgrades to a five-lane surface arterial. Arkansas 91 east leads back toward Downtown Jonesboro while the state route west takes a stair stepped route to rural Winesburg and Egypt. U.S. 63 connects Jonesboro with Hoxie, Walnut Ridge and the U.S. 67 (Future I-57) corridor. Photo taken 05/03/12.
Perspective from U.S. 63 south
U.S. 63 south encircles the west side of Jonesboro as a freeway from Arkansas 91 (Dan Avenue) to U.S. 49 south and Arkansas 18 (Southwest Drive) east at Exit 45. Interstate 555 overlays the route from Exit 49 southward to I-55. Photo taken 05/03/12.
Information obtained from "I-555 work starts with ceremony in Marked Tree" posted on the GoMemphis: Mid-south web site News July 4, 2003