The Arkansas Department of Transportation opened the 5.8-mile extension of the King Expressway at around 5 p.m. Monday.
The southbound leg of the expressway extension opened shortly before 5 p.m. The northbound lane opened minutes later, shortly after 5 p.m., according to a video feed posted on iDrive Arkansas and area emergency agencies.
The Arkansas Department of Transportation plans to open the 5.8-mile extension of the King Expressway between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. today, according to Facebook posts made by County Judge Darryl Mahoney and state Rep. Bruce Cozart.
ArDOT has said the more than $85 million extension will cut travel time in half from Hot Springs to Hot Springs Village.
ArDOT previously said the two-lane route connecting the Highway 70 east interchange to the junction of highways 5 and 7 would open in October, which would have put completion 14 months behind the August 2022 date ArDOT projected when McGeorge Contracting began threading the route through the rugged backcountry east of Hot Springs in late 2019.
ArDOT projected a May 2023 opening last spring after revealing its bridge division sent incorrect information to the manufacturer of mechanically stabilized earth retaining walls for the bridge over Mill Creek Road. The mistake wasn't discovered until the walls had been built and proved too short and steep for a proper slope.
"Due to the small angle of the MSE walls, a safe slope along the edge of the roadway was not obtained," according to the $1.17 million change order the state Highway Commission authorized. "Therefore, it was determined that additional MSE walls must be constructed in order to flatten the slopes at the bridge ends."
Issues with bridges over Covenant Trail and Quarry Mountain Road revealed this spring pushed the May opening into the fall. ArDOT said base material under the bridge ends failed to properly compact, causing them to settle and the bridge decks to slide on their bearing plates. The movement closed the bridges' expansion joints.
Drilling compaction grout under the ends, $389,298, was the costliest of the more than a dozen items in the $1.07 million change order ArDOT requested.