Studies to determine whether the Interstate 49 extension between Alma and Barling should begin as a two-lane road and fewer interchanges, in addition to tolling feasibility, are expected to be completed by the fall.

The Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority was told Wednesday by representatives from the Arkansas Department of Transportation this and other issues being studied for the potential $400 million project that would include a bridge over the Arkansas River. Public meetings on the proposed route for I-49 have been held in March and April. A review of the route was provided to the board and can be found at www.ardot.gov/i49.

An I-49 extension, however, would not apparently have much of an impact on whether or not Union Pacific and Ports America would become tenants of a potential slackwater harbor and intermodal facility operated by the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority near Van Buren. The intermodal facility would be closer to I-40 and also heavily rely on railways, Intermodal Authority Executive Director Mat Pitsch pointed out to the board.

As part of the continuing process to have an intermodal facility built on the Arkansas River at Van Buren, the Intermodal Authority board approved a motion to have Pitsch and Sasha Grist, executive director of the Western Arkansas Planning and Development District, attend the Short Line Railroad & Port Conference at Omaha Aug. 14-15 to talk to potential clients of the intermodal facility.

The conference is hosted by Union Pacific, which issued a letter of interest to the Intermodal Authority in May along with Ports America’s memorandum of understanding to conduct six month’s of research on the viability of a partnership in association with the Intermodal Authority. Pitsch also told the board it may want to consider hiring an intermodal expert to attend conferences such as the one in Omaha on behalf of the Western Arkansas Intermodal Authority.

“Our objective is to bring this to a conclusion,” Sebastian County Judge David Hudson said.

Pitsch also said the board also may need to begin consideration of its “right of eminent domain” in any potential purchase of land to construct the intermodal facility.

A memorandum of understanding with the Port of New Orleans Commission does not have a conflict of interest with the Ports America agreement, Pitsch and Grist told board members.