Arkansas Road Network

By | October 13, 2022

Arkansas has a fairly dense road network of major highways, with nearly all highways converging in Little Rock. This is also the state’s largest hub. However, the number of bridges over the Mississippi River is limited. Arkansas is somewhat infamous in the United States for its poor road network. In particular, I-40 was in poor condition for a long time and is the main transportation route through Arkansas.

Road management

The state highway authority is the Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT). Until July 2017, the name was State Highway and Transportation Department, abbreviated AHTD. Its origins lie in the state highway commission that was established in 1913, and later renamed the State Highway Department. In 1977 the word ‘transportation’ was added and in 2017 the name was changed to the current ARDOT. In 1924 the first road numbering was introduced, which was renumbered in 1926 with the introduction of the US Highways.

ARDOT operates a relatively extensive road network of 26,417 kilometers, 16% of all roads in the state. Arkansas has more than 165,000 miles of road, much of which is controlled by counties and municipalities. Arkansas’s network of state highways is the 11th largest in the United States, disproportionate to the size of the state, geographically or by population. 74% of all vehicle miles in Arkansas are on state highways. 95% of all truck miles are traveled on state highways (including US Highways and Interstate Highways).

  • Bittranslators: State overview of Arkansas, including geography, economy, population and history as well as introduction to major cities of Arkansas.

Interstate Highways

Several major routes of the Interstate Highway system pass through Arkansas. Interstate 30 runs northeast between Texarkana and Little Rock. Interstate 40 is the state ‘s main east-west route, running from Fort Smith through Little Rock to West Memphis. Interstate 49 should eventually form a north-south route, but it is far from complete, only a section from the Louisiana border to Texarkana, at Fort Smith and through Northwest Arkansas is ready. Construction of I-49 is the largest road project in the coming years, but there is no prospect of financing for the middle section between Texarkana and Fort Smith. The Interstate 55 enters the state at West Memphis and then runs north, parallel to the Mississippi River, to the Missouri border at Blytheville. Interstate 69 is planned to run through south and southeast Arkansas, but there is no funding in sight for its construction. I-69 will need a new bridge over the Mississippi River south of Memphis.

In addition, there are some auxiliary routes. Interstate 430 forms the western bypass of Little Rock, while Interstate 440 forms the southeast bypass. Interstate 530 connects Little Rock to Pine Bluff, and Interstate 630 forms an east-west route through Little Rock. The I-540 is the former number for the current I-49 in Northwest Arkansas. Interstate 555 was added to the network in 2016, connecting Jonesboro to I-55.

  • Deluxesurveillance: Nickname of Arkansas as The Natural State. Also covers geography, history, economy, politics and administration of the state.

US Highways

Numerous US Highways cross the state. Only a few of these are of greater importance. US 67 forms a fairly long freeway from Little Rock to Walnut Ridge. Relatively few portions of US Highways have been constructed as 2×2 divided highways, so the state’s underlying highway system is largely two-lane roads, which is one of the reasons Arkansas’ roads are poorly known. Only US 65 south of Pine Bluff is a 2×2 divided highway. US 270 is a freeway around Hot Springs. US 71 is still an important through connection between Texarkana and Fort Smith until I-49 is ready. US 62 and US 412 form east-west routes through the far north, but are predominantly two-lane roads.

State Highways

The state highways were first introduced in 1924, but the network had to be renumbered two years later due to the introduction of the US Highways, which took over the main routes. There is no clear road numbering system, two-digit odd numbers run north-south and two-digit even numbers run east-west. State Route 7 is the longest route in Arkansas at 476 miles. The road numbers run from 1 to 999, but only a few numbers are in use between 400 and 800. State Highway 980 is special, a number that is used for access roads to all public airports in the state, so the number is frequently reused. The road number plate has been in the same shape since 1926, and has been changed twice, in 1950 and 1971.

Toll roads

There are no toll roads in Arkansas and there never have been. However, plans have been floated from time to time to build toll lanes on I-40 to pay for the widening between Little Rock and West Memphis. The lack of money is a structural problem for the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department.

History

Before the Interstate Highway system was created in 1956, the state of Arkansas had no highways. The state then had 1.8 million inhabitants and the population even decreased. Arkansas has never been a major transit hub. In the 1950s there was only one city with just 100,000 inhabitants, the capital Little Rock. The first section under construction was a section of US 67 in 1954 between Benton and Little Rock that would later become part of the Interstate Highway system. Construction of the Arkansas highway network progressed smoothly through the 1960s, and was largely completed by 1970. In 1960, the interchange between I-40 and I-55 opened at West Memphis, and in 1962, the interchange between I-30 and I-40 opened in North Little Rock. The through Interstate Highways were completed in 1973, when the Hernando de Soto Bridge over the Mississippi River was completed. Then, during the 1970s, several three-digit Interstate Highways were built, particularly around Little Rock. I-540 at Fort Smith was completed in 1970, I-430 and I-440 on the west and east sides of Little Rock, respectively, in the late 1970s. I-630 was built through Little Rock between 1969 and 1985. The I-540 between Fort Smith and Rodgers was completed in 1999, in 2014 this highway was renumbered as I-49. In recent years, US 63 between I-55 at Turrell and the city of Jonesboro has been converted to a freeway and has been known as I-555 since 2016.

In 1999, the first Interstate Rehabilitation Program (IRP) was initiated, involving extensive renovation of Arkansas’s highways. As a result, Arkansas no longer had one of the worst highways in the United States, but one of the better. In 2011, a second Interstate Rehabilitation Program was approved, issuing $575 million in bonds to fund a renovation program. By 2023, $1 billion in renovation work will have been completed on the Interstate Highways. The program included virtually all Interstate Highways except the most recently constructed highways.

Future

The main highway that does not have an Interstate number is US 67 from Little Rock to Jonesboro. There is speculation that this could potentially become an extension of I-30, although this doesn’t make much sense in numbers, and a small town like Jonesboro doesn’t seem like a logical terminus for a major Interstate like I-30. A second major project is the construction of Interstate 69 in Arkansas, which is to enter the state from Arkansas City, then run southeast through Monticello and Warren, west of El Dorado. At Haynesville, the highway must enter the state of Louisiana. It will be years before the I-69 is completely ready. For the state of Arkansas, I-69 is of relatively little importance because the route does not serve major cities.

A third project is the construction of Interstate 49 in Arkansas, which is to form a north-south route through the west of the state. A number of routes have already been completed, such as State Route 549 from the Louisiana border to Texarkana, and I-540 from Fort Smith to Rogers. The big missing link is between Texarkana and Fort Smith. I-49 is expected to follow the route of US 71. It is not yet certain whether and when this link will be installed. Texarkana and Fort Smith are the largest cities in Arkansas that are not connected by highway, but there are few other major centers between the two cities.

Arkansas Road Network