BARLING (KFSM) -- A stretch of Interstate 49 between Barling and Alma, that would ultimately shorten the commute to Northwest Arkansas, has been on the drawing board for quite a while.
Now there is talk of a study to see if by making that stretch a toll road, including a new bridge over the Arkansas River, it would actually get built.
Resident Melanie Akin said she does not support toll roads.
"I think we're taxed enough," she said.
But Damien Madrid, in town from El Paso said he is all for road improvement.
"I don't have tolls in Texas," Madrid said. "I don't know what the inconvenience of having a toll is or isn't, but if it's gonna help build [the] city, then I guess they should right?"
"Mobility is not the problem here," said Danny Straessle of the Arkansas State Highway and Transportation Department. "Congestion is not the problem here. What we are talking about with this stretch of highway is economic development which is very important, connectivity which is also very important."
Straessle said a study to see if tolls would be effective would not be done until the beginning of 2017. The issue is whether enough people use the highway and would be willing to pay the toll.
"The state highway department already has toll authority, so we would be able to execute a toll study and really get into providing a toll system in the state," Straessle said.
The next phase of the project extends from Arkansas Highway 22 up to Alma where I-40 interchanges to I-49.
"High-level estimates, planning estimates, that whole project is taxed somewhere at about $500 million; that is half a billion dollars," Straessle said.
There are some other options to pay for the project, such as a special tax authorization approved by voters. Right now, the possibility of tolls is just in the study phase.
The AHTD said it has $300,000 set aside in their budget to pay for the study.
Straessle said all the environmental work is completed, so the next step is authorizing more preliminary engineering, which will help in gathering real numbers on the cost of the project.